What happened

Shares of Crown Castle International (NYSE:CCI) rose 17.7% in the first half of 2020, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. The cell tower and wireless infrastructure manager separated from the broader market's COVID-19 pattern in February, when the long-suffering merger between cell network operators T-Mobile US (NASDAQ:TMUS) and Sprint received its final John Hancock. The S&P 500 fell 4% over the same period.

So what

The Sprint deal had been hanging like a dark cloud over the telecom market since 2018. Investors hate uncertainty, and the $26 billion deal was always a potential game changer that could fall apart at any moment. Removing that chaotic ingredient from an unsettled wireless sector was a surefire way to boost market values across the entire industry (except for T-Mobile/Sprint's leading rivals, of course).

Silhouette of a densely populated cell tower against a colorful sunrise.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

It's been business as usual for Crown Castle, not counting the Sprint deal's consummation. People may travel less than they used to during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, but smartphones are still highly appreciated sources of information and entertainment.

The blockbuster merger took away one of Crown Castle's four largest clients but also increased T-Mobile's scale. The buyout also created a smaller fourth player as DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) took over Sprint's prepaid services, and 5G networks are coming our way. In short, the wireless infrastructure sector should see robust growth for the foreseeable future.

Crown Castle's mild gains in the first half make plenty of sense against that backdrop.