January 24, 2017
On a regular basis, it seems that someone in the industry suggests that the mobile operators should share infrastructure to speed deployment, lower costs and/or provide better service. After all, this has been tried in other countries, some more successfully than others. The suggestion for RAN sharing usually seems to come when we are looking at a technology, spectrum auction, major network deployment or other shift in the industry. Most recently, RAN sharing has come up as part of the 5G and mmWave network discussion.
Before going further, we should define what we actually mean by ‘RAN sharing’. RAN sharing simply means that two or more mobile operators’ networks would share the same baseband, radio and antenna – same physical infrastructure but using each operator’s spectrum. The equipment could be owned by one of the operators (with access provided to the others) or by a third party. Obviously some planning is required to make this concept work. The radios and antennas would have to be flexible enough to support each of the participating operators’ spectrum needs, and this applies to current spectrum and future plans. This coordination makes RAN sharing complex and far more difficult than initially expected.
Note that RAN sharing is not colocation; colocation already occurs today and is simply when multiple mobile operators share the physical infrastructure (towers, roof tops, etc.) to mount their RAN infrastructure. As an example, colocation is when two mobile operators mount their antennas and radios on the same tower infrastructure; the tower is shared, but not the RAN equipment. Colocation is very common with macrocells and is much discussed for small cells. Allowing and encouraging mobile operators to colocate small cells on the same pole or roof top would significantly speed small cell deployment.
In the macro network, we believe RAN sharing will be difficult to achieve. But indoors will be a different case; after all, mobile operators have been sharing neutral host DAS networks in large stadiums and buildings for years. While neutral host is not as widespread as many people believe, the reality is that systems are shared indoors.
Why is the RAN more likely to be shared indoors? Simply because the building owner or manager is likely to want multiple operators offering service in the building and is unwilling or unable to fund multiple networks. Neutral host DAS can support multiple mobile operators on the same antenna array and hence provide access to multiple operator networks to those in the building.
Going forward, we expect to see an increase in indoor RAN sharing for two main reasons:
1. As more people are using their smartphones and tablets at their desks and wanting better access to LTE, property managers/owners are increasingly looking at LTE networks inside the building. Several third parties have started addressing this market and deployments are already underway. For the property manager, this means they can provide access to multiple mobile operators without having to commit to a single carrier. The third party coordinates between the operators and the property manager; essentially the third party is building the neutral host network and leasing access back to the mobile operators. This reduces the capital outlay required by the operator and gives the property manager/owner access to the networks they need. Win-win.
2. 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band discussions. This band is being discussed for use indoors and will be a shared resource. Rather than have strict spectrum licensing and allocations as we do today, CBRS will essentially support shared access to multiple entities, some of which will share infrastructure. Note that this is just being proposed for indoor use.
RAN sharing may eventually extend to some small cell deployments, but this will likely take some time. First, the industry needs small cell colocation and then small cell infrastructure that can support multiple spectrum bands. Only then will we be able to move to small cell RAN sharing, and this will be some years off.
Until then, RAN sharing is alive and well in the U.S. with more to come; just don’t look for it on the macro tower. Look at the local mall or football stadium instead.
Iain Gillott, the founder and president of iGR, is an acknowledged wireless and mobile industry authority and an accomplished presenter. Mr. Gillott has been involved in the wireless industry, as both a vendor and analyst, for over 20 years. iGR was founded in 2000 as iGillottResearch, Inc. in order to provide in-depth market analysis and data focused exclusively on the wireless and mobile industry.
Iain Gillott’s research firm, iGR, has released a study that looks at DAS technology and its future deployment possibilities in the commercial building segment. The study shows that indoor DAS (iDAS) has been built out in most high-profile venues, and it looks at how the market for outdoor DAS (DAS) may be increasingly served by small cells.
“iGR believes that most venues that need DAS – stadiums, hotels, airports, etc., – already have it,” the firm said. “iGR also believes the market for oDAS is fading because solutions that use remote radio heads as small cells provide a similar level of coverage/capacity with better future flexibility for baseband hoteling and/or CRAN.”
The market for indoor and outdoor DAS is expected to increasingly be commercial and residential buildings in the next five years, according to the study . The amount to be spent to build and operate the systems is studied, as well.
