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A Commercial Real-Estate Investor Pivots to Digital-Related Assets

Colony Capital Inc. has made one of the biggest pivots in the real-estate business. Over the past two years, the former investor in commercial real estate has sold warehouses, hotels and other traditional properties and plowed the proceeds into data centers, cell towers and fiber-network assets.

In short, the company, capitalizing on the continuing revolution in wireless communications, has transformed itself into an owner of digital-related real-estate assets and provider of digital networks—particularly 5G.

Chief Executive Marc Ganzi has led this shift, amassing $30 billion in digital-infrastructure assets. His former company, Digital Bridge, merged with Colony Capital in 2019, at which time 80{77ce8f5c13f5afba9075485d3cf7c497b0ab33a4437bbe9a3594fe3360863398} of Colony’s assets were in traditional real estate, Mr. Ganzi says. Since then, 60{77ce8f5c13f5afba9075485d3cf7c497b0ab33a4437bbe9a3594fe3360863398} of the merged company’s assets have become data centers, cell towers, fiber networks and small cells, or transmitters that can be placed on structures or buildings to expand the range of wireless signals.

Colony will seek to accelerate its move into infrastructure for phone and data services across the U.S. and globally as the rollout of 5G services continues. Autonomous vehicles, farm equipment, public-safety networks and hospitals all will need 5G services, and Colony is placing its infrastructure with these customers and others in mind.

The company’s strategy is to lease its portfolio of digital infrastructure assets to telecom carriers and other business customers, including those looking for digital storage capacity. Mr. Ganzi says his company entered a lease agreement with Dish Network Corp. that will allow Dish to deploy its 5G technology in connection with Colony’s 250,000 cell towers and antennas in the U.S. Dish signed its agreement with Vertical Bridge REIT LLC, a Colony portfolio company, to use fiber provider Zayo. Colony’s fund Digital Colony Partners and EQT Partners, a private-equity company, were co-lead investors in the 2019 acquisition of Zayo.