ip.access, the small cell solutions provider, has called for UK regulators and mobile operators to pursue a multi-operator shared spectrum solution to improve mobile coverage in rural areas and beyond.
Ip.access has made this statement in response to the report: Mobile Coverage: A good call for Britain? issued by the British Infrastructure Group (BIG), a cross-party group of MPs dedicated to promoting better infrastructure across the UK.
The BIG report proposes imposing compulsory roaming on mobile operators, as a means of improving rural coverage. However, ip.access argues that spectrum sharing offers a superior solution – commercially and in terms of customer experience – to national roaming, and would also provide a blueprint for other countries facing similar challenges.
ip.access CEO Malcolm Gordon said: “The BIG report identifies 17 million UK customers who experience poor reception at home and 525 areas with non-existent mobile coverage. We recognise the importance of this issue, and strongly believe that regulators and operators should commit to supporting shared spectrum as the most effective approach to connecting the unconnected in rural communities.”
Shared access small cells are simply the next logical step in a path that began twenty years ago with the first tower sharing agreements. The same cost arguments that won out then over the “cell site as a differentiator? argument” are likely to win over the “spectrum as a differentiator?” argument today.
With a shared spectrum system, a single network can be built out – by a mobile operator or third party ‘neutral host’ – which all operators can then offer services on. This would have several advantages over compulsory roaming, including:
• Standards-based solutions already exist and the technical challenges are often lower than with localised roaming
• A single network significantly reduces the Capex and Opex cost of providing services to a remote area, enhancing a difficult business case for the MNO, while still offering a choice of operators and services to the consumer
• Each mobile operator can still manage subscribers from its core network, differentiating its services and monetising the user, in a way that is impossible in roaming, where the customer is ‘lost’ to a third-party network
• An operator which commits to building out the network can retain its first mover advantage using evolving radio resource management tools (e.g. to reserve some capacity for its exclusive use).
Small cells support multi-operator networks via standards like 3GPP’s MOCN (multi-operator communications network), and they are often used to provide cost-effective mobile coverage in remote areas, with superior quality of service to macro network roaming.
ip.access pointed out that its own Viper platform is an example of a solution capable of providing multi-operator coverage from a single small cell.
It argues that Viper reduces the capital and operational cost for each operator by allowing them to share active infrastructure and spectrum, without losing control of the capacity each operator is able to offer its customers. This removes a significant barrier to increasing deployments of indoor cellular infrastructure.