Last week we had the pleasure (and pressure) of hosting a workshop at Small Cells Americas on the emerging hot topic of neutral host service provision. Organising these things is always nerve-racking. Is anyone going to turn up? Will the earlier workshops say everything we were planning to say? Will people be bored senseless and leave en masse halfway through? All of these emotions will be familiar to anyone looking to stick their neck out and say something interesting to a group of their well-informed peers.
But I needn’t’ve worried. We had a great panel who just lit the place up with challenging insights and ideas. Bryan Brooks from Pavlov Media showed us why neutral host is so important to the business of college accommodation – with hundreds of sites and hundreds of thousands of students, growing all the time. All of these young early adopters are on the bleeding edge of technology – setting the behavioural trends that are a leading indicator for the mass market of tomorrow. And of course, none of them are aligned with one network more than another. Neutrality is a given for these guys.
Francisco Hernandez from Canonical, representing Expeto Wireless, gave us some great insights into the benefits of open source virtualisation in the neutral host core network for the internet of things. They’ve coined the phrase “Private Virtual Network Operator”, or PVNO, to capture the idea that enterprises often have very specific requirements on applications and network security and, of course, can’t outsource that security. By creating a PVNO as a slice of network, it enables enterprises to take meaningful control of their applications and their mission critical resources.
And Jorge Brandao and Alex de Luca from Única do Brasil showed us the challenges of bringing neutral host enterprise services to Brazil, and Sao Paolo in particular. In such a dense environment, where capex is always a challenge and where the regulator has already embraced spectrum sharing, they see a great future for multi-operator neutral host. It can enable enterprises to take charge of their own coverage solutions, and help the operators get the coverage and capacity they need, where they need it, when they need it.
One of the recurring themes was the question of scale. There’s no doubt operators want to expand their networks in capacity, but they have little spare revenue to finance it, and they have very strict internal processes to bring new sites on-line. The actual speed of deployment of new capacity slower than it ought to be. This was painful for some of the operators in the room to hear, and there a few questions asking what was the beef with the operators. Were we just beating up on them unfairly? Bryan took the question and knocked it out the park:
“Of course, we recognise that the mobile carriers are fierce about the quality of experience they offer their subscribers, and are unwilling to compromise on it. We get that, and we support it. But the reality is that operators on their own cannot affordably scale the deployment of capacity that enterprises need. So the end result is that enterprises are underserved, and spectrum is underused. We think we’re all on the same page, with the same mission, with the same goals. If an operator can trust a neutral host provider to deploy on their behalf, we’re sure everyone wins. Deployments go faster. Customers are delighted quicker. Enterprises field fewer complaints about the cellular service in their facilities. Carriers’ costs are managed. Subscribers are more loyal.”
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the next growth phase of Mobile Carrier service will be with shared spectrum managed by a neutral host. Spectrum is the key asset for operators, and there is more we can do together to maximise its value. Sharing it doesn’t mean giving up control – quite the reverse. With proper resource management, it’s a significant opportunity to improve the quality of service, and make money doing it. The session at Small Cells Americas made it clear that we are not alone in this view. If you want to talk to us about it just drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org