Neutral Hosts: The Future of Cellular Enterprise Connectivity Coverage

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As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and device use surges exponentially, difficulties in providing constant full connectivity have also grown.

Mobile traffic now accounts for most online traffic worldwide, with only 46% being attributed to desktop computers; this signals a tremendous change compared to only a decade ago when 97% of global web traffic came from computers, according to HighSpeedInternet.net.

Statista expects that this increase in mobile traffic will expand even further, reaching 77.5 exabytes of global data usage per month by 2022.

This unprecedented expansion in smartphone usage has accentuated pre-existing difficulties, particularly with indoor connectivity that has always plagued mobile network operators (MNOs), who have found that providing reliable wireless signals from MNO towers located outdoors is often ineffective.

This can be primarily attributed to the utilization of a high-bandwidth wireless spectrum that, despite providing high-speed connectivity services, cannot comfortably offer the same service within buildings, suffering from limited coverage and deteriorating indoor connectivity.

Currently, the solution for poor indoor connectivity is through a distributed antenna system (DAS) designed to boost areas within a building with weaker wireless coverage. This method is currently being used within large public venues, such as:

  • Stadiums
  • Subway stations/Bus stations
  • Airports
  • Shopping malls

This solution works as a neutral host solution, supporting a consistent and optimal signal throughout the building for a single carrier or multiple carriers.

DAS can be customized intricately according to any size or shape of the venue as either a passive or active system. It works in a licensed RF spectrum, using miniature antennas that receive the signal from remotes and propagate it to surrounding areas.

Each remote is linked to a central headend, which is then connected to carrier(s) base stations.

Neutral host networks are third-party owned and maintained cellular networks providing complete mobile coverage solutions to MNOs or other communications service providers.

A disrupter in Neutral Host technologies is JpU, an Israel-based company providing a federated network solution globally, including in the US, where they have several projects underway. JpU offers a purpose-built mobile core network for Enterprise Private 4G/5G services, sometimes known as P-LTE, and for global enterprises and service providers.

The JpU HyperCore platform, a 4G/5G network, was architected to simplify the management of complex cellular networks, with an IT-friendly experience, with embedded security for all connected devices.

“Neutral Host strategies are the future,” said Roy Timor-Rousso, Chief Revenue Officer for JpU. “Large enterprises have more options than ever and are no longer required to consume connectivity services only from Tier One operators. They are also free from the complex operational issues associated with having to negotiate with, pay, and manage distributed service contracts to be able to cover the regions they serve.”

JpU’s platform is fully programmable and aligns with the rapid move towards flexible, API-interoperable, PaaS/SaaS models, which leverage 5G to support enterprise networks.

“The cloudification of telecom has been underway for years,” Timor-Rousso said, “but until there is an intuitive way for IT and OT teams to build and run their mission-critical networks as easily as they spin up virtual machines, the commercialization of cloud-based services has proven challenging. Enterprises need the same features as they currently enjoy with legacy networking approaches, including security measures and enforcement, business policy capabilities, and device management features which converge edge and cloud networking and computing.”

The JpU HyperCore solution works across any M2M, C-IoT, NB-IoT platform and scales to support millions of devices with huge volumes of traffic.

Timor-Rousso, a pioneer in developer-friend, API-based solutions, who was CEO at fring, an over-the-top global messaging service acquired by Ribbon Communications, and COO at Kandy, which Ribbon sold to American Virtual Cloud Technologies (AVCT) earlier this year, was attracted to JpU in large part given its full API driven core.

“Neutral host benefits can be instantly leveraged by DevOps teams who can utilize API libraries to design and implement deployments, customize business logic and integrate third-party services,” which they have been doing for many years in cloud operations.

