Speaking Engagements & Private Workshops - Get Dean Bubley to present or chair your event

Need an experienced, provocative & influential telecoms keynote speaker, moderator/chair or workshop facilitator?
To see recent presentations, and discuss Dean Bubley's appearance at a specific event, click here

Friday, October 04, 2019

Updates on UK Neutral Host and local spectrum developments

I've written & spoken extensively about the new Ofcom rules for localised spectrum in the UK, both in new "innovation bands" like 3.8-4.2GHz and in secondary licensing of existing MNO national frequencies, such as 2.6GHz. (See here and here). The secondary licensing model is pretty unique, as it allows people to request to use telcos' spectrum resources which are lying fallow, with no plans for build-out in that location by the license holder. It's a bit like the spectrum-leasing model seen in some countries' remote areas for mining or community wireless.

As well as pure private networks, I see value in these bands for neutral-host propositions, and various forms of infill/coverage-extension. NHNs involve third-party operators offering wholesale capacity to MNOs and sometimes other service providers, either in their own spectrum, or some sort of shared infrastructure.

The first* example of the secondary reuse scenario has been announced (link), by Digital Colony's unit StrattoOpencell and Vodafone. OpenCell now has access to VF's 2.6GHz band, for a private LTE network covering a holiday site for caravans, in Devon in SW England. Most of OpenCell's previous focus has been on in-building, although in the last few months it has acquired outdoor assets as well.

The site currently uses Wi-Fi to provide broadband to caravans, as running fibre to each doesn't really make sense. However, there is significant interference between the outdoor site Wi-Fi and any "indoor" hotspots used within each of the thin-walled mobile homes for connecting PCs and other devices. 

The idea is to provide fixed-access 4G from a central LTE base station, to a Wi-Fi unit in each caravan. The cost will be paid for as part of plot rental fees charged by the site owner to the residents/visitor, bundled in with power and water and so on.

For now, this is a Private LTE service for local FWA. But it could be extended to SIMs for onsite mobile devices (perhaps the site's own staff phones or IoT devices), or support Vodafone's smartphone MBB subscribers onsite. I guess it could also handle WiFi-Calling / SMS for other MNOs' users (if the signal is strong enough and the phones set up correctly) or perhaps even allow roaming. 

I'm not sure if the agreements with Vodafone and Ofcom to reuse spectrum locally would allow full neutral-host, broadcasting the IDs of the other UK MNOs, though. Maybe as the various network-sharing and national-roaming options under consideration by the UK Government evolve, that could be a possibility.

In theory, I also guess Vodafone could have offered this by itself, either to the site owners or the individual tenants, but most MNOs aren't really geared up to work on individualised local business-models such as this, especially if they involve new infrastructure, new pricing plans and so on. It is also unlikely to set up a "micro-MVNO" for the site owner, if it needs to install hardware in a new location.

This is something of a new variant of private and Neutral Host mobile - and one of the first I've seen to use local secondary spectrum, rather than national licenses acquired by a wholesale specialist (such as Dense Air, in Ireland or NZ). 

I could also imagine a future vertical-sector specialist (let's say a new firm called Camping Mobile) could try to do this for multiple sites, perhaps working with OpenCell or other NHN providers as technical enablers.

There definitely seems to be a bit of race between the new US CBRS deployments, and the UK's new local spectrum models, to see which gets the most innovative new concepts and mobile networks to market. The German industrial 5G band and a few others are worth watching too. 

I'm tracking and speaking to numerous NHN providers in the UK and elsewhere - and it's pretty fascinating how diverse their spectrum, backhaul and go-to-market strategies are. For 5G, rather than 4G, there's an interesting overlap with Open RAN as well, but that's a post for another time.

If you're interested in a deeper dive, I'm hosting my 2nd NHN public workshop on November 21st in London. See (here) for details, or (here) to discuss a private internal advisory engagement.

*This is the first example to be based on Ofcom's new licensing regime. Arguably a trial deployment from friend James Body's Ch4lke Mobile / Telet Research got there first in concept (see here and here). There's also early NHN trials at some of the UK's DCMS 5G testbed projects, such as AutoAir and 5GRuralFirst, and private cellular at several others.

No comments: