AN OLD BRIDGE TELECOM COMPANY DRAWS ON EXPERIENCE, RELATIONSHIPS, AND DEDICATION TO GROW IN AN EVER-EVOLVING INDUSTRY
BY ERIK SCHONING PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRETO
Today, just about everyone has a cell phone in their pocket, yet as consumers we rarely consider the vast network of antennas, towers, and telecommunications infrastructure that power our digital lives. John Paleski, founder and CEO of Subcarrier Communications, the country’s largest privately owned tower company, has made a career out of maintaining these systems in fact, he’s the one who built them.
As a teenager Paleski had a passion for both climbing and technology, and it was over on Telegraph Hill in Holmdel where he got his first taste of the business by helping a neighbor install two radio antennas atop the garage. His neighbor was afraid of heights and told Paleski he’d pay him a “hundred bucks” to do the job. Little did Paleski know, one day this passion would turn into a multi-million-dollar company, locally owned, in the town next over.
In 1986, 21 years before Apple would launch the first-generation iPhone telecommunications was far from a sure thing. Cellular rates were over ten dollars a minute. No one knew whether cell phones would be adopted by the masses. Yet it was precisely at that moment that a young Paleski took a professional leap of faith.
“I was in law school at the time when I started Subcarrier,” Paleski said. “I really enjoyed myself there but I hated the actual practice of law. So I left law school to do the one thing that I really found to be interesting, which was telecommunications.”
The telecom industry is complex and interconnected, and Paleski had to learn as he went. Because Subcarrier was a smaller company operating in a relatively new field, Paleski and his team had to purchase and construct tower sites with their personal capital, as banks didn’t yet see the profitability in the cellular industry. Paleski would boot strap his way up many towers to help construct and ensure the highest of quality. The CEO added with a laugh, “If we had known what we know now, we would have been much more aggressive.”
Today, the telecommunications industry is a different beast. Cell phones are practically ubiquitous with modern culture, and customers routinely expect faster speeds and better service.
Subcarrier isn’t one of the country’s largest tower companies in volume, yet in terms of revenue it is one of the largest companies in New Jersey. Paleski and his team have been able to keep up precisely because they’ve seen these shifts happen in real time.
“The complexity of the industry has probably gone up tenfold,” Paleski said. “Growing with the industry has been an enormous advantage for us. Most of our people here have been with the company for 20-plus years. And each little change that has occurred is a change that everybody is well aware of.”
Paleski heads up a nationwide team of only 30 employees, with offices in New Jersey, Miami, Houston, and Denver. It’s an impressively tight roster considering Subcarrier’s menu of services: maintaining high-speed cellular towers, managing rooftops and antenna systems, and leasing antenna space to wireless service providers, government agencies, and TV broadcast companies. How is such a small team able to handle such a workload? Empowerment, said the founder. As CEO, Paleski gives his team the freedom to hire and manage their own subcontractors, many of whom have been working with Subcarrier for decades. It’s a system built on trust at every level.
“We have a unique approach to the industry,” Paleski said. “We’re kind of the go-to company when our clients don’t want to go to one of the major tower companies. We don’t have quite the bureaucracy, rules and regulations, and a lot of those issues that slow down the process. Our 30 people can operate as a company of 300. And that gives us a huge advantage less red tape.”
The ability to move quickly and efficiently is essential in an industry that moves at a lightning pace. Take data rates, for example. The evolution from 3G to 4G to 5G is an exciting one for consumers, but these changes require vast, behind the scenes upgrades to keep the national telecom infrastructure functional. And these are actual, physical upgrades; Paleski has people on his team tasked with increasing the amount of steel on towers and upgrading tower anchors and foundations to keep up with the larger antennas that technologies like 5G require. Sometimes Paleski has a 24-hour window to send a team to a site. It’s in these situations where his team’s ability to work quickly becomes an enormous benefit.
Despite Subcarrier’s national footprint, the company is headquartered in Old Bridge, and Paleski very much sees his company as part of the local business community. “For us, it’s a lot easier to transact business locally, so we’re always looking for opportunities in the tri-state area,” he said. “Those opportunities are generally rooftop management opportunities, where we manage rooftops for property owners so that we can use our client base and place their equipment on buildings. Our presence for managing building rooftops in New Jersey is growing fast.”
Adding antennas to rooftops is a painless way for property managers to pick up passive income, and is an expanding part of Subcarrier’s business model. Yet it is very much the same company that Paleski founded as a law student back in 1986. Many of its employees are the same, as are the clients, even if there have been a couple name changes. (Paleski remembers doing business with NYNEX, which is now Verizon.) It’s a business built on flexibility, trust, and experience, a formula that allows Paleski and his team to meet whatever comes next.
“There are no schools that teach what it is we need to know in order to have a successful telecom company,” Paleski said. “There’s absolutely nothing out there that will prepare you. Part of what we do is engineering, part of what we do is real estate. It draws from so many disciplines, and you have to put those all together in your head.”
Subcarrier Communications Inc.
139 White Oak Lane, Old Bridge / 732.607-2828 / subcarrier.com