Neutral host small cell for Multi-operator

RKTPL can help service providers to avoid the high cost and complex arrangements needed to deliver 5G capacity in places as varied as metropolitan areas, enterprises, campuses, shopping malls, entertainment venues, outdoor festivals and more.

Typically, within a managed space today, different wireless providers must each deploy small cells dedicated to their own customers. Small cells supporting each operator are needed, creating complex and costly parallel infrastructures. RKTPL is offering a neutral host solution in which one common infrastructure system is deployed and shared by all operators.

Neutral hosts provide a valuable link between service providers and end-user organizations

In this case, a third-party provider, such as an independent access provider, landlord or delegate, becomes a neutral host (in terms of not being aligned with any specific provider) for small cell deployments.

The potential of neutral host solutions becomes even more exciting when we consider their ability to help service providers advance their 5G business objectives. RKTPL can help make 5G deployments more ubiquitous and cost effective as well as help providers gain access into real estate they might not otherwise have access to — all benefits critical to growing the capacity to deliver 5G service.

Enterprise in-building wireless system requirements

For multi-operator in-building deployments, neutral hosts have typically relied on DAS. Recent advances, including digital and C-RAN architectures, have driven down the cost of these solutions. Meanwhile, indoor small cells have a lower entry cost point, and can be simpler to design and install. However, most small cells support only a single operator. Supporting multiple operators requires multiple parallel small-cell systems, quickly negating their cost and simplicity advantage. What’s needed is a simpler multi-operator infrastructure. What does this look like?

The ideal neutral host in-building small cell solution must have the following characteristics:

  • Support multiple operators in a single radio access point
  • Leverage a shared IT-like transport infrastructure
  • Allow per-operator capacity allocation and full control of subscriber quality of experience
  • Enable independent per-operator network management
  • Guarantee a smooth migration from 4G to 5G

Technical solutions for neutral host small cells
The most established cellular neutral host solution is the distributed antenna system (DAS), but this has severe limitations for any but the largest enterprises and public spaces.From below figure , a study by Infonetics for Viavi Solutions , summarises the main reasons. The greatest of these is deployment cost, which was seen as a barrier by 75% of the survey respondents. Others relate to deployment issues such as fiber cabling requirements, the second most cited barrier.

Barriers to DAS deployment (Vivavi/Infonetics)

There is clearly an opportunity for small cells to address the key barriers to DAS adoption and provide a more workable solution for most enterprises. After all, small cell technology has been specifically designed to support scalability – from small to large – at affordable cost of equipment and operation, and with simplified deployment and management processes. Given that there are clearly technology solutions and
standards available, the critical barriers clearly relate to product availability and market barriers, as well as to the need for simpler processes of roll-out, cost sharing, spectrum access and so on.

There are three main approaches to network sharing, which are not exclusive to small cells.

  • Multiple operator RAN (MORAN) has a higher level of independence than MOCN – the baseband and RF are shared, but there is a dedicated carrier and independent RRM and service deployment.
  • Multiple operator core network (MOCN), all the elements are shared,including spectrum, except the core networks.
  • Gateway core network (GWCN) in which interworking takes place at the core network level.

The three approaches to network sharing by RKTPL’s Small Cells

These are now described in greater detail below.
3GPP has defined the MOCN feature to enables the radio access network to be shared,as shown in the  above Figure. The shared radio access network operator is labelled as ‘X’ and the core network operators as ‘A’, and ‘B’. Typically, one of the core network operators will also be the radio access network operator, although to generalise the approach, an independent entity to operate the shared RAN network is shown.

Note: In this figure, horizontal colored banding of components is used to illustrate a component that is shared between multiple operators, with single color components representing elements dedicated to one particular operator.

In addition to the MOCN configuration, in which only RAN elements are shared, 3GPP has also defined an alternative approach to shared networks, whereby both RAN and core network functions are shared . This configuration is referred to as gateway core network (GWCN).In addition to the 3GPP MOCN and GWCN configurations, there is also a non-3GPP sharing configuration which is widely used in the macro environment. This configuration is referred to as multi-operator radio access network (MORAN) and is also shown in Figure . As illustrated, the MORAN model shares backhaul interfaces and base station hardware – including feeder cables, antenna, power supply, etc – but excludes the TRX/RF aspects from sharing. This means that licensed radio resources, their schedulers and configuration are not shared, resulting in each operator being responsible for configuring their own cell to broadcast their respective public land mobile network (PLMN) identities.

In the MOCN and GWCN configurations, each cell in the shared RAN additionally broadcasts system information about the available core network operators, e.g., in LTE where SIB1 includes the list of up to six PLMN identities of the supported networks. UEs can decode this information and use such in network and cell selection and re-selection procedures.

Importantly, in order to accelerate adoption of shared small cell networks, it should not be assumed that the corresponding macro networks are also shared. Hence, it is important to consider the integration of a shared small cell architecture into a nonshared macro environment.

