Should CSPs Consider Neutral Hosts and Infrastructure Sharing to Boost Indoor 5G Coverage?

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1Q 2023 | IN-6835

Neutral hosts and infrastructure sharing offer benefits such as reduced capital costs and equipment footprint, but what the successful business model is remains an open question. Communication Service Providers (CSPs) need to perform proper market assessment to see if neutral host networks make business sense to them and offer unique pricing packages to differentiate themselves from the competitors to gain loyalty from their existing subscribers and attract new subscribers. Infrastructure vendors need to continue to invest in Research & Development (R&D) to enrich their in-building wireless product portfolio to support more neutral host requirements. Also the solutions need to be cost-effective and energy efficient.

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Ericsson's New Solutions to Make Indoor 5G Easier for Neutral Hosts/CSPs to Deploy, Scale, and Monetize


On February 9, 2023, Ericsson has launched three new cost-efficient solutions (Indoor Radio Unit - IRU 8850, Indoor Fusion Unit, and 5G Precise Positioning) to expand its indoor mobile connectivity portfolio, Ericsson Radio Dot System, making indoor 5G easier for neutral hosts, Communication Service Providers (CSPs), and enterprises to deploy, scale, and monetize. The new solutions aim to deliver 5G capacity, coverage, and capabilities for the interior of buildings of any size.

About 80% of mobile data is generated from indoors and only 10-15% (Ericsson’s estimation) of the floor space in buildings is served by indoor 5G connectivity. This minimal level of indoor connectivity leaves many customers unsatisfied, meaning reliable connectivity is essential to improve end-user experiences and any business operations. Providing indoor coverage from macro cells is neither cost effective nor energy efficient. To deliver ubiquitous coverage, CSPs will need to deploy indoor solutions like Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cells, which represent a huge capital investment for a single operator. This is where neutral host networks and infrastructure sharing play its role to help CSPs scale up coverage and capacity in a cost-effective way. Neutral host works through technologies such as multi-operator small cells, which can be used in coordination depending on requirements.

Neutral Hosts and Infrastructure Sharing Could Result in 50% Lower TCO


A neutral host network is where a third party invests to build the infrastructure for the public mobile access network and leases to multiple operators. Infrastructure sharing enables CSPs to share site resources for infrastructure construction and the associated costs, which could ease site access difficulties and negotiations with building owners.

Many infrastructure vendors (Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, CommScope, etc.) have all launched multi-operator network sharing solutions in their indoor portfolio. In 2018, Huawei and PLA deployed the first multi-operator indoor digital system in Vietnam based on LampSite sharing. The indoor solution was implemented in Vincom Center in Hanoi to provide enhanced Mobile Broadband (MBB) experiences to the subscribers of three network operators and has shown to be a successful option to expand 4G coverage indoors. In early 2020, Huawei released its 5G indoor network sharing solutions; 5G LampSite sharing, which can support a 400 MHZ bandwidth on 3.4-3.8 GHz bands using a single headend and further reduce operating and maintenance cost for deployments in large public space. The Ericsson indoor portfolio (Dot 2274, Dot 4474, Dot 4455, Dot 4475, Dot 4459, and Indoor Connect 8855) have included improved multi-operator capabilities and they have proven to be cost effective. In March 2022, Ooredo Qatar successfully implemented its first 5G indoor shareable solution (Ericsson Indoor Connect 8855) in stadiums across Qatar, enabling several CSPs to deliver superior indoor 5G experience with speeds beyond 1 Gbps, achieving 50% lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) compared to other solutions such as active DAS. The purpose-built and newly announced solution IRU 8850 will be available in the second half of 2023, supporting multi-operator deployment in medium/large venues such as offices, stadiums, and airports. According to Ericsson, IRU 8850 could support four times bigger coverage compared to previous generation, serve up to sixteen venues from one centralized location, achieve 70% increased energy efficiency, and 80% reduction in equipment space than active DAS, leading to 50% lower TCO.

Neutral hosts and infrastructure sharing solutions create many benefits such as reduced cost and equipment footprint, but network operators are no longer in control of the network assets, which could be complicated when it comes to any network upgrade and innovations. When considering neutral hosts networks, all the involved parties need to have clear definition on the role responsibilities to ensure a smooth deployment and operation. Careful planning is also required as there is no one right model that fits for all.

Actions to Facilitate Neutral Hosts and Infrastucture Sharing


Network capacity and coverage demand will keep going up as mobile data traffic continues to grow as technologies continue to advance. Based on ABI forecasts, 5G data traffic will increase at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 54% from 293 Exabytes in 2022 to 2516 Exabytes in 2027. To meet these demands, neutral host networks and network sharing solutions are critical since it is almost impossible for a single network operator to cover every building on their own.

Outdoor 5G network deployments have been going on for a few years, mainly deployed in the 3.5 Gigahertz (GHz) band with millimeter wave being deployed in dense urban areas with high traffic, making it very likely suffer in indoor environments as well as some outside areas. These higher frequency bands have shorter range and outside-in typically does not offer adequate indoor coverage. There is growing demand to provide better indoor connectivity and CSPs need to start planning their indoor networks deployment (if they have not done so already).

For CSPs, proper market assessment needs to be carried out to understand if neutral host networks make business sense to them. In applications where CSPs just seek for a cost-effective solution to expand indoor coverage, they should consider neutral hosts as part of their deployment strategy to benefit from reduced cost (deployment cost and operating cost). However, they need to offer attractive pricing packages to differentiate themselves from the competitors that are using the same infrastructure to gain loyalty from their existing subscribers and attract new subscribers.

Infrastructure vendors need to continue to invest in R&D to enrich their in-building wireless product portfolio to support more neutral host requirements. Energy efficiency is also becoming a priority, so the solutions need to be as energy efficient as possible and this could be done through better chipsets and innovative hardware design. Meanwhile, it will be helpful for vendors to provide clear information on energy utilization of their products, as a percentage figure is abstract and subjective. Transparency may create more competition and accelerate product development. Besides hardware innovation, vendors should release advanced software features like indoor designing tools and indoor positioning. The Ericsson Indoor Planning Tool offers CSPs and neutral hosts a simple and fast indoor design, resulting in time and cost reduction. Its indoor positioning allows neutral hosts to track the users and deliver targeted promotions to them. For CSPs, such a feature is useful for mission critical applications.



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