American Tower Hits the Spots

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Not every industry has a clear-cut leader. But in the wireless communications infrastructure industry, American Tower (NYSE: AMT  ) is clearly best in show when the focus is on profitability.

American Tower's profitability overshadows competitors like Crown Castle International (NYSE: CCI  ) and SBA Communications (Nasdaq: SBAC  ) , thanks in part to the location of its wireless towers; management focuses on quality over quantity. Since becoming profitable in 2006, American Tower has managed to continue growing earnings despite the U.S. economic climate.

One would think that the best strategy to dominate the wireless infrastructure business would be to erect as many wireless towers as possible. More towers mean more potential to lease use of those towers to wireless service providers such as Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) . Don't forget all those Verizon Wireless "can you hear me now" commercials touting the size of its wireless coverage universe as the competitive advantage of its business model.

Well, American Tower has established its competitive advantage in a different manner. Instead of building as many towers as possible (though it certainly does own a lot of towers), it uses in-depth market analysis to find locations for its towers that have a large and growing number of wireless customers.

At the end of 2008, the company owned about 23,700 towers strategically placed in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, and India. American Tower generates more revenue per tower than competitors Crown Castle International and SBA Communications. The table below uses 2008 information (the last definitive available data on the number of towers per company) to compare the three companies on the basis of revenue per tower:


American Tower

Crown Castle

SBA Communications

Revenue From Leasing




Number of Towers




Revenue per Tower




Tower refers to number of communications sites from company 10-K reports.

Not only does American Tower collect more revenue per tower than its two closest rivals, but it is the only company of the three that has consistently turned a profit in the past three years. So when distinguishing between companies in the wireless communications infrastructure industry, there is little doubt which company is towering over its rivals.

More on the telecommunications industry:

Fool contributor Gerard Torres does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. American Tower is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Sprint Nextel is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. The Fool's disclosure policy is a champion in every endeavor.

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