After a remarkable comeback in 2022 following a COVID-19 pandemic that shut down businesses across the globe, the live entertainment industry sustained that momentum and continued thriving in 2023, bringing other companies from other sectors along for the ride, especially those involved in technology as venues invest in the fan experience.
One such company thriving and growing alongside the live entertainment industry is American Tower, which is headquartered in Boston and one of the largest real estate investment trusts that owns, operates and develops digital infrastructure. American Tower is dedicated to helping their customers enhance connectivity and transition from 4G to 5G, working not only with cell phone carriers but also venues.
The company has more than 42,000 cell towers in the U.S., and approximately 500 active Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) networks in buildings and venues, including Chicago’s United Center, Xcel Energy Center and Target Field in Minneapolis, Florida’s Daytona International Speedway and casinos along the Las Vegas strip. From the perspective of venues, they want to improve the fan and guest experience, especially in an age when everyone is constantly on their cellphones to document their favorite song from an artist or the final 10 seconds of a tied basketball game.
“We’ve grown with the growth of mobile,” said Charles Curran, head of business development and sales for large public venues. “Fans came roaring back to venues after COVID and [mobile] carriers noticed. They are focused on sports and entertainment venues because that’s where their customers are, and fans are so richly engaged with mobile. So, we’re focused on sports and entertainment venues, too, leveraging our deep carrier relationships to help venues deliver an exceptional fan experience.”
American Tower is working with venues to identify use cases to improve fan experiences, as well as operations, and what approach can be taken to satisfy those needs with technologies like Wi-Fi, private networks and public cellular networks. As they upgrade the public DAS network to 5G, they encourage venues to holistically evaluate their network needs and implement additional solutions to elevate their capabilities.
American Tower also works with carriers to determine what they need from a DAS network and use that knowledge when upgrading a venue’s infrastructure to ensure that it not only benefits the venue but also the carriers distributing their signal.
“They’re realizing how critical having the carrier signal propagated throughout the building is, and they’re taking it seriously,” said Fran Finnegan, Vice President, Managed Networks.
“The carriers have been mostly focused in the last four years on upgrading towers, the macro network, and we’ve been working heavily with them as they’re coming to the point where handsets are pretty much saturated,” he adds. “Nearly everyone has a 5G handset now, and their carriers are starting to focus on some of their capital budget on the venues now. That’s where we’re now swinging into action in terms of helping them do their upgrades and get ready for that next phase of 5G rollout.”
Curran attributes part of American Tower’s growth to its DAS business and acquisition of CoreSite, an American Tower company, which owns 28 regional data centers strategically positioned in metro locations. CoreSite provides cloud on-ramps that can seamlessly connect venues to cloud-based services and applications. Such connections not only boost the fan experience at a location but also operation and business as services can be expanded.
“The data centers have exploded as well with the emergence of cloud services,” Finnegan said. “All of those things are coming together at the same time, and we benefited greatly. … We can basically create a platform that works in conjunction with the DAS network to spin up these revenue-generating applications using our full suite of solutions, the DAS side of our business and the CoreSite data center side, to help venues really think about what they want to do with the IT services.”
Finnegan admits that the transition from 4G to 5G isn’t cheap and is a challenging endeavor, but in a time when demand remains high in the live entertainment industry and tech is built into these venues, the benefits may outweigh the cost, especially as 5G technology evolves and makes way for 6G. The possibilities are endless, and Curran is excited that American Tower will have a hand in the evolution of venues when it comes to the services and experiences they will offer.
“What’s wonderful about the bandwidth and capability of the railroad tracks we’re laying down is that it’s going to bring applications that we can’t even imagine today,” said Curran. “You can expect to hear about American Tower in [the DAS business], you can expect to hear about us in sports and entertainment venues and leveraging the strength of our tower business. 5G is fun!”