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A rendering of Aradatum Inc.’s renewable energy-powered telecommunications towers. A rendering of Aradatum Inc.’s renewable energy-powered telecommunications towers. COURTESY RENDERING

Startup eyes major ‘infrastructure play’ with renewable energy-powered cell towers

BY Sunday, January 30, 2022 06:02pm

Brighton-based startup has lofty goals to help build out a nationwide 5G network that combines renewable energy, high-speed telecommunications and advanced mobility.

Aradatum Inc. — led by serial entrepreneur Larry Leete, who has held business development roles at public companies including Steelcase Inc. and General Electric — is nearing a pilot phase to deploy roughly 150-foot, self-powered telecommunication towers across the country.

Leete says the company and these first-of-its-kind towers are a “21st century infrastructure play” because they won’t need to be connected to the power grid, raising the potential to deliver high-speed telecommunication services to some of the most rural parts of the country. The towers themselves are equipped with a wind turbine, solar panels and battery storage, and also will be available for electric vehicle charging.

“The pandemic really demonstrated that there’s a big gap in connectivity across the country,” Leete told MiBiz. “It became very clear there were people who could connect to the network and those who couldn’t.”

The company, which formally launched in March 2020, has already garnered attention from venture capital investors. Last summer, Aradatum closed on a $10 million seed funding round.

“We were going for $5 million … and we did it in five months, which blew us away,” he said. “We knew we had something a little bit different in the marketplace, and that just validated it for us.”

Leete was unable to disclose the investors, other than to say they are “not standard folks that you’d expect them to be. They’re smaller organizations looking to find something a little bit different.”

Different, indeed: Leete says the next-generation towers are the first to be equipped with renewable power sources, allowing them to be detached from the power grid. (The towers also include a propane source if wind and solar generation has been depleted from the battery.)

A pilot phase comes next in which Aradatum plans to deploy four prototype towers across the country in the fourth quarter. The company has been in discussions with local officials to potentially deploy a tower in Ottawa County. Leete, who’s based in Spring Lake, also plans towers in Maine, Kansas and on tribal land in Wisconsin.

The company’s business model is based on revenue from carriers that lease space on and provide service from the tower. Aradatum would also charge these companies for the power that’s produced onsite. Each tower can produce up to 400 kilowatts of electricity, while service can spread about 20 miles from the tower.

“We’re an infratech company — we’re a 21st century infrastructure play,” Leete said. “Our whole goal in all of this is to lay out the process for next-generation infrastructure applications so we can start to drive Industry 4.0, Internet of Things, AI and robotics. Those applications are waiting for 5G to get protocols started.”

Michigan-focused

Aradatum’s roughly 25 employees are based in West and Southeast Michigan. The company is also partnering with multiple Michigan-based companies to produce the towers. That includes Livonia-based manufacturer Roush Industries Inc. and Holland-based digital consultancy Twisthink LLC.

“We see all this stuff happening on the West Coast, but this technology is being developed right here in Michigan, and it’s being produced here in Michigan,” Leete said, adding that the company is planning a second office in Coopersville.

However, the company’s vision extends far beyond Michigan. Leete noted that about 100,000 cellular towers are needed to build out a 5G network in the U.S.

“Our goal is to hit 10 percent of those, so 10,000,” he said. Each tower costs about $250,000 to produce, equating to a roughly $2.5 billion price tag to hit that target.

“For us, 10,000 is a significant number,” he said. 

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