“Through the use of CBRS, our customers and partners are able to produce a neutral host long-term evolution (LTE) network that strengthens both outdoor and indoor connectivity while shifting responsibility and funding of the system to the third-party neutral host operator who will manage and maintain the network,” Timor-Rousso explained. “This is ideal for organizations that require diverse economic and pricing options in addition to significantly increased network capabilities that securely support interconnected devices. This can open up new sets of apps that can optimize the way that people get work done and improve the experience of existing app infrastructure within an enterprise.”

Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) is a cellular solution that functions between licensed and unlicensed connectivity solutions. Made of 150 MHZ of the 3.5 GHz band that reaches 3.7 GHz, with some frequencies meeting the Priority Access License (PAL) criteria and others meeting the General Authorized Access (GAA) criteria.

Typically, exclusive rights to the band have been held by satellite ground stations and the US Navy.

However, priority licenses will be auctioned off on June 25, most likely to carriers hoping to build their own private 5G networks that feature improved offerings from service providers.

While priority licenses are still unavailable, carriers can access the generally authorized part of the band with the networks built from it that can support 5G. These networks promise to provide unequivocal access to practically everything and to expand heavily on pre-existing networks without causing considerable interference for public networks. Users will benefit from:

  • More secure data
  • A strong capacity for unexpected surges of data
  • Lower latency
  • Improved performance
  • Increased mobility
  • A scalable solution that can be kept up-to-date
  • IoT ready

“The potential is enormous,” Timor-Rousso said, “but first we need to overcome challenges including dense buildings and other obstructions that can be difficult to pass and must be accounted for when positioning equipment so that areas, where coverage is most needed can receive it, and the regulatory requirements associated with licensing, which are different in each region, and constantly subject to change.”

Another challenge Timor-Rousso noted is the “paradigm shift in actual ownership of base stations in neutral host implementations in developed countries. Enterprises are used to buying communications services, but in some cases, especially for mission-critical businesses requiring more control, IT and OT teams may prefer to own and manage the base stations. This is not just about new technology; this is about disruptive new business models.”

On the upside, however, he said that creative new revenue streams can be established when enterprises sell services when they have more than enough capacity, which flips the traditional notion of P-LTE as a cost center into P-LTE as a business. “For example, consider a municipal government agency that wishes to set up their own radio access network to support smart city applications and can more than offset their total cost of ownership by selling services to local businesses – the city itself becomes a service provider. The same goes for a university campus, which can sell subscriptions to students, faculty, and staff for secure, high-speed connectivity, just as they currently sell books, tablets, and laptops, food, and supplies out of their student centers. Neutral host models support this, bringing independence, security, and control to educational institutions.”

To avoid these issues arising in the future, it is vital to choose a provider who can offer continuous support in designing, deploying, and installing a successful CBRS network and then continue to aid in its further maintenance and customization to improve and meet regulations.

While Neutral Host solutions are only at the beginning of the adoption curve, here in London, the City of London, also known as the “Square Mile,” which is a population-dense area with a larger than usual number of mobile users, was notorious for its connectivity coverage issues, which has been attributed to its concrete dense and historic architecture.

The Square Mile was given a public WiFi Network around 13 years ago, but ever since its deployment, coverage, and performance has been very poor.

In 2017, the City of London planned to improve its WiFi and 4G coverage using a neutral host. The city asked developers to find a solution that was a neutral host and open to all service providers.

The city itself provided 3,600 different assets scattered across the Square Mile, which could be used for this project.

London chose Metnet, which the provider says enabled:

  • Seamless deployment and maintenance: The nodes can be deployed and integrated very quickly and do not require networking expertise.
  • Flexibility: The network can adapt to a changing environment using its self-organizing capabilities. For instance, if a new building creates new connectivity blackspots, Metnet’s neutral host nodes can re-organize to improve overall coverage.
  • Cost efficiency: Due to its flexibility, “self-healing” functionalities, manual labor time to deploy and maintain the network is greatly reduced. Thus long-term, scalable economic feasibility is greatly improved.

Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Luke Bellos

Special Correspondent

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