TowerXchange forecasts 51,500 new towers to be built in 16 European countries by 2023

Insights into tower upgrades and new tower and small cell deployment

Read this article to learn:

  • Which towercos and MNOs have announced extensive new tower build in Europe
  • Forecast tower build in the biggest European markets
  • Details on demand for tower strengthening and upgrades across the continent
  • How European countries are preparing for 5G rollout and volumes of small cells on order

It is often assumed that European tower portfolios are ‘complete’ and, if anything, decommissioning is needed to consolidate high levels of parallel infrastructure put up in the 1990s and 2000s when coverage was a critical market differentiator. However there are several reasons for new build in Europe, and these will drive a growth of around 51,500 towers across the 16 markets covered in this report over the next five years, not including small cells and DAS. Nonetheless, there will still be considerable decommissioning ongoing in markets such as Spain, Italy and the UK, as parallel infrastructure is reduced. 

Less disruptive, but equally critical to the future of telecoms infrastructure will be the need for existing sites to be upgraded and strengthened. The need for this will be driven by two main factors: an increase in co-location as towercos seek to lease up their infrastructure and MNOs increase sharing to infill their networks; and the imminent rollout of 5G equipment, which will test the wind load capacities for most of Europe’s towers, having been built for single 2G tenants over ten years ago. 

The imminent arrival of 5G is triggering a thorough assessment of existing infrastructure, and in some countries, such as France and Germany, driving significant build of macro towers as MNOs and governments seek to reach as close to 100% 4G coverage as possible within the next two to three years. This infrastructure will then form the backbone of 5G infrastructure, as focus is switched to densification through small cells and DAS solutions. 

This report is based on hundreds of conversations with Europe’s towercos, MNOs, tower builders and advisors who are involved in rolling out key infrastructure and maps the likely rollout of macro infrastructure, rooftops and streetpoles across some of Europe’s key markets over the next five years, as well as taking the temperature of how prepared each market is for 5G, sharing headlines on fibre rollout, expected small cell deployment and DAS forecasts. 


New towers 2018-2023: 2,000

The current landscape

The Belgian tower landscape has not seen particularly dramatic change to date, with no significant towerco activity or tower sales. However, Belgian MNOs seem to be jostling to gain the upper hand in terms of 5G rollout, so we may well see closer partnerships with third party infrastructure providers as they roll out more dense networks.

In the Netherlands, Cellnex has consolidated two of the Dutch towercos (Protelindo and Shere Group) as well as acquiring Alticom, which brought them not only 30 high towers, but also expertise in datacentres as well. Cellnex’s sole remaining competition in the Dutch towerco market, 860-tower NOVEC, is about to be joined by Deutsche Telekom’s towerco arm Deutsche Funkturm, after DT carved out their ~650 towers ahead of their merger with Tele2.

Current and forecast Europe inventory 

Estimated tower ownership and rooftop usage in The Netherlands

New build forecast

Belgian Proximus and Orange Belgium are both investing heavily in 5G infrastructure, initially in concentrated urban test beds, but with a vision for this to roll out further as soon as their commercial offering is off the ground. We anticipate that this will necessitate further macro infill of several hundred towers across Belgium over the next five years. In the Netherlands, we expect to see Deutsche Funkturm consolidate their role in the market, as well as Cellnex adding in build to suit for their customers where needed. 

5G infrastructure 

Both Belgium and the Netherlands are ahead of much of Europe in terms of 5G infrastructure, with Orange Belgium recently claiming the first 5G use cases in Europe. We expect to see further extensive fibre rollout in both countries, as well as small cell and data centre infrastructure added at an accelerated rate.


