Uniti’s Wallace: We’re in a fiber investment phase with the wireless carriers

Uniti's CFO says the company is investing more in its network to satisfy its wireless carrier customers' small cell and macrocell build-out needs. (Image: Mike Seyfang/Flickr)

Uniti Fiber is clearly seeing the benefits of wireless operators’ ongoing drive to densify 4G and prepare for 5G, as it continues to get orders for dark and lit fiber services.

Mark Wallace, EVP, CFO and treasurer of Uniti, told investors during the Citi 2018 Global TMT West Conference that the ongoing fiber build-outs to towers and small cells is driving 50-55% in success-based capital.

“The reason for the large amount of success-based capital is we’re in an investment phase with the wireless carriers,” Wallace said. “We are winning and deploying fiber to support both the dark fiber that the carriers need to have in place as well as fiber and other assets to go with small cell deployments.”

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Like other fiber providers, Uniti is also focused on extending its fiber network to meet actual customer needs instead of conducting speculative build outs.

After getting an initial customer, Uniti can then upsell dark fiber to other wireless operators, content providers or enterprise customers that either need capacity for backhaul or local enterprises that need fiber-based connectivity.

“We are investing in our network assets now, and we think those are good long-term growth opportunities,” Wallace said. “Those are all initial anchor tenants and then we’ll have additional lease up opportunities on those assets for a number of years.”

As it prepares its network to meet wireless operators and other carrier customer needs, Uniti is also increasing the fiber strand counts it deploys in its network.

On average, the service provider will deploy 144-288 strand count fiber—a trend that’s been getting more attention from large carriers like Verizon and others deploying dark fiber for backhaul and other uses.

Wallace says that deploying higher fiber counts makes its assets attractive to multiple customers.

“When you deploy the fiber assets, you’ll have significant lease up opportunity,” Wallace said. “On a triple net lease, it’s going to be exclusive to that one tenant, whereas with the fiber business you’re deploying multiple strands. The initial anchor tenant is only going to take a small portion of those fibers so you’re going to have significant lease up opportunity.”