Cell Site Question: How Much is an Acre of Land Worth in the U.S.?

My mentor and colleague, John Pestle of the Varnum, LLP and I teach online lectures about wireless leasing matters.  We have taught these wireless leasing

John Pestle, Esq. Varnum Law Firm.
John Pestle, Esq. of the Varnum, LLP.

lectures for many years.  Our lectures, taught through Lorman Education Services and the International Municipal Lawyers Association focus on key things a wireless site landlord should be thinking about when entering into a decades-long cell site lease, or modifying a lease already in effect.

The number one question we get from our lecture participants is always the same: ‘How much is the going rent?’

John has a splendid way of answering that question.  He replies socratically asking the question: ‘How much is an acre of land worth in the United States?’

The point, of course, is that every parcel of land is unique; therefore there cannot be a single right answer.  Rather, the more complete answer is ‘How much is a specific acre of land worth to the Lessee and Lessor.’  The potential cell site landlord has one opinion of worth, while the potential wireless carrier tenant has its own view.

The question is then, how to figure out the ballpark.

You will find precious few wireless lease rates on the web.  A few years ago, John and I conducted a national survey of lease rates for cell sites on government properties, and the findings can be summarized as follows:  Lease rates are all over the map, but there’s a general range between a few hundred dollars per month to over $5,000 per month.  What makes one cell site only worth a few hundred dollars a month and another many times that amount?

Location, location, location and need, need, need.

A cell site lease in a rural area will produce lease income for the landlord than will one in a suburban area.  A downtown lease will most often induce a higher rent than a suburban lease.  An interstate-adjacent lease will induce a higher rent than some downtown rents.  A financial district lease is somethings at the top of the pile as goes rent.

Here’s a kicker…

What is an exceptionally desirable area to lease in for one wireless company can be completely worthless for another wireless company.  That is because each carrier deploys it coverage in a different manner.

Consider each company’s coverage needs to be a jigsaw puzzle of the same outside dimensions, say 10 miles by 10 miles, which each puzzle having different shaped pieces to fill in the coverage picture inside the edges of the puzzle.  A missing piece for one carrier might already be found and inserted for another.

Here’s another kicker…

Lease rates can be completely disconnected from the size of the leased area. That’s because the wireless carrier will often try and grab land claiming that some elements of your land are less valuable to them than others. They might say something like, ‘we value the space occupied by the equipment cabinets to be more valuable than the space occupied by the tower, so you should, too.’ (By the way, don’t fall for this sucker punch. Your land is most likely to have a single per square foot or per cubic foot rent (yes, some leases have three dimensions specified of height, width and depth, rather than the more common two dimensions of width and depth).

There’s more to say about this, and I will, but for now I’ll leave you with this…

BEWARE of leases where the wireless carrier wants to occupy a 100 foot by 100 foot space (10,000 square feet). This rather magic number is far greater than I’ve ever seen a wireless carrier need for its own site, which can be from 250 square feet to about 700 square feet. So why would a wireless carrier want the extra many thousands of square feet? So that it can sublease your land to other wireless carriers, broadcasters, two-way radio companies, paging firms (yes, they still exist) and the like so that your tenant can collect and put that subrent in their pocket instead of your.

There are some very effective means to avoid the sublease trap. We commonly implement those means in leases we write for landlords to maximize the sublease rental income of the wireless landlords who rely on our expertise and experience.





T-Mobile’s CellSpot – Washington Post Says Think Twice

T-Mobile CellSpot
T-Mobile’s Free CellSpot: Hidden Costs?

I posted earlier today about my concerns regarding T-Mobile’s CellSpot.  Beyond the concerns I wrote about, the Washington Post today has a very informative piece about how this device will metaphorically reach into the wallets and purses of T-Mobile subscribers who opt to install a CellSpot.  An important read.

Now we know one way T-Mobile might intend to to fund its largess.

Washington Post: T-Mobile CellSpot – THINK TWICE



T-Mobile’s CellSpot: You Cover What They Can’t

I’m simply amazed by the press coverage T-Mobile is getting from the announcement that it will offer free 3G/4G/4G-LTE hot spots. As their Fact Sheet says, “the 4G LTE CellSpot ensures customers with a limited signal will now have strong, dependable voice and data coverage in their home or small business.”

T-Mobile CellSpot
“Here Spot!” “Heeeeer Spot!”

All you need to do is request one of these babies from T-Mobile, give them $25 as a security deposit, plug it in to the wall, hook it up to the Internet, and away you go.

And that’s a problem.

You have to pay for T-Mobile’s coverage in two more ways.  First, you have to provide your own power to operate the unit.  In the grand scheme, that’s not much money each year.  I’m guessing something like $15.  Then you have to connect this baby to your own internet connection, which then takes some undisclosed portion of your Internet to provide connectivity to the CellSpot.  Have a slow connection…or dial up…then you might have a problem.

What’s the real problem, here?

The way I see it, this big splash in the press is a tacit admission by T-Mobile’s that its company-provided radio frequency coverage AND capacity is far less than adequate, especially for in-building service areas.  Viewed that way, T-Mobile’s announcement appears to be painting flaming red lipstick on a pink porcine.  Still not pretty.

