There is no doubt that multi operator neutral host solutions have caught the industry’s attention in 2017. It formed one of the key agenda points at this month’s TowerXchange Future Network meetup and has been a hot topic of discussion for analysts and industry colleagues at panels and events throughout the year.
However, there still remains a lot of uncertainty around neutral host approaches: How will it work in practice? What issues does it really address? Is there really sufficient scale to make it truly viable? To help bring some clarity to those questions let’s put it in terms of a real-world scenario: hotels.
The hotel trade is a prime example of the current challenges of indoor coverage provision, and the potential for neutral host. Many hotels don’t have good mobile coverage simply because modern building infrastructures prevent outdoor signals from penetrating the venue. Cellular coverage might be decent in areas such as reception or the rooftop bar, but it most certainly is not in guest or conference rooms in the heart of the hotel. And when users experience poor mobile coverage they complain to the hotel, not their operator.
This presents a serious problem for the hospitality industry. Hotel owners know that if cellular coverage isn’t satisfactory for a guest, they will not re-book the same accommodation again. This is true even for hotels with excellent Wi-Fi services. Guests expect their mobile coverage to be reliable and strong throughout their stay, and will not settle for mediocre or no connectivity.
The key challenge for hotel owners is that their guests will all be subscribed to a variety of mobile networks, and they all want coverage. So how do you provide reliable mobile connectivity that supports all carriers cost-effectively?
In larger venues, such as airports or stadiums, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) have worked well. However, this solution is simply not economically viable for hotels and other mid-sized venues.
At the other end of the scale, single operator small cells, as the name indicates, provide coverage only for one carrier’s customers, so everyone else would still be un-serviced. Due to the infrastructure required it just isn’t practical or cost-efficient to install small cells for each individual service provider.
The critical piece of the puzzle is ensuring there is technology, such as ipaccess’ SUMO™, at the heart of a neutral host that is capable of managing shared radio resources, including spectrum, on behalf of the mobile carrier. This ensures that multi-operator small cells are immediately addressable by a range of stakeholders and enables operators to compete for the attention of the neutral host in a way that they couldn’t do before – another commercial benefit of this approach.
And of course this doesn’t just apply to hotels – the “middleprise” is actually a $20 billion global market. For these mid-sized venues though, neutral host squares the circle of providing in-building coverage: the enterprise/building owner gets a good service and the operators get a way to market that they didn’t previously have. In the end, everybody wins.