New towers 2018-2023: 15,000

The current French landscape 

The French tower landscape has undergone some significant changes in the last three years, with international towercos Cellnex and American Tower entering the market, and most recently Altice creating SFR TowerCo, which has become France’s biggest towerco through the incorporation of over 10,000 SFR towers into its portfolio. TDF, the broadcast incumbent, has been working hard on building its telecoms portfolio and diversifying into adjacent verticals such as fibre. French MNOs, Orange, SFR, Bouygues and recent entrant Free Mobile (owned by Xavier Niel’s Iliad) are all under pressure to roll out new towers both rurally and in urban areas, as well as to use existing networks more efficiently to maximise coverage. 

Rumours about potential consolidation in the French market are still going strong, with Orange CEO Stephane Richard saying it’s ‘unavoidable’ if MNOs want to secure enough capital and market share to invest in their networks for 5G rollout and compete in a market currently undergoing a price war. 

Current site numbers in France 

New build forecast 

There is new build planned in the French market by both MNOs and towercos, with some reports claiming that as many as 50,000 new points of presence will be needed in France (although much of this will be fulfilled by more effective co-location rather than new build). Publically available plans for new build include Cellnex’s commitment to build 2,200 towers for anchor tenant Bouygues in the next three years and new towerco SFR TowerCo’s announcement that they will build a further 1,200 towers for owner/tenant Altice. 

Although the French regulator has stipulated that the three most established French MNOs (Orange, SFR and Bouygues) must build a further 15,000 points of presence between them, this has not always translated into build-to-suit business for the towercos, as the MNOs are being heavily incentivised by the French government to build their own towers, particularly in rural areas. This is leading to French towercos embarking on a new policy of ‘build to fill’ in order to reduce complexity in the tower building process for the MNOs and gain more business in a competitive market. In the meantime, older towers are also in need of strengthening in order to support a bump in co-locations as MNOs try to maximise the points of presence they can achieve from existing infrastructure. Free (Iliad) needs to gain a further 10,000 points of presence in order to compete in the French market – much (but not all) of this will be achieved through co-location. 

5G infrastructure 

With Cellnex and American Tower present in the French market, there is plenty of appetite for driving 5G infrastructure across the country, and we anticipate small cell rollout will gather pace in the next 18 months. In addition, TDF has identified fibre as one of their three ‘pillars’, along with telecoms and broadcast, and is currently rolling out networks in five departements, with aims to provide fibre across France in the near future. We anticipate small cell orders in the thousands into 2019, building further momentum as we reach 2023.


New towers 2018-2023: 11,000

The current landscape 

The German market, although less headline-grabbing than the French market, still supports three significant international towercos. Deutsche Funkturm is Germany’s biggest towerco, with ~28,000 sites (of which ~9,000 are macro towers and a further ~19,000 are rooftops) across the country. Additionally, Deutsche Funkturm controls 7,700 former TEF rooftop assets under the name Omega Towers, although it is believed that they are partway through a decommissioning programme to reduce this number to ~5,000.

As well as offloading their rooftops, Telefónica transferred 2,350 German towers into their towerco Telxius in 2016 in a deal valued at €587mn.

American Tower have been active in Germany since acquiring KPN’s ~2,000 E-Plus towers for €393mn in 2012. Their portfolio has grown slightly over the last six years to a total of 2,206, mainly through the acquisition of 186 transmission towers from German broadcaster WDR. Although the cost of these towers was not publicised, we estimate that American Tower probably paid €35-50mn for the assets.

German broadcast towerco Media Broadcast Group owns a further 450 towers in Germany, and was acquired by Freenet in 2016 for €295mn (around 12x EV/EBITDA).

Estimated breakdown of ground based towers and rooftops in Germany

New build forecast 

Extensive new build in Germany is already underway and due to increase in momentum over the next few years. Just 20,006 of Germany’s 75,474 cell sites are ground based towers – the rest are rooftops, which can be problematic for tower owners seeking to lease up their assets. Deutsche Funkturm’s rooftop portfolio has a tenancy ratio which is currently 0.8x lower than their GBTs, and this gap could grow as they actively pursue further co-locations, and as access and landlord contracts make leasing up rooftops a significantly trickier proposition than towers. With this in mind, Deutsche Funkturm plan to build a further 9,000 GBTs in the next three years in Germany. 

