Mind the Gap: Neutral Hosts Bridge the Connectivity Divide in the London Underground and Prove Their Worth within Public Macro Networks

Subscribe To Download This Insight

By Sam Bowling | 2Q 2024 | IN-7350

The recent deployment of a Neutral Host Network (NHN) for 4G and 5G connectivity within the London Underground presents a significant development in facilitating city-wide mobile coverage. This ABI Insight explores the benefits that NHN solutions hold for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and customers, as well as recommendations to consolidate their position as a growing player in city-wide network infrastructure solutions.

Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.

Log in or register to unlock this Insight.


Subway Surfers: 4G/5G Connectivity Achieved for London Commuters


The London Underground's successful implementation of a Neutral Host Network (NHN) to expand 4G/5G coverage ignites a crucial conversation: the potential of NHNs to seamlessly integrate with existing public macro networks and to fundamentally transform connectivity solutions for urban environments. This recent case study saw Transport for London (TfL) collaborate with Boldyn Networks, a neutral host infrastructure provider, as they aim to extend coverage to 80% of all tube stations by the end of 2024. Boldyn has joined forces with all four major U.K. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), EE, Three UK, Virgin Media O2 (VMO2), and Vodafone in the rollout of over 200 Kilometers (km) of high-capacity fiber. However, this large-scale rollout is not just aimed at a subterranean level and Boldyn is instead trying to build a citywide gigabit network infrastructure across London, which aims to eliminate dead zones, as well as provide seamless coverage to offices and residential areas alike. By utilizing active elements in the network infrastructure, such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DASs) and small cells, this NHN is providing high capacity for commuters and in-building users, offering a compelling argument for the potential of neutral hosts to optimize network efficiency and user experience across densely populated areas.

Can London's Underground Signal a Shift? Examining the Potential of NHNs for Public Macro Networks


Despite NHNs being largely in the transitionary phase, both for enterprise and public macro network rollouts, the inherent scalability and cost-effectiveness of the London NHN model could revolutionize how we approach mobile network infrastructure in dense urban areas, allowing for NHNs to be propelled to the mainstream. MNOs are among the main beneficiaries of NHN rollouts, primarily through saving both on Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and Operational Expenditure (OPEX) by not having to build the network infrastructure or maintain it. These savings become particularly beneficial in challenging environments, such as the London Underground, where traditional deployments are slow and expensive. Freed from infrastructure concerns, MNOs can focus on service provisioning, network optimization strategies, and innovating their business model, which will all enhance the customer experience. This will allow them to come up with monetizing and business strategies to remain profitable in a growingly competitive market.

Furthermore, eliminating duplicate infrastructure buildout by MNOs leads to a greener network, with less energy required to sustain and run the infrastructure, also minimizing the environmental impact associated with manufacturing, deployment, and ongoing maintenance of new networks. The use of small cells over macro cell towers in NHNs allows for further reductions in power usage due to their enhanced energy efficiency. In addition to sustainability concerns, the integration of small cells and DAS will provide a denser network architecture to deal with higher data traffic and poor signal strength, ensuring that customers can enjoy a seamless mobile experience everywhere and not just outdoors.

While the NHN model holds immense promise, its transition to widespread implementation faces several hurdles. Crucially, its success hinges on a strong, collaborative effort between neutral hosts, MNOs, and regulators. Competing interests, such as guaranteeing fair access for MNOs, while maintaining service differentiation within the NHN, will necessitate extensive negotiation and open communication among all stakeholders. This collaborative approach may lead to delays in NHN deployment timelines across cities.

Scaling Up: How to Make NHNs a Public Connectivity Powerhouse


NHNs have the potential to play a significant role within public macro networks, offering a more efficient, ubiquitous, and user-centric approach to connectivity. However, their widespread deployment requires addressing several technological and ecosystem challenges. ABI Research recommends the following strategies to unlock the full potential of NHNs and turn them into public connectivity powerhouses:

  • Neutral Hosts:
    • Open Access and Network Neutrality: Establish clear regulations to ensure fair access for all MNOs within the NHN framework. This means preventing any single MNO from prioritizing their traffic or offering exclusive services. This will promote competition and innovation among MNOs, ultimately benefiting users with lower costs and a wider range of service options.
    • Pilot Programs: Publicly showcase data-driven network efficiency and energy savings, addressing transition concerns, while promoting widespread adoption.
  • MNOs:
    • Revenue Sharing Agreements: Develop revenue-sharing agreements that are fair and transparent. MNOs can offer a guaranteed share of the revenue generated by the neutral host network, creating a predictable income stream for the neutral host, and encouraging further investment, allowing MNOs to extend their network coverage and capacity more quickly and efficiently.
    • Standardized Technical Requirements: Collaborate with infrastructure vendors and neutral host operators to establish standardized technical specifications for neutral host infrastructure. This ensures compatibility between equipment from different vendors and simplifies the deployment process.
  • Infrastructure Vendors:
    • Modular and Scalable Hardware: Develop infrastructure that can be easily divided and scaled to accommodate multiple MNOs with varying capacity needs, with this tailored solution meaning the vendor can sell a wider range of components to cater to different capacity needs.
    • Prioritize Secure Isolation: Implement robust security measures to isolate traffic and data for each MNO tenant within the shared infrastructure. This guarantees data privacy, prevents security breaches from impacting others, and builds trust in the NHN ecosystem, fostering ongoing collaboration with MNOs.


Companies Mentioned