So who can connect to these units?

I’m not sure.  Traditionally, carriers have required cell site hotspot users to register their phones so that only they can use the hotspot.  If T-Mobile goes the other way and allows any T-Mobile user to connect via any CellSpot, then there’s another problem: T-Mobile’s customers installing CellSpots are now also funding connectivity for T-Mobile to provide service to third parties.

Hey? What the GPS light?

If you noticed the GPS light on the photo of the CellSpot, good for y0u.  That’s because this unit needs to be near an window what it can have a view of the heavens.  Huh?  The unit needs to receive reliable GPS data from GPS satellites so that T-Mobile knows where the unit is located. More huh?  The FCC requires that all wireless carriers be able to identify the location of 911 callers.  To meet this federal obligation, T-Mobile collects GPS data from each customer-installed unit so that it can tie the GPS location back to a 911 caller.  That’s actually a good thing, especially if you want the fire department to know where you’re calling from in the event of an emergency.

The bad thing for GPS (and cellular reception) is that many high-rise buildings effectively interfere with outside reception they are large grounded metal boxes with hybrid metalized window tint that substantially reduces signal strength.  Here’s a very informative YouTube video that illustrates my point:

The bottom lines in my view:

  • T-Mobile effectively admits its own network coverage is not adequate.
  • T-Mobile shifts the burden of providing coverage to its users by taking their power and Internet connections without compensation.
  • T-Mobile gets to hold on to its subscriber deposits, apparently as interest free loans.
  • I’m going to wait to see how long it takes for a class action law suit to be filed against T-Mobile in connection (hey, it’s a pun) with the CellSpot.  Such a law suit seems inevitable to me.

With this, I suppose that T-Mobile’s slogan that it is the “Un-Carrier” might be amended to claim that it is the “Un-Coverage-Carrier.”   And that’s too bad since I think many of T-Mobile’s service plan offerings are innovative.

Here are the CellSpot tech specs published on T-Mobile’s web site:


CPU: Broadcom 4708
Switch: in Broadcom 4708
2.4Ghz radio: Broadcom 4360
5Ghz radio: Broadcom 4360

Flash 128MB
Network standard

IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Data rate

802.11a: 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54Mbps
802.11b: 1, 2, 5.5, 11Mbps
802.11g: 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54Mbps
802.11n: up to 450Mbps
802.11ac: up to 1300Mbps

Antenna External antenna X 3
Operation frequency

2.4Ghz Channel 1~11
5Ghz band1: 36~48
5GHz band4: 149~165


64-bit WEP
128-bit WEP
WPS support

Firewall and access control

Firewall: SPI intrusion detection,DoS protection, IPv6 firewall
Access control: Parental control, Network service filter, URL filter, Port filter


UPnP, IGMP v1/v2/v3, DNS Proxy, DHCP, NTP Client,
DDNS, Port Triger, Universal Repeater, System Event Log
SNMP (tender project only, not for retail)
TR-069 ( tender project only, not for retail)

VPN support

IPSec Pass-Through
PPTP Pass-Through
L2TP Pass-Through
PPTP server
OpenVPN server
PPTP client
L2TP client
OpenVPN client


Download master
Support BT, NZB, HTTP, ED2K
Support encryption, DHT, PEX and magnet link
Upload and download bandwidth control
Image: JPEG
Audio: mp3, wma, wav, pcm, mp4, lpcm, ogg
Video: asf, avi, divx, mpeg, mpg, ts, vob, wmv, mkv, mov
User definable rules for IP/MAC/Port.
Upload and Download bandwidth management.
ACK/SYN/FIN/RST/ICMP with Highest priority
Guest Network
2.4GHz guest network x 3
5GHz guest network x 3
Printer Server
Multifunctional printer support (Windows only)
LPR protocol support
File server: Samba and FTP server with account management
PPTP VPN server
Network map
Traffic monitor

WAN connection type

Internet connection type : Automatic IP, Static IP, PPPoE (MPPE supported), PPTP, L2TP
3G/ LTE USB dongle
Android USB tethering
Support dual wan fail over and load balance


4 x RJ45 for 10/100/1000/Gigabits BaseT for LAN
1 x RJ45 for 10/100/1000/Gigabits BaseT for WAN
USB 2.0 x 1
USB 3.0 x 1


WPS button
Reset button
Power button
Wireless on/off button


PWR x 1
AIR x 2
LAN x 4
WAN x 1
USB x 2

OS support

Windows® 8.1
Windows® 8
Windows® 7
Windows® Vista
Windows® 2000
Windows® ME
Windows® XP
Mac OS X 10.6
Mac OS X 10.7
Mac OS X 10.8
Mac OS X 10.9

Dimensions 220 x 83.3 x 160mm (WxDxH)
Weight 640g
Package content

1 x TM-AC1900 Wireless-AC1900 Dual Band Gigabit Router
1 x RJ-45 cable
1 x Power adapter
1 x QSG9
3 x Wi-Fi antennas

Special features

3G/4G data sharing
Printer server
Multiple SSIDs
Parental Control
VPN server
VPN client