Month: December 2021

DigitalBridge Forms New Tower Company in Iceland

Source: Inside Towers

DigitalBridge Group (NYSE: DBRG) announced yesterday that funds affiliated with DigitalBridge Investment Management, the firm’s investment management platform, have completed the combined acquisition of two of Iceland’s largest tower portfolios from Sýn hf. (Sýn) and Nova hf. (Nova), the leading Icelandic mobile network operators, to create ÍslandsTurnar.

ÍslandsTurnar is the first independent tower company of scale in Iceland with national coverage to support the two MNOs as they execute their 5G deployment plans. Sýn and Nova will be long-term dual-anchor tenants on all ÍslandsTurnar’s towers. The transaction includes a material build-to-suit program. The company did not disclose financial terms of the transaction or the existing and projected tower counts. 

The investment advances DigitalBridge’s expanding presence in the Nordics. In 2018, the firm acquired Digita Oy, an independent tower operator based in Finland. At the end of 3Q21, DigitalBridge reported that Digita had a national portfolio of 300 active towers and 2,400 total sites including micro data centers and IoT sites.

“The creation of ÍslandsTurnar is a unique opportunity to establish a leading independent tower company in Iceland and support both Sýn and Nova in their operation of high-quality mobile networks as well as accelerating their 5G network deployment,” said Marc Ganzi, President and CEO of DigitalBridge. “We are excited to play a role in Iceland’s stable, attractive and digitally advanced telecom market, bringing DigitalBridge’s deep experience of successfully owning and operating tower portfolios on a global basis.”

“This is an exciting opportunity to set up the first independent tower company in my home market of Iceland. We are proud that two anchor tenants of the caliber and technical experience of Sýn and Nova have entrusted us with their mission-critical network infrastructure. I am looking forward to working with DigitalBridge to deliver high-quality telecommunication infrastructure services in Iceland,” said Joakim Reynisson.

Reynisson, an industry veteran with more than 30 years of telecom experience, has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of ÍslandsTurnar, effective immediately. Prior to this role, he was Chief Technology Officer of Nova for over a decade.

WISP….to FISP….back to WISP?

With all the debate over the speeds provided by Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), I read with great interest the interview in a recent trade rag with the CEO of Resound Networks and their observations on this technology.  For those who do not know Resound, they were one of the largest winners in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) which occurred in the Fall of 2020.  Specifically, it is set to receive ~ $310MM which it is still waiting to be allocated from the Commission.  The FCC has not exactly been delving out the capital to the winners as quickly as hoped.  Part of this is due to some winners being overly ambitious with their promise and some of this is due to significant questions about FWA delivering true broadband-like speeds.

Enter Tarana Wireless. This little company has come up in a lot of meetings I have had recently.  According to its own company description on its press releases, Tarana Wireless is “the industry’s performance leader in broadband wireless access network solutions, powered by a number of well-proven breakthroughs in perfect, multidimensional optimization of radio signals.”   In layman’s terms this means they provide the equipment to work with unlicensed spectrum to offer a good, clear and very fast FWA service.  As to be imagined, FWA is the preferred solution in many rural markets where fiber deployment is a heavy lift (in both cost and time to trench).

Using Tarana’s equipment, Resound said it is seeing downstream speeds of 1Gbps (and upstream rates of 500Mbps) over five-mile distances using the 5GHz (unlicensed) spectrum band.  This approach has allowed Resound to move very quickly.  According to the CEO, they are able to open “four to five markets a month” with this equipment, connecting as many as 100 homes to one Tarana access point.  While one of the criticisms about FWA is interference in the unlicensed band of spectrum, Tarana has noise mitigation technology to help limit such interference.  

The timing of this is interesting given there have been other carriers – such as Shentel – who have scrapped all plans to move toward FWA and instead have double downed on its fiber to the home (FTTH) effort. 

This becomes a timely critical debate as the WIA fought awfully hard (and succeeded) in having wireless included in the recently passed Infrastructure Bill.  While most of this was about 5G, Jonathan Adelstein, the President and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, specifically commented on this following the passing of the bill on November 15th: “I’m especially thrilled the broadband funding explicitly heeds WIA’s call for technological flexibility which allows mobile and fixed wireless to compete for funding.”

How Tarana and other competing devices work and scale will be something to monitor.  It seems to me that many of the WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers) have started to change their acronym to FISPs (Fiber Internet Service Providers) as they begin to overbuild and edge out their footprint with fiber.  If Tarana and companies like it begin to really find their sea legs then this acronym change may boomerang back to the “WISPy” side – especially in the all important rural America footprint – the main pillar of any digital divide debate.  An important trend to watch for sure!