Celebrating the Unsung Hero Driving America’s Economic Prosperity: Wireless Infrastructure

By Mike Saperstein, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Chief Strategy Officer, WIA

Wireless infrastructure is the unsung hero of our digital age, quietly supporting critical services that keep both consumers and businesses connected, ultimately driving the economic prosperity and social well-being of our nation. From towers dotting the landscape to discreet rooftop installations to small cell antennas on street lights, these structures serve as the backbone of our interconnected world.

In our recent  “By the Numbers,” report, our second annual, we uncovered some staggering figures regarding the state of wireless infrastructure in the United States. As of the latest data, there are nearly 655,000 structures dedicated to bolstering this vital network. Of these, 153,400 towers were purpose-built for enabling our nation’s far-reaching wireless networks while 202,100 small cells fill-in key connectivity. Each site, regardless of size or function, plays a crucial role in sustaining our interconnected lives, whether supporting telecommunications or serving purposes like broadcast or aviation control.

Delving into the financials, the numbers paint a picture of substantial investment in expanding and fortifying our wireless networks. In 2023 alone, the U.S. cellular industry poured an incredible$11.6 billion into infrastructure development. However, this figure only scratches the surface, excluding spending on spectrum acquisition, maintenance, and ongoing operations. When all costs are tallied, the total investment for the year surpassed a monumental $63 billion.

Yet behind the numbers are people—a dedicated workforce of over 387,000 individuals. Day in and day out, they work tirelessly to build, maintain, and operate our cellular networks. Their efforts underpin the success of the wireless ecosystem, enabling multiple network operators to share infrastructure and drive efficiencies.

Looking ahead, the demands on our wireless infrastructure are poised to intensify. The thirst for mobile bandwidth, coupled with the proliferation of AI-powered applications and hybrid work solutions, guarantees that our reliance on wireless networks will only deepen. However, with the ability to harness advanced infrastructure and efficient colocation practices, we’re confident in our ability to meet these burgeoning demands while minimizing environmental impact.

But this is where smart government policies come into play.  With a combination of proportionate, predictable and transparent permitting policies, a robust spectrum pipeline, and a workforce capable of delivering on next generation infrastructure demands, we can ensure this report continues to deliver a snapshot of our rapidly expanding wireless infrastructure and meet our goal of enabling connectivity everywhere.