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Feature Article

Antenna sharing models help MNOs cut costs and drive scale

April 19, 2017

This article was first posted to RCR Wireless on March 15, 2017.

Multiport base station antennas allow operators to maintain control while speeding LTE and LTE-Advanced deployments

All across the globe, mobile network operators are working to deploy LTE and LTE-Advanced network infrastructure, while investing heavily in the research and development that will shape 5G. At the same time, consumer and enterprise demand for capacity is growing quickly as increasingly high-quality video applications dominate data traffic and legacy networks are shut down to allocate spectrum to more advanced services.

It’s important to remember that while this dynamic evolution of telecommunications is fundamentally reshaping the way people live and do business, the sea change is supported by a global ecosystem of operators, vendors, service firms and other stakeholders that face constantly changing cost pressures just like any other business.

In an effort to balance limited capex and opex with the need to continually invest in providing the best customer experience possible, operators are constantly looking for opportunities to increase both network and operational efficiency. To that end, there’s increasing interest in both active and passive network sharing as a way to save money by pooling resources, while still maintaining control over crucial network components.

Dr. Mohamed Nadder Hamdy, director of technical sales for CommScope Mobility Solutions, explained sharing, also referred to as colocation, at the base station antenna level presents several complexities because the antenna interacts with multiple RF elements including amplifiers, smart bias tees and remote radio units among others.

“As operators look to ramp up deployment of 4G services, the technical challenges of antenna sharing become more complex,” Hamdy said. “Highly sensitive to interference, services such as LTE and LTE-A require precise antenna positioning for each operator. With advances in multiport antenna and external RET control design, this is possible.”

There are two predominant sharing models, active and passive, which speak to the depth of the sharing arrangement. With passive sharing, operators might realize a cost efficiency by deploying equipment at a shared site. An active sharing model could include anything from a common RAN network, pooled spectrum resources or shared core networks.

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As Hamby points out, in both active and passive sharing models, the antenna is the common element, which reiterates the importance of multiport antennas and independent RET control. And, although sharing models are not standardized by 3GPP, there are best practices operators can use to leverage various sharing models while maintaining control over their network.

“There are two main drivers behind all sharing models,” Hamdy told RCR Wireless News. “One is imposed by regulatory bodies looking to improve the look of cities and reduce carbon footprints by having less sites. The other is driven by the operators. Especially in environments where the running cost is high and the revenues are low–like highways or where a commercial power grid is not available–the goal is to reduce total cost of ownership.”

He continued: “ Passive sharing gives some optimization flexibility as each operator can choose antenna directions and radio parameters. When it comes to active sharing, the cost of telecom equipment is also shared. However, optimization will be more restricted with all operators sharing the same physical RF paths. With the evolution of LTE and 5G, we see the need for high capacity on the rise, which might slow down sharing in dense areas despite the benefits.”

For a more in-depth look at the dynamics of network and antenna sharing, download Hamby’s recent whitepaper “Sharing an antenna doesn’t mean giving up control."