“DAS will continue to be an effective solution for providing additional mobile coverage, and the commercial building segment is where iGR believes most of the DAS growth will occur over the next five years,” the firm wrote.
The new market study can be purchased and downloaded directly from iGR’s website. Alternatively, contact Iain Gillott at (512) 263-5682 or email for additional details on this study.
This was a hypothetical question posed in one of the panels I moderated at the recent CTIA show. As you can imagine, the question solicited quite a bit of discussion among the audience and the panelists, which included mobile operators and the major infrastructure vendors. Before posing the question, the audience member quoted several news stories that talked about delays to the introduction of VoLTE and, most recently, Verizon Wireless’ decision to delay VoLTE-only handsets from late 2014 to mid-2016. Note that Verizon Wireless was not on the panel.
The answers given by the panelists to the question were simple: “don’t worry, we will get it to work.” In fact, the sentiment was more like “we MUST get it to work.” Generally, the view was that VoLTE is key to the future of the mobile operators and that since current 2G spectrum will be refarmed for LTE, VoLTE is required in order to provide voice services. Obviously, there is a lot of effort going into ensuring the performance of VoLTE is as consumers expect. I for one do expect that the industry will address the lingering issues, and in a year or so, VoLTE will be established.
But what if the CTIA panel and I are wrong? What if VoLTE continues to stumble or takes so long to stabilize that consumers lose interest? What if VoLTE becomes another wireless technology that took too long to develop and, by the time it was ready, other solutions had passed it by? The wireless industry is littered with examples like this from network-based location services (which competed for a time with handset-based GPS) to WAP (remember?) and WiMAX (which was overtaken by LTE). So even though VoLTE may eventually work, what if it comes too late for impatient consumers?
For the consumers, there may be little real impact. The fact is that there are multiple IP voice solutions available today from Skype and FaceTime (among others) to VoWiFi. The fact is that today I can call my kids with FaceTime and have a great audio experience. Skype will let me do the same thing and there are numerous solutions out there for Android users. In short, I do not need VoLTE today to make IP calls and I have numerous options available that are free.
But for the mobile operator, this becomes a major problem. Over the last few years, revenue has obviously shifted away from voice to data, as people use more and more broadband data.
Smartphones and tablets obviously encourage higher data use. And the operators have responded with bigger buckets and lower pricing. But many people use their mobile phones to make phone calls, just like in the olden days! Voice service is needed by the majority of consumers. And so a major part of the mobile operator value equation is the ability to provide mobile voice. If the mobile operators are unable to do this and consumers flock to the OTT voice applications and services, consumers will never look back.
At this point, the mobile operators will simply become bit pipes with no hope of offering differentiated services. Without VoLTE and associated services, consumers will simply look for the cheapest service on the network that provides the best service. Some would argue that the industry has already reached this point, but I would differ – the mobile operators still have the opportunity to provide services (like HD voice) that consumers will value and provide some differentiation. But without VoLTE, given the pace at which the OTT vendors are moving, it is unlikely the mobile operators will get another chance. VoLTE is likely the last chance the operators have; it is that critical. And for that reason, the industry MUST make VoLTE work and soon. And I believe they will.
IAIN GILLOTT, the founder and president of iGR, has been involved in the wireless industry, as both a vendor and analyst, for over 20 years. iGR was founded in 2000 as iGillottResearch, Inc. in order to provide in-depth market analysis and data focused exclusively on the wireless and mobile industry.
By Ernest Worthman —
The mobile industry remains some way off from understanding how best to apply software-defined networking (SDN). SDN can add brains to the network by placing the focus on network intelligence rather than outright speed or bandwidth. This approach has a number of advantages. First of all, it
can work across the different elements of a mobile network, such as the control plane or application layer. Second, it optimizes resources. Third, it integrates disparate technologies much more efficiently and effectively. The end result is that all of this translates into faster speed, better performance, and fewer bottlenecks due to the efficient, autonomous utilization of network resources.
As everything moves to virtualization, existing hardware such as test and measurement equipment will become software modules, rather than hardware running through the cloud or existing servers. This means such processes can run constantly and continually monitor the network. In turn, the data can be assessed in real time by the intelligence and perform on-the-fly tweaking and instantaneous problem resolution.