The network merger of Telefónica and E-Plus in Germany is galvanising further work. Telefónica Deutschland are restructuring and optimising the mobile network with tens of thousands of mobile phone locations are being worked on and investing heavily in LTE expansion in order to build additional LTE base stations in urban as well as rural areas. Telefónica Deutschland is currently activating more than 100 new LTE stations per week. Of course, most of these upgrades are on existing structures, but some new build is inevitable, and existing sites will need to be upgraded and strengthened to support Telefónica’s plans. 

5G infrastructure 

The German government is keen to support the rollout of 5G infrastructure and this, combined with the enthusiasm of well-funded towercos such as Deutsche Funkturm, American Tower and Telxius, will see Germany rolling out small cells and fibre networks at a faster pace than much of Europe. We anticipate orders in the thousands from 2019 onwards and increasingly sharply into 2023.


New towers 2018-2023: 1,500

60% of Ireland’s 4,000 tower sites sit in the hands of the country’s three MNOs: Vodafone, Eir and 3, with Eir being taken over by Xavier Niel in April 2018. A network sharing partnership between Meteor and O2 (Mosaic) is in place with 3 joining the alliance, putting downward pressure on current and prospective future tenancy ratios, and there are several independent towercos in the market, including Cignal, Towercom and Shared Access, making tower ownership in Ireland very fragmented.

New build forecast

InfraVia-backed Cignal seem to be the most committed to new build in Ireland, having recently embarked on a programme of build to suit which has added 100 sites to their portfolio in the last 18 months. We would expect to see them add around 75-100 new towers a year to their portfolio over the next five years, with Ireland’s other towercos and joint ventures adding a similar number between them, and Irish MNOs doing similar. Irish tower owners will need to undergo a rigorous evaluation of their infrastructure in light of pending 5G rollout, however, and significant strengthening and upgrades will be needed to ensure the existing towers are able to support new equipment, in some cases necessitating tearing down a tower and building it again in the same spot.

5G infrastructure

As yet, small cells have not gained much momentum in Ireland, where LTE rollout still remains a key focus. There is nascent expertise in the country, and available capital to at least get testing underway, but Irish MNOs are still developing their 5G strategies and more will be known in the next 18 months.


New towers 2018-2023: 3,000

The current landscape

Italy boasts four towercos: Cellnex, Telecom Italia-owned INWIT, EI Towers and broadcaster Rai Way. Between them they own 25,478 of Italy’s 54,378 telecom and broadcast towers. In terms of MNOs, Telecom Italia leads the market, with Vodafone and a newly merged Wind and Hutch close behind. New entrant Free, owned by Xavier Niel’s Iliad has recently entered the market and is gaining market share, but needs to find the best route to scaling up coverage over the coming months. 

Who owns Italy’s 47,468 telecom and broadcast sites?

New build forecast

We expect to see the bulk of Italy’s new build driven by Telecom Italia-owned INWIT, who have already announced a plan to build a further 700 macro sites by the end of 2020, and who we anticipate will continue to add another 200-250 new sites (or replacement towers) per year to their portfolio until 2025. We would expect Cellnex to add a few hundred to their Italian portfolio over the next few years, and for towerco EI Towers to add some new build to their portfolio as well. In addition, the merger of Wind Italy and Hutchison has put a pause on building out their networks, but there will be considerable need to overhaul and optimise their shared network, which will result in new build, whether self-deployed or built to suit by a towerco, in this case most likely Cellnex, who own the Wind towers already after their acquisition in 2015. The wild card in Italy remains Iliad’s Free, who are currently mainly reliant on co-location, giving them a similar lean business model to their French business. Although traditionally light on infrastructure investments, Free may well need to add a significant amount of new build to their portfolio, as well as relying heavily on Italy’s towercos for network coverage. The level of their commitment to their own infrastructure could see our forecast for the Italian market double dependant on the outcome of their decisions.