 Radio considerations
An important consideration from a technology perspective is whether or not neutral host-capable infrastructure places any additional requirements on the small cell radios. And the answer depends somewhat on the choice of MORAN vs MOCN, and the spectrum holdings of the sharing partners.

In a MORAN deployment, the installation consists of multiple radio heads at each node, where each radio is transmitting in the spectrum of its sharing host. In such deployments today, the radio heads are actually defined in advance as being the approved devices for the sharing host’s network. The MORAN deployer is simply deploying kit in a particular configuration that is already known to function within the
operator’s spectrum holding. As the industry develops, the MORAN deployer may take more responsibility for specifying and approving the kit.

In MOCN or GWCN deployments, where all the traffic is carried on a single RF carrier, the choice of spectrum donor determines the radio requirements. The MOCN radio needs only follow the spectrum holding of one operator, not all.There is a general requirement for multi-band radios in certain territories where spectrum is not licensed nationally. In the US, for example, spectrum is licensed according to major trading areas (MTA). Each MTA may only be a few square kilometres in extent, and the same spectrum licensed by one operator in one MTA may be licensed by another in the adjacent MTA. To avoid logistical nightmares in particular for small cells where volumes and high, radios agile enough to be deployed freely across all the whole spectrum holding of an operator are nearly a necessity. The implication of this is that, in such territories, multi-operator capability in itself makes no additional requirements of the radio.

Deployment considerations for neutral host solutions

In terms of small cell deployment, a neutral host solution addresses one of the biggest challenges which has sometimes held back roll-out and densification, indoors and in urban areas. This is the impracticality of securing sites and backhaul, and controlling interference, when several operators build out separate networks.

However, there are many deployment considerations when planning a neutral host small cell network.
From the operator’s point of view, one is that most of the activities from design/plan build and operate are undertaken by the neutral host and so there is less control over the final result, but also less upfront investment. Below figure  illustrates how responsibilities are shared between neutral hosts and MNOs according to different business models.

Commercial models mapped to deployment considerations

The most fundamental difference between neutral host and single-operator network deployments is, of course, the number of cells. However, MNOs must be sure that these cells are deployed in the best positions and with optimal tuning so that they deliver high levels of QoE even with the additional burden of traffic from several operators.

Spectrum and regulatory issues

A major issue associated with MOCN or GWCN based neutral host solutions is that of spectrum sharing. MOCN only accelerates sharing where the operators can agree about how this can be managed, usually because they have complementary assets that may already have resulted in a macro MOCN arrangement. MORAN, like DAS, can avoid the spectrum sharing dilemmas, but has been less well supported by the small cell ecosystem and requires more deployment effort, with – in many scenarios – less clear short term impact on total cost of ownership. Future flexible approaches to spectrum sharing – such as licensed shared access (LSA), Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the US, and LTE in unlicensed spectrum – will offer new ways to address these issues.

For now, though, there are more immediate spectrum and regulatory issues to consider.
Operators spend a lot of money on spectrum, and are often unwilling at first exposure to let their competitors have access to it. But this reluctance fades for two reasons –the reduced cost of the infrastructure, where up to six networks can be served for the price of one, and where the spectrum is underused anyway, and the owner can earn revenue they would otherwise miss, by carrying traffic on behalf of a competitor, by measuring it and charging for it.

Infrastructure sharing in general, and spectrum sharing in particular, invite the participation of third parties to manage the shared resources on behalf of the MNOs.Over the last twenty years, such a model has become well-established in terms of passive infrastructure – towers, antennas, cables, splitters, power, backhaul – and many of the tower companies involved in this are extending their vision to include the sharing of the active infrastructure – the basestations and active RF components, and the spectrum. The same arguments that were deployed against tower-sharing twenty years ago are being deployed against spectrum sharing today. We expect the argument to follow the same lines with the same result, where the cost of maintaining a real or imagined competitive advantage in spectrum terms is more than outweighed
by the cost savings of the fully shared infrastructure.
When considering the scope for multi-operator small cells in a regulatory context, a key question is whether or not the use of shared spectrum is permitted. This would allow for dynamic spectrum resource partitioning between operators, as opposed to the more straightforward distributed antenna system (DAS) or multi-operator radio access network (MORAN) approach where some active elements of RAN infrastructure may be shared, but each operator is constrained to transmit only within its own individually licensed spectrum assignment.

