Neutral Host Networks: Vision and Reality

Connectivity is increasingly seen as essential, and many governments recognise the importance of both widening access geographically and demographically, and of ensuring timely technology upgrades to maintain international competitiveness.

While much of that political focus remains on fixed connections to premises, with the ultimate objective of maximising availability of “full fibre” connections, across the World consumers are increasingly going mobile. In many developing countries mobile is the standard way to get online, which has resulted in innovation in services encompassing banking, payments and even “Uber for the farm” initiatives such as Hello Tractor. In the UK, outside of offices and academia, the vast majority of internet access is via either Wi-Fi or a mobile connection – and we’re not going back to plugging in Ethernet cables if we can help it.

So it’s essential to ensure that 5G, which offers so much more than just faster 4G, will be made available to as many consumers, and as quickly, as practical. But mobile operators face a challenging business case for investing in 5G, that investment encompassing spectrum, deployment of fibre (80% of the costs for which will be civil works), subsidising 5G handsets (none of which are yet available) and, of course, the equipment to install on base stations. Operators face the challenge of investing in this new technology in dense urban areas whilst completing 4G coverage in rural areas.

For the 4 UK mobile operators, each of which is part of an international group, the relatively low returns made in the UK make reducing costs essential to maximise deployment here of additional spectrum and technology upgrades. The operators increasingly share their own infrastructure through joint ventures, and there is a long history of independent infrastructure providers investing in sites to share with as many mobile (and, in some cases, other wireless) operators as wish to locate there.

Such infrastructure sharing is often referred to as “neutral host”. Neutral host infrastructure comprises a single, shared network solution provided on an open access basis to all mobile operators and is used to resolve poor wireless coverage and capacity inside large venues or other busy locations. They are usually deployed, maintained and operated by a third-party providers and they are designed to support the full range of cellular technologies (although landlord permissions may be required before new technologies could be deployed).

Unlike vertically integrated networks that accommodate one technology or a single operator’s requirement, neutral host infrastructure is a shared platform, capable of supporting all operators and technologies giving their customers what they are looking for - seamless coverage and high capacity.

A variety of different neutral host approaches are used to provide premium wireless services in different environments, such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and Small Cells Networks (SCN).  Typically fibre-fed, these networks are designed specifically to cope with periods of peak user demand and scaled to accommodate future generations of technology, including 5G.

According to EY’s European Wireless Infrastructure Association Report, neutral host infrastructure leads to more cost efficient use of infrastructure through greater levels of sharing / utilisation, enabling operators to improve the quality of service for customers by increasing the number of available points of presence, and their network speed and capacity. Independent neutral hosts delivers up to 3x the connectivity of vertically integrated assets. Neutral host infrastructure lowers the economic threshold for new coverage by anticipating future sharing, launching with one or more “anchor” operators which then receive the cost benefits of sharing up-front.

Despite the considerable sharing of passive infrastructure which the UK already has, there is always scope for operators and subscribers to reap further gains from further infrastructure sharing. One particular scenario crying out for deployment of more shared infrastructure is within buildings, which is the source of about 80% of mobile data traffic, yet modern energy-efficient building materials, combined with the higher frequencies used to offer faster connections, is making it harder for those inside to attain reliable mobile connection with external base stations.

An additional scenario is improving transport connectivity where consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with connectivity on the Strategic Road Network, on major rail routes and on deep Tube lines. Space constraints and safety concerns argue for and public communications infrastructure deployed track- or road-side to be shared amongst all 4 mobile operators.

To that end, the public sector has a key enabler role, to add to initiatives already undertaken by DCMS to reduce deployment costs, particularly the recent introduction of the new Electronic Communications Code (to make it easier and cheaper to deploy and maintain communications infrastructure), and the work of the Barrier Busting Team and the Local Connectivity Group, together working to reduce the regulatory obstacles to deployment (it can currently take up to 2 years for a mobile operator to get permission to deploy a base station in central London).

With neutral host infrastructure sharing increasingly recognised as a key deployment tool for improving mobile broadband reach at the lowest cost, essential as we look ahead to the commercial deployment of 5G, this conference will explore the larger enabling role which neutral host will have in a 5G world.





Julian McGougan, techUK 


Opening keynote:  21st Century networks - Optimising Investment and Services 

Dr Mike Short, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Trade 


Keynote: Delivering the Government’s ambitions for mobile coverage and spectrum policy 

Anna Cartwright, Head of Mobile & Spectrum Policy, DCMS 


Networking Coffee Break 


Emergence and architecture of 5G and options for the role of neutral host platform  


Presentation: How 5G architecture paradigms enable new business models for MNOs and neutral hosts, whilst delivering revenue opportunities for new vertical based entrants 

Simon Fletcher, CTO, Real Wireless 


Presentation: Neutral host models in 4G / 5G architecture

Wenbing Yao, VP, Business Development and Partnerships, Huawei Technologies  

Applications & Business Models  


Panel: Potential business models for neutral host platforms 

  • Raj Sivalingam, WHP Telecoms (moderator)  
  • David Hendon, Rivada Networks  
  • Xavier Priem, Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol 
  • Simon Fletcher, Real Wireless
  • Saul FriednerLS Telcom





Presentation: Neutral host: the international dimension 

Malcolm Keys, Director, BAI Communications  


Presentation: The benefits of neutral host networks in urban and rural environments -  Progress toward that vision 

Duncan Wall, Business Development Director, Arqiva 


Emerging UK opportunities 


 Presentation: Opportunities for a neutral host solution for rail and road connectivity

Saul Friedner, LS Telcom


Presentation: Assessing the options for enterprise & neutral-host private networks

Dean Bubley, Disruptive Analysis


Presentation: The reality of neutral host 

Graham Payne, CEO, Opencell 


Wrap Up 

Julian McGougan, techUK 

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