5G infrastructure 

The Italian market is one of the most advanced in Europe in terms of rolling out small cells, not least because of the presence of Cellnex and INWIT, both powerhouses of European small cell rollout. INWIT is aiming to roll out a further 8,300 small cells by 2020, with this number accelerating between 2020-2023 as 5G use cases hit the ground.


New towers 2018-2023: 10,000

The current landscape

Despite numerous false starts, there has been no significant sale and leaseback activity in Russia to date. MTS, Russia’s biggest MNO, made noises about carving out 5,500 towers into a towerco in 2016, although this does not appear to have come to fruition. VEON-owned Beeline created carve out towerco National Towers in 2016 and progressed towards a sale in 2017 before pulling the plug in the late stages. MegaFon, which has recently delisted from the London Stock Exchange, created First Tower Company, a carve out of its ~14,000 towers, around the same time as National Tower Company and has recently announced they are looking for buyers for the asset. Tele2’s ~8,000 towers have been rumoured to be on and off the market for several years, with no concrete announcements to date. There are plenty of potential buyers for Russian tower portfolios, including Russian Towers, Russia’s most established towerco; Vertical, who have been growing aggressively, and number three in the market Service Telecom, who recently acquired the number four towerco, Link Development, giving them a total of 1,000 points of presence in Moscow and St Petersburg. 

New build forecast

Having been locked out of the opportunity to purchase a portfolio of towers to date, Russian towercos have focussed heavily on strategic relationships and new build to create impressive growth for their businesses. Russian Towers have partnered with national institutions like the Russian railway provider to set up towers along transport links, as well as creating urban infrastructure in Russia’s main cities, expanding their geographical reach to the far corners of the country, including Ekaterinburg, Vladivostock and Krasnodar. Vertical and Service Telecom’s new growth has also focussed on urban areas, with street poles going up in Moscow and St Petersburg, and towercos now looking towards growth in Russia as well as diversification, with Russian Towers already adding in-building solutions to their diverse portfolio.

We would predict that each towerco will increase the number of points of presence in their portfolio by around 3,000 over the next five years, with Russia’s MNOs easing back on new build but still increasing their overall number of PoPs somewhat. Most of Russia’s growth will be focussed on urban densification, and therefore we expect new structures to be street poles rather than macro towers as a general trend. 

5G infrastructure

Small cells are gaining momentum in Russia, but as yet there’s no clear vision about how this will roll out. 5G is becoming a priority in Russia at a governmental level, so we may well see new momentum behind the rollout and control of 5G infrastructure over the new two to three years, as regulations and governmental incentives come into play as well as market forces.


New towers 2018-2023: 3,000

The current landscape 

The Scandinavian tower market is uniquely structured in Europe with several joint ventures and co-operations between competing MNOs, in particular in Sweden. One of the reasons for this could be that Scandinavian regulators subscribe to the view that as long as there is full competition between the operators on the retail side of the business, there is no need to restrict the sharing of network infrastructure and spectrum.

The first joint venture was 3G Infrastructure Services (3GIS) in Sweden, which was set up in 2001 to build up a complete organisation responsible for rolling out and operating the shared 3G RAN between Telenor and Three. The following year TeliaSonera and Tele2 set up SUNAB for managing their shared 3G network, although they chose a different operational model for the partnership. SUNAB was given the responsibility for procurement and coordination of the project but the two operator organisations retained responsibility for executing all tasks related to rollout and operations. Sweden was split up into four regions and each operator took responsibility for two regions. The SUNAB model was later replicated for Net4Mobility, the joint venture between Telenor and Tele2 for their shared 2G and 4G network.

In Finland, Yhteis Verkko, The Finnish Shared Network is a joint operation between DNA and Telia Finland which is responsible for developing and maintaining an entirely new, shared mobile network for Northern and Eastern Finland. The new 2G, 3G and 4G networks cover half of Finland’s total geographical area and serve approximately 15% of the population.

