Crown Castle Chief Executive Officer Jay Brown is downplaying the current state of 5G research and development, having told analysts the field is still "at the conversation stage." While speaking during the cell tower company's Q4 2017 earnings call on Thursday, Mr. Brown expressed skepticism in regards to the wireless industry's recent moves to commercialize the next generation of mobile networks, saying the firm believes the current activity in the 5G segment may not necessarily be "really 5G-related." The executive also reflected on the fact that 5G deployment will be much more challenging than any previous global networking upgrade, primarily because it requires major densification efforts, i.e. the installation of millions of new cell sites, both towers and small cells. By comparison, the transitions to 2G, 3G, 4G, and everything in between were much more straightforward and easier to predict, Mr. Brown suggested.
New Street Research analysts believe Crown Castle and Sprint agreed to a new 5G partnership based on the former's new consolidated financial report which mentioned a $5 million revenue boost over the last quarter that it specifically attributed to a number of new "long-term customer agreements." The analysts believe Sprint both renewed its existing lease contracts with Crown Castle and signed new ones, with that conclusion being based on the already established lengths of the company's wireless carrier contracts, as well as the newly provided information. The fact that Crown Castle's top executive is now downplaying the overall state of 5G doesn't necessarily dismiss that possibility, though it does raise some doubts in regards to the extent of any potential partnership the firm may have agreed with Sprint, especially since the unannounced agreements were said to be "long-term" in nature.
Mr. Brown is still optimistic about Crown Castle's prospects in the 5G world, largely due to the company's continued investments in fiber and small cells, both of which will be important components in the process of establishing nationwide 5G networks. His thoughts on the overall state of wireless R&D still stand in stark contrast to Verizon and AT&T's recent announcements promising limited deployments of consumer-ready 5G networks in the second half of the year, though only AT&T claims it will offer a truly mobile network in select cities by the end of 2018, whereas Verizon remains focused on a fixed wireless access service.