Mobile network infrastructure refers to both the electronic components and the physical sites and masts that make up a network. Sharing this infrastructure can be very beneficial in terms of cost savings for mobile network operators. Regulatory authorities want to see the best use made of finite resources, to increase rural coverage and to encourage sharing in order to improve services for customers.
Many network operators are sharing network infrastructure in order to maintain profit margins, lower costs and focus on delivering their core business of meeting customer requirements.
Expected cost savings from infrastructure sharing are predicted to be significant. Operators can expect to save as much as 30 to 40 percent1 of their network costs and capital expenditure can be significantly reduced. Building, rigging, materials and costs associated with connecting base stations to the core network and to power have been estimated at 50 percent1 of total capital expenditure. All are shareable costs under agreements between participating network operators.
Models of Sharing
Network infrastructure sharing models fall into two main categories: passive sharing (sharing the site, tower, antennas and feeder cables) and active sharing (sharing of electronic equipment such as switches and sometimes spectrum).
Passive site sharing refers to the sharing of non-active equipment. The potential advantages with passive sharing are that costs are shared for the acquisition of sites, for infrastructure, lease, maintenance and power. With passive site sharing, each operator maintains their own core network, backhaul and radios, but they share the sites, towers, power, antennas, feeders, HVAC and security.
Passive backhaul sharing is similar to passive site sharing, but the mobile network operators (MNOs) also share the backhaul links (the connection from the wireless cell tower to the core network). There are obvious advantages in equipment costs with passive backhaul sharing, plus big savings to be made in deployment. Passive backhaul sharing results in reduced license fees for microwave links and because 70-80 percent of costs come from the digging of trenches, these costs can be significantly reduced for all infrastructure sharing participants.
Active site sharing refers to the sharing of active (ie. electronic) infrastructure in the access or core network, like base station equipment and switches. In the case of Multi Operator Core Network Sharing (MOCN) spectrum is also shared.
A Multi Operator Radio Access Network (MORAN) is one in which each operator owns their own core network. MORANs are becoming increasingly common, especially with the roll out of 5G. Potential benefits of MORANs include cost sharing on radio equipment and a reduced antenna footprint.
The big growth has come in MORAN agreements, which are suitable for network operators who already lease their share of the RF spectrum.
A MOCN shares all of the elements that a MORAN might, but it also shares the RF spectrum. There are similar benefits to MORANs for cost sharing, with additional efficiencies created by the pooling of spectrum.