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Small Cell, Site Acq Firm Looks to Enable Next Generation

Mike Harrington, Contributing Editor to AGL Magazine


These are heady days for San Francisco-based small cell specialist NextEdge Networks. As Doug Wiest, the CEO of the newly formed company, explains: “NextEdge Networks was founded in November 2016, when Titan Grove purchased the small cell assets from EdgeConnecX, an international edge data center company. In September 2017, we finalized our merger with Modus, which is a leader in wireless site acquisition and turnkey deployment, and which has been in business, focusing on small-cell deployments, since 2005. In terms of size, we’re growing, and right now we’re at 60-plus employees and seven offices on both coasts.

“The merger of NextEdge Networks and Modus, a San Francisco-based site acquisition and construction firm deploying small cells for all the major wireless carriers, has created a turnkey provider of services and infrastructure solutions to enable the deployment of the next generation of wireless infrastructure. “Because we focus on small cells, we do things a little bit different than your typical site-acquisition and construction company does, Wiest said. “Although we do other types of work, we really see ourselves as being experts in small cells.”

According to Wiest, the rapid growth of data use is causing increasing demands on the nation’s wireless infrastructure and wireless providers, which require innovative solutions aligning the interests of all stakeholders. “Our combined capabilities, as well as our experience and success in the most difficult of jurisdictions, allow us to partner with wireless carriers, municipalities and business owners to create long-term alignment to address the impending need of network densification,” he said.

Predominantly West Coast-oriented, NextEdge Networks has offices in San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; and Florida. The company’s range of services now includes project financing, small cell deployments, site acquisition and jurisdictional partnerships, construction and construction management, program management, fiber deployment, in-building distributed antenna system (DAS) networks and small cell installations and maintenance.

NextEdge Networks bills itself as the recognized expert in the burgeoning field of small cell and DAS deployments, having executed more than 4,000 node deployments in more than 40 states. Meanwhile, Modus’ past deployments have also included more than 3,500 fiber-to-cell installations, the first microcell deployment, the first western U.S. small cell installation, the first U.S. 5G deployment and numerous high-profile DAS installations.

A wireless industry veteran, Wiest has built a multidisciplinary career, working for various wireless infrastructure companies before becoming CEO of NextEdge Networks. He worked at EdgeConnecX for six years as executive vice president for business development, focusing the last couple of years on small cell deployment. Prior to EdgeConnecX, Wiest was the founding president and CEO of LightTower, an Eastern U.S.-based fiber company that Crown Casstle International acquired. Before that, Wiest was COO of American Tower for its first five years. Earlier still, Wiest worked with various carriers, including Nextel and McCaw.

The NextEdge Networks team also includes Chris Maguire, CFO, who was formerly CFO of Golden State Towers and executive vice president of American Tower. Maguire has held CFO and strategic consulting positions in wireless, radio and renewable energy businesses. Chad Abbott, Erik Corkery and Ryan Crowley, who founded Modus in 2005, will become executive vice presidents of the new entity and continue to lead the services activities of NextEdge Networks. Business development efforts are headed by two industry veterans, Jennifer Hockensmith, formerly of EdgeConneX, Lightsquared and PrimeCo, and John Ricci, formerly of Ericsson, Golden State Towers, Spectrasite and SBA Communications.

A self-described wanna-be engineer, Wiest said he always is fascinated by patterns of mobility and how technology can change the ways humans interact. “Wireless mobility always intrigued me; I was lucky because the wireless industry has been in a growth pattern as long as I’ve been involved — and it’s been great to watch,” he said. “I think we’re now entering a new area of growth where data is now being consumed, particularly video, in larger and larger chunks. It continues to transform the way we do business. Ten years from now, we’ll be astounded what’s changed.”

Fortunately, Wiest says, NextEdge is well capitalized to exploit the technology trends. “Our investment in infrastructure, we hope, will grow as a percentage of our business over time —and, those investments will happen, both outdoors and indoors, either through pockets of fiber deployment or in-building through small cell or DAS installations,” he said. “We have the capability, financially, to create infrastructure opportunities as we go forward.”

Jurisdictional Partnerships

On the real estate side, Wiest expects NextEdge Networks to remain cautious. The company isn’t planning to do any speculative development, although it will look for risk-adjusted opportunities. “We have a rather unique approach to site acquisition because it’s our belief that, for the last 30 years, real estate owners, organizations and managers have expected wireless as a funding source — or a way for remuneration,” he said. “It’s our view that that needs to be turned on its head.”

Wiest believes wireless is more of a benefit and, as a result, real estate owners and managers shouldn’t be expecting a wireless entity to fund activities that happen within their buildings. “As a result of that benefit, our real estate activities really set a completely different expectation in terms of what the cost would be for access to those buildings,” he said.

“We essentially start at zero for access cost; we don’t start at a high number and work down,” Wiest said. “That’s going to be the future of the industry because, otherwise, with carriers not being as capable of funding, particularly on the in-building side, the real estate owners will take a good brunt of that on, which they really haven’t had to do before and, therefore, look on it at as a utility than as a way to make money.

Wiest said the main strength of the merger is how it combines small cell and jurisdictional capabilities. Although both Modus and NextEdge focused on small cell deployment, Modus has more experience in jurisdictional partnerships, particularly in the ability to partner with municipalities and other regulatory entities to help speed up the process and make it easier for wireless carriers to deploy their networks.

Wiest sees Modus’ jurisdictional knowledge as a big plus, particularly because the company worked in San Francisco, said to be one of the toughest jurisdictions in the country.

“Not only did we work with the city and county of San Francisco to develop their wireless standards and procedures, they looked at us as an integral entity in helping them create their processes going forward,” Wiest said.” Although we see that as a partnership, we certainly don’t forget the fact that our ultimate customers are wireless carriers. They’re the ones that use those procedures to get the work done. Nevertheless, it’s important to establish good relationships because that makes things go so much quicker as you move through the points and process of our collective groups together.”

The other strength that NextEdge and Modus have long shared, according to Wiest, is a relentless attitude in keeping customers satisfied and happy. He believes that both companies also share the same approach exceeding expectations.

The Road Ahead

Wiest envisions continued growth for the marketplace in general and NextEdge in particular. As reasons, he cited the increasing demand for data consumption and the fact that data and video are growing at almost logarithmic leaps and bounds. “We’re going to continue to be the experts of small cells, but we’re certainly going to be open to different ways to grow and invest and we hope that over time we can turn our infrastructure business into a bigger percentage of the business as a whole,” Wiest said. “We hope to be one of the principal small cell experts and deployers of the new technologies. We hope to be an owner, too. We certainly see growth in our future.”

The biggest challenge for the brand-new company will be capturing the right opportunities, Wiest said, including exceeding customer expectations and focusing on the near-term needs of the wireless industry. “We’re going to be focused on small cell installations, both indoors and outdoors, alhough I hope you’ll see us morph over time,” he said. “We would like to see a bigger percentage become more infrastructure-oriented than service-oriented, and we would like to own some of these networks that are being invested in throughout the country.”

Finally, Wiest said he believes that as carriers look for ways to improve their own competitive position, the ability of other people to fund networks will grow over time.

Mike Harrington is a freelance writer in Prairie Village, Kansas.