Gary Jabara’s Mobilitie in Newport Beach plans to start construction of a high-speed wireless network at the Staples Center and L.A. Live campus early next year, the latest notable piece of business for the country’s largest privately held telecom infrastructure company.
Mobilitie will be installing the system in Los Angeles to meet growing demand from music and sports fans—a group no doubt eager to return to concerts and games after the COVID-19 pandemic cancellations and postponements of 2020.
“It’ll be one of the fastest 5G networks in the sports and entertainment industry,” President and Chief Executive Christos Karmis said. “We are working on the design now” with construction expected to start in early 2021.
The agreement for the next-generation wireless technology deployment was reached with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), one of the country’s top sports and entertainment companies, for the Staples Center and the adjacent 4 million-square-foot L.A. Live sports and entertainment district.
Plans call for the network to be complete and on air by the end of next year.
5G, short for the fifth generation of cellular wireless technology now on its way to the U.S., will provide high-bandwidth connectivity that is “up to tens of times faster” than 4G, AEG said.
5G also will have near-zero “latency,” as the delay time is called.
Mobilitie, founded in 2005 by local tech and real estate entrepreneur Jabara, has made a name for itself as a go-to company for the deployment of wireless infrastructure projects in dense locations where cellphone use is high, and users can run into the hundreds of thousands. Casinos, office buildings and stadiums—including several venues run by AEG and used by sports team it owns—are among the company’s specialties.
The coronavirus has only emphasized the need of Mobilitie’s services of late, according to Jabara.
“The wireless sector is busier than ever, as wireless usage is up over 200% with everyone on their phones,” he told the Business Journal last week.
Notable projects the company has inked of late include one in the San Francisco area, where the company is investing more than $100 million to make the Bay Area’s 5G cellphone and Wi-Fi coverage the “gold standard” for the subway and local rail riders.
The payback will come in the form of a long-term revenue-sharing arrangement, Karmis said earlier this year.
It’s a similar plan for the new project in Los Angeles.
Karmis said Mobilitie will “invest tens of millions of dollars into the L.A. network” to provide service and connectivity. It will then recoup the money over the long term through leases with the carriers utilizing the network—Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.
Jabara, who the Business Journal estimates to have a fortune in the $735 million range, made his first fortune by building a collection of thousands of cellphone towers, and in turn leasing them to multiple cellphone providers, a model similar to that of a traditional real estate landlord (see story, page 37).
In 2012, Jabara sold a portion of his holdings—more than 2,300 cellphone towers and antenna sites —to Boca Raton, Fla.-based SBA Communications Corp. for a reported $1.1 billion. He began to expand the business lines of Mobilitie beyond cellphone towers, although he still counts a sizeable portfolio of towers and a growing collection of small cell base stations across the country.
He’s also branched into commercial real estate via his Boardwalk Investments Group; next-gen internet security through his investment in the recently formed ioXt Alliance; and food, through the fast-growing beer company Chihuahua Cerveza.
Karmis said the multi-carrier 5G network at the Staples Center-L.A. Live complex will include the Microsoft Theater, Xbox Plaza and other areas in the nearly 50-acre development.
“It’s a major project,” Karmis told the Business Journal. “It’s not just one property. It’s multiple different properties. It includes both outdoor and indoor coverage areas. It’s one of the highest-trafficked event venues in the country.”
AEG said the L.A. deal with Mobilitie is an expansion of the two companies’ strategic partnership and “underscores the long-term strategic alliance between both organizations.”
“Whether at home or in-venue, fans expect to be able to engage in real-time social media sharing, on-demand picture sharing, video streaming, mobile app usage and so much more,” according to AEG. It said large sports and entertainment venues around the world have seen a steady increase in data usage each year.
The upgrade in Los Angeles will take place in a phased approach, beginning with Staples Center and then expand across the L.A. Live entertainment district.
The complex also serves as the home to four professional sports franchises; the Lakers and Clippers of the NBA, the Kings of the NHL and the Sparks of the WNBA along with hundreds of concerts and live events during non-pandemic times.
New Phone Uses
The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized the importance of the new network in Los Angeles, according to the CEO. Cellphone use is only expected to increase, for uses well beyond just making phone calls.
“With the COVID situation, all major event venues are looking at how they can go to a more touchless system,” said Karmis. “Everyone’s looking at how do we go to a more touchless system for everything for people.”
That includes conversion to mobile ticketing instead of paper, purchases at the event and even looking at using cellphones to access the dining menus of concession stands.