AT&T's president of technology operations, Bill Hogg, called the traditional cell tower space rental model "unsustainable" at an investor meeting today, and said that AT&T is moving away from that model and potentially leaving behind real estate entities who won't get on board with other solutions. The company has been working with current landlords to renegotiate contracts and save some cash, as well as to provide a bit more flexibility. AT&T has been looking for lower costs, more flexible terms concerning early termination, and permission to modify equipment setups on a given piece of land with little or no extra cost. The push to renegotiate contracts for macrocell deployments is extending to small cells and other next-generation methods of network communication, manifesting as de facto standards for the burgeoning industry.
AT&T's push for land use contract reform is helping them to save money and change equipment to refarm for 5G, but that's only half the battle, in most cases. There are numerous issues that can affect equipment rollouts and changes, but municipal meddling, especially in reference to zoning and permitting, can be one of the biggest headaches. Citing numerous concerns, many municipalities are putting up a fight when it comes to companies looking to roll out small cells and hidden mini-towers. Many states are reportedly considering stepping in to help establish standards and make things easier for both parties, but nothing has happened on the federal level just yet.
AT&T's SVP of network communications, Tom Keathley, sang a similar song about a year back, and said that the company was putting together a special team to combat the issue. This team was charged with finding potential solutions to the problem and then implementing one or a few of the best, and the new contract negotiations, one of those ideas, seems to be doing its job. AT&T will, without a doubt, lose a few landlords to this new strategy, but in the end, it should help them cut costs and increase network flexibility more than enough to accommodate a small cell-based 5G rollout well before the new technology's projected street date of 2020.