In Denmark, TT Networks is a joint venture between Telia and Telenor, with TT Networks taking full operational responsibility for their towers through a managed services agreement with Nokia. TT Networks has more than 4,000 points of presence, of which ~1,100 are owned by TT Networks, with a further ~600 rented from other operators (mainly TDC). TDC have announced that they will densify their network, increasing the number of points of presence from ~3,300 to 4,000. It’s as yet unclear whether this increase will reply mainly on new build or colocations, but will most likely be a result of both.

Norway does not currently have any joint venture activity, with Telenor/Norkring owning over 60% of the country’s towers.

New build forecast

The Norwegian market currently has the most potential for new build activity in the Scandinavian region. Third MNO Ice has significantly fewer towers than competitors Telenor and Telia with under 100 proprietary towers, managing to cover ~70% of the country through co-locations, particularly with Telia. Ice plan to increase coverage dramatically by building out their network, whether that is through their own build activity or working with a third party towerco is yet to be made clear. 

In Denmark it’s rumoured that TT Networks, the joint venture between Telia and Telenor, may come to market in the coming years – which will galvanise the need for significant infill and strengthening across their network of 1,800 towers. 

Sweden’s market is fairly well served currently, but as 4G coverage becomes more extensive, Swedish players are considering their options for 3GIS and SUNAB, Sweden’s 3G network sharing ventures, and we may well see these networks undergo a round of rationalisation, infill and strengthening over the next few years.

5G infrastructure 

Small cell rollout in Scandinavia is gathering momentum, with orders expected to accelerate rapidly over the next five years. In addition, many of the MNOs are investing heavily in fibre, either through laying their own networks or acquiring fibre where possible.


New towers 2018-2023: 3,000

The current landscape

39% of the 48,997 broadcast and telecom towers and rooftops in Spain are owned by towercos, led by Telefónica’s Telxius and European market-maker Cellnex, who secured the bulk of their portfolio in Spain through acquisitions from Telefónica and Yoigo in 2012-2014. Broadcast towerco Axion, which operates in the Andalucian region of Spain, have around 600 towers in their portfolio. 

Estimated ownership of Spain’s 49,461 telecom and broadcast sites

New build forecast

With three successful towercos, there is new build underway across Spain, both in terms of build to suit and network infill. We would expect to see around 500 new towers a year built by Spanish towercos, plus a few more by MNOs in the country. In addition, we would expect a significant degree of decommissioning as MNOs seek to rationalise their networks and move their equipment to third party towers. 

5G infrastructure

The Spanish market is moving ahead with 5G infrastructure, with Cellnex announcing some high profile small cell and DAS partnerships with venues such as the new Wanda Metropolitano and partnering with JCDecaux in Spain and Italy. Axion, the broadcasting towerco in Andalucia, has recently partnered with Enagas to launch a new fibre operator Axent, with a national network of 5,000km across Spain. Axion has also partnered with UK towerco Wireless Infrastructure Group to form a new venture called Iberia Small Cells Network, which will provide neutral host services to venues and municipalities in the region. The Spanish government is keen to promote 5G evolution, with a €20mn grant available to good use cases in Spain.


New towers 2018-2023: 700

The current landscape 

Cellnex acquired 2,339 towers from Sunrise in May 2017, creating Switzerland’s first fully fledged towerco Swiss Towers AG. Working with partners Swiss Life and Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners, the Cellnex-led consortium paid €430mn for roughly 20% of Switzerland’s 11,300 towers, mostly in rooftop locations. Market leader Swisscom owns around 5,800 towers in Switzerland as well as diversifying into broadcasting, internet and fixed line consumer offerings. 

