American Tower enters Dish mix, reaches lease deal for up to 20K sites

Dish Network has officially brought American Tower into the fold for its 5G network build, reaching a long-term lease agreement for up to 20,000 sites.

With the Master Lease Agreement (MLA) announced Monday, Dish now has lease deals with all of the Big Three tower companies.

It announced an MLA with Crown Castle last fall, followed by SBA Communications in February. Smaller and privately-held infrastructure companies, including Vertical Bridge and others, also reached infrastructure agreements with Dish as the operator works to build out a standalone 5G network and become a fourth wireless competitor.

“With the American Tower agreement, Dish now has the complete, robust infrastructure portfolio we need to support our nationwide 5G network deployment,” said Dave Mayo, Dish’s Executive Vice President of Network Development, in a statement.  

RELATED: Dish inks tower deal with SBA for 5G network

Mayo continued that the “team has already developed colocation plans for American Tower sites” across the U.S.  American Tower has more than 40,000 macro sites in its U.S. portfolio and Dish can lease space on up to 20,000 of them. Dish may also lease shared generators from American Tower at select sites. 

The deal isn’t entirely a surprise. Speaking to Fierce in late February about the 5G build, Mayo cited tower deals as one of his top three priorities and that Dish was “actively talking to American Tower,” saying to “stay tuned.”

Under the newly announced MLA, American Tower will start collecting revenue next year as cash lease payments from Dish begin 2022. According to Dish, those payments will grow over time as the network build continues. 

Dish’s network timeline anticipates an initial 5G market up by the end of the third quarter of 2021, with coverage requirements that call for 70% of the U.S. population by June 2023. After Q3 2020 Dish said it was on track to reach around 15,000 sites expected to hit the 2023 minimum coverage targets.

RELATED: Dish’s Dave Mayo talks about ‘audacious’ effort to deploy greenfield 5G network

In its latest financial outlook, American Tower didn’t include any significant contributions from Dish during 2021.

American Tower’s MLA has the same scope as Crown Castle (up to 20,000 sites). Crown's deal also includes fiber services and executives have suggested it’s positioned to get an outsized portion of Dish’s early network build. Analysts also have pointed to Crown Castle’s portfolio, which skews more urban, as a reason Dish might touch those towers first to reach more of the population early on and hit coverage requirements under commitments to the FCC and DoJ.

Firms, such as Wells Fargo, had noted that over a 5-year period, American Tower, Crown Castle, and SBA each will have a mix of Dish’s activity.

Dish didn’t disclose a specific number of sites for its deal with SBA.

RELATED: Dish inks long-term deal with Crown Castle for up to 20K towers

While American Tower is the last of the big three public tower companies to sign a deal with Dish, senior leadership last month expressed confidence it would be able to get its own fair share of Dish leases.

During the company's fourth quarter earnings call, American Tower CEO Tom Bartlett told investment analysts that "given the location and given the quality assets, I am confident that we will gain at least our fair share of activity…from Dish,” according to a transcript.

In today’s MLA announcement, a prepared statement by Steve Vondran, EVP and president of American Tower’s U.S. division, also pointed to material share of leasing activity.

“We look forward to this agreement evolving into a long-term, mutually beneficial strategic partnership,” Vondran stated. “We believe that our nationwide portfolio of communications sites is optimally positioned to continue to serve as the backbone of today’s critical mobile broadband networks while assuring a meaningful share of new leasing activity in the marketplace.”