Crown Castle (CCI 0.67%) has an excellent dividend track record. Since converting to a real estate investment trust (REIT) in 2014, the company has grown its payout at a 9% annual rate. That's ahead of the 7.5% average annual dividend growth rate of the S&P 500 during that timeframe. That above-average growth rate is even more impressive when factoring in Crown Castle's much higher dividend yield. At 3.4%, it's more than double the yield of an S&P 500 index fund. That higher yield and dividend growth rate combination has enabled the REIT to deliver market-beating total returns.

The infrastructure REIT expects to continue growing its high-yielding dividend at a healthy rate for years to come. Here's a look at what's driving its ability to deliver towering dividend growth.

Tower-driven growth in 2022

Crown Castle recently reported its second-quarter results. The REIT grew its site rental revenues by 10%, while its adjusted funds from operations (AFFO) increased by 6% per share. That was a solid showing for the company amid what it has described as a transitional year. It's currently working with mobile carriers to "upgrade their existing cell sites and deploy thousands of new sites on our macro towers as part of the first phase of the 5G build out," according to CEO Jay Brown's comments in the second-quarter earnings release. 

For example, it signed an agreement with Dish Network (DISH) in late 2020 for space on up to 20,000 communications towers (representing roughly half of its current tower portfolio). Those towers serve as the backbone of Dish's 5G network buildout. This catalyst of adding additional tenants like Dish to its existing tower portfolio helped drive 6% organic revenue growth in its towers segment during the first half of this year. 

Going small to accelerate growth in 2023 and beyond

While the tower segment is doing most of the heavy lifting this year, Crown Castle sees its growth driver transitioning to its small cell and fiber businesses starting next year. The company expects to deploy 5,000 small cell nodes this year. It anticipates that rate doubling in 2023 as mobile carriers densify their 5G networks by adding small nodes to handle more data in areas where they're seeing a lot of mobile traffic.

The company has signed several small cell deals in recent years to drive this acceleration. For example, early last year Verizon (VZ -0.17%) committed to lease up to 15,000 small cells from the company. Crown Castle will deploy them on Verizon's behalf over the next four years. Meanwhile, earlier this year, the company signed an agreement with T-Mobile (TMUS 0.48%) to support that mobile carrier's 5G network. The deal expanded Crown Castle's relationship with T-Mobile, enabling that company to gain increased access to the company's towers and small cells, which should drive long-term revenue growth for both segments. 

These deals are likely only the beginning. Crown Castle believes that 5G represents a decades-long investment cycle for the company to build additional towers, small cells, and fiber infrastructure. These growth drivers should support continued strong dividend growth, which Crown Castle estimates will average 7% to 8% annually over the long term. 

The potential to produce towering total returns

Crown Castle believes it can continue growing its high-yielding dividend at an attractive rate for years to come. That could give the REIT the power to continue delivering market-beating total returns. This upside potential makes the REIT a great option for those seeking a compelling passive income stream.