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The top performing stock in the Nasdaq

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

As the Nasdaq moves closer to hitting the 5,000 benchmark, there is one company that every investor wishes they bought when the index touched its low in October 2002: SBA Communications.

The wireless communication tower company, which has a market cap of about $15 billion, makes money leasing antenna space to carriers such as AT&T and Verizon. Since 2002, it's up a whopping 53,000 percent, making it the top performing stock in the index over that period by a long shot.

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The next two biggest Nasdaq gainers over the past 13 years? Monster Beverage—up more than 48,000 percent—and Netflix—up nearly 18,000 percent.

In fact, regardless of the time—10 years, five, three or the past 12 months—SBA's stock easily beats the Nasdaq and the S&P 500.

What explains the excitement around a company that owns and operates wireless towers?

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Simply put, it's a play on the explosion of mobile devices. In 2002, the iPhone didn't even exist. Today, of course, there are countless consumers using smartphones and tablets. That means carriers need to lease more antenna space from SBA to meet growing demand for mobile data.

"Whether you're using an iPad, iPhone or Android device, the tower companies are needed by every single carrier at this point in the U.S., and abroad for that matter," said Michael Bowen, a senior research analyst at Pacific Crest Securities.

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SBA'S growth shows no signs of stopping. In its last reported quarter, revenue jumped nearly 20 percent to more than $390 million, though the company posted a net loss of some $17 million as it spends money acquiring portfolios of towers from smaller rivals.

One catalyst that could move the stock higher: mobile growth overseas.

RBC analysts say Brazil represents a big opportunity given its fast growing population of more than 280 million mobile subscribers. SBA boasts some 7,000 towers there.

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There are risks for investors to consider before committing capital to SBA. The potential of rising interest rates would make it more expensive for the company to finance continued acquisitions of smaller rivals.

More broadly, there is the possibility of carriers consolidating or dramatically cutting spending either domestically or overseas. Financial analysts covering SBA don't foresee that happening, at least in the near term, and instead predict that the stock will move higher as long as there's global demand for mobile data.

Investors will have a better sense of the company's prospects when SBA reports fourth-quarter results on Friday. The company declined to comment, citing a quiet period before earnings.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong date for SBA's earnings.