Telecommunications Revenue from Building Rooftops

March 3, 2022 • Jason Lund

One of the more exciting opportunities created by 5G technology is the ability to generate revenue from a sometimes-overlooked space—a building rooftop. The rollout of 5G creates tremendous demand for cellular capacity, and carriers such as AT&T and Verizon are competing to lease space on rooftops throughout urban and suburban locations to increase their ability to serve customers.

A good quality signal is like a river. A river has width and depth: The width allows for broad coverage over a wide area, but if the river is not deep, it only takes a small number of users drawing from it to dry it up. We have all seen five bars appearing on our cell phone while still experiencing a slow download, choppy signal, grainy video calls or other slow streaming events. Five bars indicate a good connection, but poor functionality indicates shallow depth on the line.

These capacity issues indicate overcrowding. Too many devices draining signal from surrounding equipment soaks up cellular signal faster than it can replenish. We have all increased our consumption of signal over the years. Five years ago, we emailed and watched our televisions; now we video call and download movies to our phones. New towers, new antenna sites and equipment upgrades are happening all over the United States, but demand for signal continues to outpace supply. As a result, rooftops have emerged as new antenna locations to satisfy demand. Carriers are paying building owners—often handsomely—to secure these spaces. With this new and emerging opportunity in mind, it is helpful for commercial building owners to know a bit about the landscape of the telecommunications industry. Specifically, there are generally three large types of players that may contact a building owner about leasing rooftop space. Also, building owners should have a basic framework for their expectations for income potential and contract terms.

Surveying the Landscape

There are three primary ways building owners intersect with the telecommunications industry concerning their rooftops: direct carrier contact, turf vendors and aggregators.

Direct Carrier Contact

Carriers like AT&T and Verizon will contact building owners directly to lease a rooftop. Generally, carriers will pay market prices for rooftop space so the actual lease rate is less of a concern, but building owners should be aware that carriers will offer leases terms heavily slanted toward the carrier’s business model, not the real estate owner’s business model. In negotiations with a carrier, real estate owners should consult a telecommunications attorney in addition to using a standard real estate attorney. Carriers will only consider their needs and will not help business owners get additional rooftop tenants for your rooftop.

Turf Vendors

These professionals focus on finding places for carriers to locate their equipment. They tend to work in specific geographic markets. Carriers are constantly looking for more locations to place their equipment, and they will circle areas of need in local markets. Turf vendors in those markets will then identify building and landowners in those areas and contact them directly with the opportunity. Turf vendors will try to secure an agreement with you quickly to accommodate carrier equipment and emphasize that time is of the essence. Carriers will work with anyone that brings them a site within that search ring, so this essentially creates a race between all participating parties. The first one to bring a viable location wins the deal. Turf vendors typically offer some form of revenue sharing to the property owner. Their business model is carrier-centric: Property owners are not their first priority, and they will not necessarily seek to maximize revenue to the owner. As with direct carrier contact, rents offered will be inflexible and the terms of the lease will be heavily slanted toward the carrier and turf vendor.


These are large entities that operate at a national scale. Aggregators are like leasing agents for rooftops and will seek the right to market your portfolio to carriers and other rooftop tenants. They typically function on a revenue share basis and many also own their own towers. Aggregators negotiate market rents with carriers and negotiate leases in favor of carriers as well as themselves. Building owners should consider whether an aggregator has a significant presence in telecommunications towers. Equipment from carriers can be placed on either towers or rooftops, but revenue from a tower owned by the aggregator does not need to be shared with a property owner. Some aggregators focus only on rooftop antennas and do not own towers; however, they typically don’t have the deep relationships with carriers that the larger tower companies do. Aggregators seek to maximize revenue because they share in all revenue generated from your rooftop. Care is still warranted with respect to lease terms, as they will be slanted toward the aggregator and carriers.

Great Expectations

Typical rental rates for tier one carriers across the country range from $1,500 to $4,000 per month depending on roof height, location of the building, whether or not there are unobstructed views and many other factors. As in real estate, location is everything. The carrier is the tenant, and they are looking for the location that benefits them the most and the best deal they can get from the landlord. Lease terms are typically 10 years with multiple five-year renewal options. Responsibility for construction and maintenance of antenna equipment falls on carriers, not building owners. Building owners are typically asked to provide access to the rooftop, a small amount of power and permission to run fiber optic cable from their antenna assembly down to the main telecommunications closet. Building owners should negotiate annual escalations—typically 1.5 percent to 3 percent—and increases for equipment upgrades by the carrier tenant. Note, however, that these provisions need to be monitored by the building owner.

Demand for carrier sites in the United States is exploding because of the 5G revolution. Estimates suggest we will need to triple or even quadruple equipment sites to truly roll out a 5G framework. High demand for new locations creates significant opportunity for commercial building owners to monetize their rooftops. With good understanding of the telecom landscape, as well as reasonable expectations, owners should benefit greatly.

About the Author

Jason Lund is the managing director of Technology Infrastructure at JLL with more than 30 years of experience in commercial real estate.