Colo Atl Acquisition Doesn’t Mean American Tower Is All-In on Data Centers…Yet | Up-Close with John Ghirardelli at CAPRE’s Atlanta Data Center Summit

ATLANTA, GA – CAPRE’s Fourth Annual Greater Atlanta Data Center Summit cast a wide net to cover all of the latest deals and development in the Peach State, and one of the most highly anticipated panels of the day dove deep into one such transaction. “Greater Atlanta Acquisition of the Year: A Fireside Chat with American Tower and Colo Atl” featured John Ghirardelli, Director – U.S. Innovation, American Tower and Timothy Kiser, current Owner of Kiser Consulting and former owner of Colo Atl, which he sold to American Tower earlier this year.

Early on in the discussion, after Kiser offered some perspective from his many years in the data center industry, Ghirardelli was asked to opine on a few topics at the top of the data center industry’s collective mind – the changing concept of commercial real estate, and the roll out of 5G. “John, are data centers commercial real estate, infrastructure, or something else?” asked Moderator Brian Klebash, Founder and CEO of CAPRE.

“Part of my role is to look at the digital infrastructure landscape and understand how that ecosystem comes together, how the value chain exists today, and more importantly, how it will exist in the future,” replied Ghirardelli. “We view ourselves as a pretty passive infrastructure owner and operator. This is a very adjacent industry to towers – we’re basically providing space and power, vertically on towers and horizontally on data centers.”

In other words, there are a lot of similarities. But Ghirardelli stressed that the most important thing to remember is that their assets are mission critical to the communications industry, both domestic and global. “The attributes are very positive and favorable to what we view today. So while there is a component of commercial real estate, these are mission critical digital infrastructure assets,” he shared.”

John Ghirardelli, Director – U.S. Innovation, American Tower

However, this acquisition doesn’t necessarily mean that American Tower is moving all-in to the space. In fact, according to Ghirardelli, the acquisition has served primarily as a sandbox over the last twelve months to understand the ecosystem, the industry, the players, and how these connected assets can co-exist with the towers that American Towers owns and operates today.

“Tell us about the lay of the land in terms of towers,” suggested Klebash. “And how soon, and how real, is the roll-out of 5G?”

“That’s a big question mark. I don’t think anyone has the answer,” he replied. “There is a lot of talk and a lot of hype in the industry about 5G and what it’s going to mean. From a tower-owner perspective, it means we’ll obviously have to put in additional equipment. More cell towers, more cell site locations, that will benefit the small cells, the fiber, all across the board. We’re seeing some activity today on our assets, from large M&O carriers in the U.S.”

Ghirardelli expects that, over the next five to ten years, that activity will continue to pick up. “We’ll see 5G take off, and we’ll likely have it in denser areas first and foremost, and then spared out to rural areas. It’s likely to be more business-focused than consumer-focused, but there are going to be benefits to both sides,” he predicted.

“Where we sit, is that we’re neutral. We don’t have anything in the game outside of being able to enable that ecosystem. Whether it’s 4G, 5G, 6G, or 7G, whether it exists, we just want to be that neutral-host real estate infrastructure provider that enables that ecosystem for folks in this room and other players to participate in that business,” he added.

Finally, Klebash asked one more question. “Which carriers are leading the charge for the 5G roll out? Is there anyone?”

“I think they’re all active. They’re all lining up different markets, they’re rolling out different tests. We’ll see it across the board, from all of our traditional carriers,” replied Ghirardelli. “A lot of different interesting things are happening…even on the stuff that we’re trying to do outside of our core business, just trying to understand what’s happening to that ecosystem and how it will impact the established landscape that exists today.”

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