New build forecast 

Cellnex has around 400 new towers planned in Switzerland, agreed as part of their deal with Sunrise in 2017. Swisscom is also continually expanding its network and increasing the number of antenna sites, and we anticipate their new build to exceed that of Cellnex over the next five years – over the last few years they claim to have upgraded or built around 2-300 towers per annum. Third operator Salt, which has the fewest towers in the Swiss market at around 1,500, may do a small amount of new build but we anticipate they will reply mainly on co-location opportunities to grow their network coverage in the short term. 

With future build to suit as well as 200 DAS nodes agreed in the deal, Cellnex sees a chance for significant growth through data usage and 5G rollout in this central European country.

5G infrastructure 

Swisscom is highly committed to rolling out what will become the backbone of 5G infrastructure, including fibre, small cells and data centres, having rolled out thousands of small cells to date. Cellnex has an agreement in place as part of their deal with Sunrise to provide another 200 DAS nodes. We expect Swiss small cell orders to snowball, putting the country towards the front of the European market in terms of 5G infrastructure rollout.


New towers 2018-2023: 4,000

The current landscape 

The Turkish tower market is dominated by Global Tower, a captive towerco owned by Turkey’s leading operator, Turkcell. TowerXchange believes that Global Tower owns around 3,400 and leases around 2,390 from Turkcell, for which they only receive revenue from co-locations. In addition they manage a portfolio of around 2,215 towers on behalf of Turkcell, for which they just receive maintenance fees. In addition the Universal Service Project has seen all three Turkish MNOs collaborate on achieving the Turkish government’s requirement to achieve 99.99% coverage through building in rural areas, with Turkcell building 1,100 towers as part of phase one and Turk Telecom and Vodafone constructing around 2,300 lattice towers and container poles to date as part of phase two. Most recently, the Turkish government has entered the tower market, through PTT Kule Inc. PTT is a government-owned service which offers postal services, logistics and banking and has established PTT Kule mainly to provide terrestrial FM broadcasting and digital TV services to broadcasters, but who will also offer space to Turkey’s MNOs as well. 

A quirk of the Turkish market is that the infrastructure rolled out for 2G in the early 2000s, a total of around 16,000 towers, will revert to the Ministry of Transport and Communications in 2023. As yet it is not clear what the government will do with these assets: it has been widely believed that the government would not have the appetite or resources to manage such a large portfolio of towers and would hand them back to the MNOs, but the current investability of telecoms infrastructure means no option is currently off the table. 

New build forecast 

Turk Telecom and Vodafone are currently rolling out phase two of the Turkish Universal Service Project, which has a further 900 lattice towers and 300 container poles yet to be built before the phase is completed in the next two years. Phase three has not yet been announced, but we envisage we may see a further 2-3,000 sites rolled out across Turkey before this is complete. Global Tower are actively engaging in build to suit activities for Turkish MNOs and infill activities in Turkey, and we expect to see them both building and strengthening towers over the next five years.  

PTT Kule, Turkey’s newest towerco, currently has two towers under construction, a 387.5m tower in Istanbul which will provide office space, datacentres, cafes and more, as well as having three fibre feeds – the site will also have full generator backup and be capable of power autonomy; and a 150m lattice tower. PTT Kule are planning as many as 40 high towers across Turkey in the next few years. 

5G infrastructure 

5G rollout is not going as quickly as hoped, primarily due to rows about the ownership and use of Turkey’s fibre network.

Partially state-owned Turk Telekom has thus far invested most heavily in fibre, spending US$7bn over the last ten years and laying 213,000km of fibre across the country. Currently Turk Telekom is able to set its own commercial prices for use of this network, meaning Turkcell and Vodafone feel they are losing out and paying over the odds in a market where increasingly mobile is bundled together with broadband and fixed line offerings.

With another 250,000km of fibre still needed to cover the Turkish market, Turkcell Chief Executive Kaan Terzioglu has suggested that by working together, rather than investing separately, the Turkish operators could save US$12.5bn. However Turk Telekom CEO Rami Aslan has thus far been disinterested in the idea of collaboration, particularly in urban areas, claiming Turk Telekom plans to invest another US$2.8bn in the next three years.