In a recent report, wireless consulting firm iGR defined three types of mobile virtualization. Mobile application virtualization is when an application is separated from the other apps and services running on a mobile device. Mobile access virtualization occurs when a mobile device connects to multiple radio access networks (RAN) transparently to the user. Mobile core virtualization is when the evolved packet core (EPC) is fully virtualized and runs in a data center with off-the-shelf hardware.
“It is easy to talk about ‘virtualizing the mobile network,’ but the actual implementation becomes complex very quickly,” said Iain Gillott, president and founder of iGR. “The virtualization effort permeates numerous elements, including end user devices such as smartphones and tablets, the EPC, the core SON, 4G network servers, eNodeBs, small cells, and various APIs. Consequently, mobile virtualization can mean many things to many people.”
Ernest Worthman is the editor of the Small Cell magazine.
Metrocells may have all of the buzz right now, but DAS has the numbers, according to analysts. By 2017, DAS deployments could see more than 300 percent growth, according to iGR Research, a market Research firm, which just released a report U.S. DAS Market Forecast, 2012 to 2017 Installations, Tenancy, OpEx and CapEx and held a complimentary webcast.
DAS will become more important to carriers in the next four years and in-building systems will be the next competitive battleground as more employees are allowed to “bring your own device” (BYOD) to work, Ian Gillott, president and founder of iGR, said during the webcast.
“There are a lot of [DAS] systems out there with a single tenant, a lot with only a couple of tenants and very few with four or five tenants,” he said. “We see more tenants per DAS system later in the forecast.”
The report also forecasts capex and opex for the next five years, indicating that they will increase at roughly the same rate for that period by as much as 500 percent.
The report discusses the future of the DAS market overview and who will be the players. Currently, according to the report, only one or two operators have a serious commitment to DAS in future deployments (AT&T’s antenna solutions group is the most vocal), driving capex and opex from 2012 to 2013. However, the report does not expect major growth in capex and opex until sometime in 2015, when other major carriers get involved in DAS deployments.
“The other carriers are going to have to be more active [in in-building DAS]. They are talking about, and we will see more activity but you don’t see it right now,” Gillott said. “That’s why we will see a lull in [DAS spending between 2013 and 2014]. 2015, 2016 and 2017 will be driven by the whole industry.”
DAS Data is Most Popular Research
The webcast presented a high-level overview of DAS and the small cell infrastructure, with supporting data using the study results. It discusses what it is, where it will go and what comprises a DAS. It also looks into the immediate future with some prognostication of numbers and growth and how it will play out in the next few years, especially for large, in-building systems. High industry interest in the research would seem to validate the future of DAS.
“[DAS deployment] webinar was based on the most popular research that we have done in the last two years,” Gillott said.
The report provides an overview of the components of DAS and small cells and defines the basic parameters and components of a distributed antenna system and what type of DAS systems will be built going forward. It discusses the type of systems likely to be deployed (single vs. neutral host). The report also discusses what the philosophy is about locations of base stations and how the interconnect is implemented for remote locations. According to the report, base station hoteling will be a coexistent implementation with DAS rather than a competitor or a replacement for DAS systems.
Next, the report discusses where DAS is the preferred technology infrastructure. It goes into good detail and depth in the positioning of DAS vs. enterprise-level femto or picocells. The report makes note of the reasons and justifications for the choices and what to expect in terms of costs and ROI and challenges that need to be overcome. It also discusses what to expect from the DAS installation with respect to the installation and what, if any, complimentary technology might be required (Wi-Fi for example).
It goes on to provide a valuable discussion of the pros and cons of DAS, which takes a fairly in-depth look at the issues and explanations of the implications of the issues that surround DAS installations – data that is very valuable to system integrators, enterprise operators and third-party suppliers. This part of the presentation does one of the better jobs of culling out the issues and how they must be evaluated when deciding if DAS is a good fit or if other small cell technologies should be considered. It also addresses the capex, and subsequent opex of the deployment. Further data in the report takes a very detailed look at a large number of variables that affect DAS deployments.