Eco-Site sees way wireless towers can help urban blight

Dec. 22, 2013 @ 06:19 PM

Chapel Hill-based Eco-Site Inc. wants to give blighted properties in urban areas a second chance as wireless communication tower sites.
The approximately year-old company, which received an $80 million equity financing commitment last year, is looking to build primarily wireless towers on hundreds of environmentally impaired sites in dense, urban areas across a five-to-six-year-period.
Company founder and CEO Dale Carey said that after putting up the capital to build and operate the sites, the company plans to then turn around and lease them to wireless service providers like AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.
There’s a need for what Eco-Site is offering, Carey said, as service providers are locating wireless infrastructure sites closer and closer together, narrowing the real estate options.
“For 4G and LTE expansion, you have to add more sites in your network, you have to densify your network,” he said. “Because carriers are now putting towers or sites closer and closer together, you don’t have as many options around real estate,” he added. “You have to get more creative around real estate.”
The company is expecting to hit certain milestones next year, according to Carey. Eco-Site is looking to turn its first sites on in 2014, he said, using Philadelphia as a pilot market. Also next year, the company plans to grow its workforce by eight to 10 people. Eco-Site now has 17 workers, he said.
Also, he said the company plans to access more funding. Of the $80 million equity financing commitment that the company announced last year, Carey said the company has accessed about $20 million.
“We hope to build a few hundred of these sites across the U.S., and we think our play of going in and actually buying the ground and doing some form of revitalization is really the new model for wireless infrastructure,” Carey said.
There is a need for dense development of wireless infrastructure in urban areas, said Jonathan Campbell, director of government affairs for the wireless telecom industry group Personal Communications Industry Association, because of the “staggering” increase in wireless adoption and the amount of data that people are accessing.
He said carriers are using a two-pronged effort to address the growing demand for services: add spectrum, and add infrastructure.
“If you shorten the circle by putting another tower close to it, you cut the people one site is serving … (and you’re) able to increase speeds and give folks the services that they’re paying for, and they expect,” he said.
He said it’s more difficult to build infrastructure in urban areas because of issues of finding suitable land in the right place. He said another obstacle is local zoning and other regulations.
“What you have to remember is, without the wireless infrastructure, the services are not going to be delivered at all or delivered in such a way that people are not going to be satisfied with their services,” he said.
Carey said Eco-Site is looking to meet that challenge by buying and cleaning up property and then giving something back to the communities such as a community garden.
“I think because we’re giving back something, we’re either putting up a streetlight, we’re putting a park bench on the property, we’re allowing a community garden to co-exist, because we’re giving back, (we’ll get) positive reaction from communities to our solution,” he said.