This stalemate between the key players is hampering the rollout of 4G and could have a serious impact on getting 5G networks off the ground when the time comes. We anticipate small cell orders in Turkey will grow over the next five years, but will remain lower than average for Europe until the politics of the market can be resolved.


New towers 2018-2023: 5,000

The current UK landscape 

The UK tower market is dominated by dedicated infrastructure players. Towercos Arqiva, Cellnex and Wireless Infrastructure Group own around 12,000 in-use towers between them, and the UK’s MNOs have split into two joint venture towercos, with Three and EE forming MBNL, and Vodafone and Telefónica creating CTIL soon after. Although CTIL and MBNL don’t lease up their towers on a commercial basis (yet), there is a certain amount of pragmatic bi-lateral swaps between the two entities, as well as both parties using towers provided by the independent towercos in the market. 

With four established players in the UK market and with a tenancy ratio greater than two on most UK towers, the market doesn’t need to undergo dramatic growth in order to fulfil 4G needs, however there are still ‘not spots’ which need to be addressed. The UK market is currently pursuing a ‘macro first’ approach, with infrastructure owners maximising their macro portfolios rather than rushing to deploy small cell or DAS technology in most cases. However, the rate of macro new build is currently in something of a lull as the outcome of the tribunal around the Electronic Communications Code is determined, as the Code will have a significant impact on the availability and cost of leases. We would therefore expect nascent new build need to be on hold until a resolution, hopefully in Q119. 

Who owns/operates the UK’s 40,000 active cell sites?

New build forecast 

It’s believed the UK may need as many as 3-5,000 new macro towers in the next five years, with the bulk of this needed in rural areas in order for MNOs to satisfy coverage obligations, and the rest needed to add capacity to networks. However, this number may be affected by more effective sharing of UK infrastructure, both by using independent towercos and bi-lateral swaps between MBNL and CTIL. Much of the forecast in new build is dependent on how quickly 5G rolls out in the UK. A slower rollout may result in the number of new macro towers sitting around the 3,000 mark, while a faster rollout could push the numbers well beyond the 5,000 estimate in order to densify the network across the country. 

The main focus on UK macro tower and rooftop owners over the next five years will not be build to suit, however: it will be upgrades and tower strengthening. While the UK’s profile as a mature tower market with extensive coverage means the need for build to suit is less than markets such as France or Germany, British tower owners are aware that much of their infrastructure won’t be able to support two or more tenants using heavier 5G equipment, and are about to undergo an extensive programme of upgrades across their portfolios. 

5G infrastructure 

The UK has had some small cell rollout but the country is generally perceived as being behind much of Europe in terms of rollout, with operators preferring to get as much out of their existing macro networks as possible in the short term. The ‘chicken and egg’ situation, where operators need viable use cases to invest in 5G infrastructure, but without 5G infrastructure the use cases are hard to identify, will persist in stunting the UK rollout in the short term. The ‘macro first’ approach adhered to by UK MNOs may see small cell orders moving from the hundreds in 2018 to the low thousands in 2019, but nothing like the proliferation of points of presence predicted for 5G rollout in the short term.

European new build heat map

One Comment

Great article and good summary across the 16 prime EU countries.

For the UK I did some metric comparison – US v China v UK, from that based on population [UK, 65m], existing towers [approx 44,000] then the UK would need to build another 16,000 to 19,000 site equivalents to achieve a comparable site density to US and China. I use site equivalents, as in reality that could closer to 10,000 real new towers/roof-tops, etc. So the figure of 5,000 is somewhat pessimistic if the UK is to both extend coverage and densify just to achieve 4G+ LTE capacity, let alone 5G. Also if 3.5GHz becomes the prime spectrum for 5G, then the MIMO antenna are not compatible with existing antenna, so that means either space on existing towers/roof-tops or more new towers.

Welcome your thoughts – petercf at

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