The American Tower data center business includes six edge data centers strategically located at the network’s edge in an effort to achieve data efficiency and optimization with network architecture and compute power. The edge data centers use ground space at macro tower locations in Broomfield and Denver, Colorado; Austin, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Atlanta; and Pittsburgh. The company owns a large collocation data center in Atlanta called Metro Data Center (formerly Colo Atl).
According to Ed Knapp, chief technology officer at American Tower, “more data centers are in the pipeline with partners.” He said the company has been talking about providing data center facilities for a number of years. Knapp spoke during an AGL Virtual Summit in June at the session, “Increasing ROI at the Tower,” moderated by Spencer Kurn, an analyst who leads coverage of U.S. towers for New Street Research.
Knapp explained that a micro edge center, placed the base of a tower, occupies about 10 standard racks. “We’ve talked about what the economics per rack is and how many of those you can ultimately see in the long run,” he said. “However, those were initially experimental where we went out and looked at properties that fit the needs of owned land and in the right space, and the right connectivity and an operator environment there. Then, we went ahead and built those.”
In the past few months, Knapp said, the company has added power capacity to the Metro Data Center, tripling the power in the downtown Atlanta facility. He said many interconnection points of fiber providers in the Southeast connect there. He said that facility gave American Tower a good perspective of the far edge along with the metro edge that feeds northbound into the hyperscalers and mobile network operators (MNOs).
“The way you have to think about the market is today, there’s an opportunity for distributed compute,” Knapp said. “Can you provide power, and can you provide space on a pro rata basis for colo that’s proximate? Although there’s demand for that for certain enterprises, that’s the first step.”
The second step involves the telco cloud, Knapp said. He explains that what happens is that operators try to invest in computing functions that handle the radio and access network and the core network functions as they move progressively to the edge. “Think of those as the U’s and C’s in the classic 5G set,” he said. “That’s the second wave.”
The third wave, Knapp said, comes once 5G is built out widely, with the need to fill in applications in the mobile edge compute — the net function.
“That’s how it will move from where it is today,” he said. “It’s super-regional level with wavelength and with what Verizon and others have deployed. As that has to progress further to the edge to get from the latencies today that are on the order of tens of milliseconds down to the sub-10-millisecond or even sub-5-millisecond latency.”
Bringing the discussion to the topic of return on investment (ROI), Knapp said that thinking about the new data center technology is one thing, but also it is important to think about workflows and how to integrate the new processes associated with data centers.
“We have things like these subscriber identification modules (SIMs),” he said. “You’re managing this data center, and you now have different assets you have to take care of. You have different internet of things (IoT) and sensors that you need to feed to —or not. These are all things that need to be tied together, and the data center needs to be tied back to the other departments. For example, the finance department wants to know what’s the lifecycle of the asset, and all that comes back to ROI. We’re trying to hit double-digit ROI C’s, and we need to get the lease up in those new assets, but they have different sets of customers, different timelines and different requirements.”
American Tower has a large, suburban, rural tower portfolio in the United States, Knapp said, and the company continues to look for ways to economically get to the edge of coverage to fill in. He mentioned government opportunities coming in with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, an FCC initiative designed to inject billions of dollars into the construction and operation of rural broadband networks.
“There are a lot of ideas around fixed wireless,” Knapp said. “We’re starting to see applications in that space. These are on top of the inundation of a large number of demands from the core three plus one that those requirements of building out the wide area of mid-band 5G, is really going hot and heavy. That’s part of what everybody’s looking at,” he said, referring to AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile as the core three and Dish Network as the plus one.
The other ways 5G will move to the edge of the network in to rural areas involve potential fixed wireless improvements used to deliver connectivity more cost effectively than fiber, Knapp said. “We’re starting to see applications in that space, as well.”
Knapp gave a nod to the use of Citizens Broadband Radio Service frequencies as offering business expansion and ROI opportunity. “With General Authorized Access licenses, anybody can set up shop,” he said. “The Priority Access Licenses issued last fall are starting to make their way into the marketplace. Capital is readily available, and folks are signing up and applying. We see demand for those types of assets, as well. It’s a dynamic market between the mainstream carriers and these other folks including cable companies and, potentially, government entities.”
For the June 8 AGL Virtual Summit, Total Tech sponsors included Raycap, Valmont Site Pro 1, Vertical Bridge and B+T Group. Tech sponsors included Alden Systems and Aurora Insight. Viavi Solutions sponsored the keynote address. Additional sponsors included Gap Wireless, NATE, VoltServer and WIA.
J. Sharpe Smith programmed the Summit, and Kari Willis hosted. AGL Media Group has scheduled the next AGL Virtual Summit for Sept. 8. To register, click here.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.