Open RAN Big Boost to Neutral Host Providers: Small Cell Forum

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Neutral host networks are not a new concept. They have a history of enabling shared infrastructure, reducing the footprint of mobile networks, making them less visually obtrusive and more cost- and energy-efficient. The emergence of Open Radio Access Networks (RAN) may provide new opportunities for neutral host networks, according to the Small Cell Forum, which has released a white paper proposing a global framework for hosted Open RAN networks. To download the whitepaper, click on this link.

“Neutral hosts have long worked for mobile operators in supporting network deployments, particularly in scenarios where sharing is beneficial or essential,” Julius Robson, Chief Strategy Officer, Small Cell Forum, said in a video announcing the white paper. “Neutral hosts also represent the needs of building owners and enterprises who require multi-operator coverage to serve their customers and staff.”

In the white paper, the Small Cell Forum is proposing a global framework for Hosted Open RAN networks, which will combine the qualities of established and emerging neutral host architectures, ranging from site share and Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to small cells with Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) and Joint Operator Technical Specifications for Neutral Host In-Building (JOTS NHIB), a United Kingdom standard.  

Many hosting architectures employ the same Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) sharing and interactive specifications, according to Robson, which represents a long-term trend of increasing the hosting of network infrastructure.

“Starting with sites and passives, moving up to antennas and radios are now hosted RAN and shared spectrum, the deeper the sharing the more savings are possible, the faster the deployment, and the more standardized the service offering,” Robson said.

An open disaggregated architecture will enable neutral hosts to develop a flexible and competitive solution, according Ryan Husbands, Specialist Research Professional at BT. 

“This modular approach allows best of breed components to be selected from a wide variety of suppliers to build a shared platform to support multiple operators,” Husbands said. “This framework can enable the benefit of infrastructure sharing while allowing the operators to still work independently from one another.”

Contributors to the white paper include Cellnex Telecom, Crown Castle, Colt Technologies, Dense Air, American Tower, BT, Freshwave, Wireless Infrastructure Group, Extenet Systems, CommScope and JMA. 

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