How to Wrangle Your Rooftop for Profits

Reading Time: 5 minutes An Interview with Josh Reynolds, Wireless Technology Guide/Guru/Rooftop Wrangler

Is the rooftop of your building earning its keep or is it just sitting there blocking the rain out? It can be much more than a glorified umbrella. Rooftops everywhere are being monetized by savvy building owners, REITs and commercial real estate firms who are increasing their property’s net operating income by leasing underutilized rooftop space to a variety of wireless and technology providers.

What’s so appealing about a rooftop?

By the end of 2020 there will be over 20 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) devices in use and all the antennas and sensors for those connected devices have to go somewhere. Rooftops, by their very nature, make an ideal location. They generally have very little interference, few obstructions and unlike the big cell towers of the past that had to be surrounded by 300 square feet of open land, today’s smaller cell towers and antenna systems fit quickly and easily on a rooftop. All of this makes rooftop leases a highly in-demand commodity.

I’ve got a rooftop. What now?

Capitalizing on your rooftop commodity is not always a straightforward journey; the path can be fraught with a myriad of pitfalls and questions about wireless infrastructure, leases, and ownership rights. To answer these questions and much more, you’re gonna need a guide, a guru. That’s where industry expert, Josh Reynolds, and his VTOtelecom team come in. Using their extensive commercial real estate and in-building technology experience, they help owners lease, manage and monetize their rooftops. Think of them as your rooftop wranglers for the new wireless frontier.

What can a rooftop wrangler do for me?

“VTOtelecom helps property owners and managers make better decisions about rooftop management and in-building wireless technology,” explains Reynolds. “We do everything from analyzing new revenue opportunities to deciphering which complex lease offer is right for you and can determine how much the wireless infrastructure of the property you are buying or selling is actually worth.”

Navigating all of these issues can be really overwhelming for most property owners or managers. For instance, Reynolds explained that real estate transactions often uncover an ‘orphan tower’ –- a cell tower on a commercial real estate property that is not owned or managed by a tower management company. “It’s the building’s asset but in most cases, the purchaser, the seller and even the real estate broker, have never dealt with this type of real estate before.

“We help them figure out what tenants are on the tower, what equipment exists on the tower and at the base of the tower, how it’s being managed, when the existing leases terminate or renew, and whether the rents are at a fair market value. They also evaluate the overall condition of the structure and foundation, as well as any liability that comes with the asset and how it should be valued.”

How much can my rooftop earn?

“We’ve seen funding impacted dramatically when proper leasing solutions are employed,” said Reynolds. “There are many variables that impact the value of a rooftop including location, height, population and market. Some other factors can be quantity of tenants and antennas as well as technologies that are employed. Earnings can be a onetime payment, monthly revenue shares or even annual payments based on performance.

Other advantages are a bit harder to calculate and depend on factors that apply only to your individual property. No matter the dollars involved, these leases are long term and will have a positive impact on the net operating income of your building.”

That’s why VTOtelecom will do a thorough examination of your entire property to determine all its assets and find revenue that might not be in plain sight. From there, they partner with the nation’s top-tier wireless technology vendors, rooftop management companies and technology providers to optimize the value of your building and cell tower assets.

What else can my rooftop do for me?

Just because you are leasing a rooftop tower to tech providers and cell carriers, doesn’t mean you’re getting the full benefits of that technology. Turns out, all that amazing signal being broadcast from your rooftop is most likely unavailable to the people inside the building. That’s because most commercial buildings, especially the LEED certified ‘green’ buildings, are made of low-e glass and other materials that block cell signal. And a commercial building with no cell signal is definitely not living up to its full earning potential or creating a sought-after experience for tenants. VTOtelecom can help you realize that potential by finding the best in-building cellular solution for your property and your budget.

Is cellular coverage really important in my building?

In-building cellular systems are an investment in your building’s value that can pay off in resale prices and can also translate into increased rents because tenants are willing to pay more for better cell service, especially in the age of COVID-19.

With much of the population being forced to work from home, the demand for cell phone coverage in multi-family buildings has exploded. Multi-family property owners across the country have told Reynolds stories like this one from the property manager of an upscale apartment in Dallas: “We’d have a potential tenant touring the building. They’d love the location, the layout, the amenities; but then they’d check to see if they could make a cell phone call or send a text. They couldn’t, so they turned around and walked out. “

Not surprising given that a Bank of America survey found 96% of millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) rated mobile phones as the most important item used in their daily lives — ranking cell phones more important than toothpaste or deodorant! [Side note: eww.]

The demand for cell connectivity in commercial office buildings has blown sky-high as well. For many people, working from both home and office has become the norm, so switching from a smartphone to a computer and vice versa needs to be seamless.

Reynolds elaborates, “People now give their cell phone number as their primary go-to. Even when they’re at the office, waiting for a return phone call, they’re expecting it on their cell, not the office landline. Their cell phone absolutely must work wherever they go.”

What if I can’t afford an in-building cellular system?

Despite its necessity, many properties put off providing cell coverage because they believe it is unaffordable. They’ve gotten outrageous quotes for costly DAS (Distributed Antenna System) or fiber-based systems and they can’t justify such an expense. But Reynolds and VTOtelecom know their clients don’t have to miss out on the increased building value and additional revenues that better cell phone coverage can provide.

Is there an affordable DAS alternative?

“Excellent alternatives that won’t break the bank really do exist,” he explains. “Inside the CBRE office in Denver, they had lousy cell coverage so we paired them up with Illuminati Labs, a nationwide in-building wireless company. Illuminati Labs delivered first-rate cell signal inside the office at a significantly lower price point than the other bids CBRE had gotten.”

Adam Rubey, one of the owners of Illuminati Labs, asserts that oftentimes, a cellular repeater system is able to offer the same great cell coverage as a full-scale DAS at a fraction of the price.

“A lot of owners think all commercial buildings require fiber or a full-blown DAS that is connected directly to the carrier’s towers but that’s not true. Those costlier systems are only required if there is little or no cell coverage outside. If you can easily place a call or send a text while standing outside your building, we can bring that signal inside with a cellular repeater system.”

I’ve been told my building is too large for a cellular repeater system?

While Illuminati Labs is fully capable of providing fiber or a full DAS system when a property has no outside cell coverage, they rarely have to resort to such measures. In fact, Rubey and team have found that with the proper deployment, most properties can get all the coverage they need from a cellular repeater system, regardless of their size or scope.

“We’ve covered entire 72-story high rises and million-square-foot campuses with these systems. If designed and installed correctly, they can provide strong, reliable coverage just as well as the pricier options.”

VTOtelecom’s end game for your building

Finding such money-saving alternatives is what VTOtelecom is all about. Reynold’s goal is simple: “We study your property, then help translate your technology assets and determine where there is room for improvement — all of which allows you to understand the risks and opportunities available to you so that you can make the best decisions.”

Whether your rooftop is mildly grazing along in the wireless frontier or running wild with untamed technology, VTOtelecom can lend an experienced hand at wrangling it all. With their help, your building could become one of the many properties whose rooftop is raising its value and garnering increased rents.