Historically, spectrum sharing has not always found favor with regulators, since it has often been viewed as a potential threat to healthy competition between national operators. However, the research undertaken during the production of this report indicates that several countries around the world have already authorized the use of active network infrastructure sharing including RAN/spectrum sharing in certain circumstances. This has been allowed, or even encouraged, in some countries where regulators have had strong policy objectives to extend mobile broadband coverage to areas of low population not likely to be served by multiple competing networks. The regulatory mechanisms by which this has been achieved are not always clear and vary from one country to another although some broad themes emerge. One relatively straightforward route adopted in several countries has been for participating operators to form a joint venture (JV) at the time of a national spectrum award. The JV has then applied for a licence to operate a network across a range of frequencies, thereby permitting spectrum pooling and variable distribution between the individual participating operators.
Alternatively, in countries where a fully liberalized regime is in place, spectrum trades have occurred subsequent to the original award process, to enable transfers of spectrum rights from existing licence holders to a new JV. Both these approaches do, however, pose the risk that regulators and competition authorities may bar such applications or trades if distortion of competition is judged to be a significant risk.
Nevertheless, there are several examples whereby such deals have been accepted and this is especially likely to be the case in developing countries or regions where policy objectives to extend broadband coverage may outweigh competition concerns.
Newly emerging regulatory frameworks may bring additional opportunities for multioperator small cell operation in spectrum currently occupied by military and other incumbent applications. The licensed shared access (LSA) concept developed within the European regulatory framework is one approach which may enable shared spectrum authorizations to be applied for. A similar approach called authorized
spectrum access (ASA) has been adopted in the United States which is primarily targeted at small cells.

Management of neutral host solutions

To allow the neutral host and multi-operator models to expand to their full potential as new use cases emerge will require changes to architecture as well as changes to the business processes.
As seen above, where the MNO is the host, it is important to improve the balance between the cost/management responsibility it takes on, and the potential returns on that investment. The ability to support a wide range of tenants, many of them noncompetitive with the MNO’s model, is significant in that, as is the ability to control quality of experience, and allocate network resources, according to business priorities.
Architectures are starting to emerge to enable this. It is important that the resource management model of the eNodeB is made fully MOCN-aware, to enable greater operator control over its resources. As in DAS, the host operator needs to be able to allocate resources and power budget between tenants from a console. In future, this approach can evolve, in a virtualized environment, towards full network slicing, in
which large numbers of service providers can access their own resources.

The 3GPP has recently published Technical Report 22.852 which adds new use cases for enhanced RAN sharing and create normative requirements (and specifications) for OAM access for participating operators, support for load balancing, the generation and retrieval of usage and accounting information, on-demand capacity negotiation,handover functionality, interoperable SON and for PWS support over the shared RAN.

Multiple PLMN-ID based shared small cells

For full MOCN enabled cells, each small cell is required to broadcast system information describing the available core networks. In particular, in UMTS the master information block (MIB) includes the information element termed ‘multiple PLMN list’ and in E-UTRA, the System Information Block1 includes the information element termed‘PLMN-IdentityList’. These information elements identify up to five (UMTS) or six (EUTRA) multiple public land mobile networks of a cell in a shared network. Importantly,the current 3G small cell management system definition in TR 196v2 [10] does not currently support the definition of such management information elements for 3G
small cells.Contrast this with LTE where for E-UTRA, TR-196v2 defines the FAPService.{i}.CellConfig.LTE.EPC.PLMNList.{i} object that includes the list of PLMNIdentities broadcast in System Information Block1. No equivalent object is defined for UMTS to enable the multiple PLMN list to be configured by the 3G small cell management system.

Common PLMN-ID based shared small cells

Pre-Release 6 UEs may be supported in a shared network by using ‘equivalent PLMN’or ePLMN capability. A list of ePLMNs can be sent to the UE by the core network at each location and/or routing area update and indicates a list of PLMN identities that the UE should treat as being equivalent to the registered PLMN.In particular, consider the case of two core networks, MNC#1 and MNC#2 that agree to share a network. In order to support pre-R6 UEs, these two core network operators can define a new PLMN-ID, e.g., corresponding to MNC#3. Each of the core networks will then signal that the PLMN-ID associated with MNC#3 as being equivalent to the HPLMN.
The shared 3G small cell can then be configured to broadcast the PLMN-ID associated with MNC#3 which will ensure that UEs from both MNC#1 and MNC#2 will consider the shared 3G small cell as being equivalent to their home PLMN. In contrast to MOCN, E-PLMN configuration for 3G is supported by TR-196v2 defining the FAPService.{i}.CellConfig.UMTS.CN object that includes the EquivPLMNID list to enable the 3G small cell management system to configure equivalent PLMN functionality.

Qualification of network listen derived neighbor cell

In typical 3G/LTE small cell deployments, the neighbor cell list will be automatically configured by using network listen capability in the small cell. The small cell will typically be configured to only include neighboring cells associated with its broadcast PLMN-ID in its neighbor cell list. In both multiple PLMN-ID and common PLMN-ID operation, the small cell needs to be signalled the PLMN identities of the core networks sharing the small cell from the small cell management system. The small cell can then ensure that neighboring cells from overlapping macro networks belonging to both core networks are included in the neighbor cell list.
For LTE based small cells, the TR-196v2 PLMN List object can be used by the small cell to qualify network listen derived neighbor cell information. For 3G based small cells, the lack of PLMN List object means that the small cell should be configured to use the
equivalent PLMN list to qualify network listen derived neighbor cell information.The 3G/LTE small cell is able to report the PLMN-ID of its neighboring cells using the TR-196v2 management object to the small cell management system.

Identifying neighbor cells in shared networks

In UMTS, as well as of system information block (SIB) 11/11b is being used to signal inter-frequency, intra-frequency and inter-RAT  neighboring cells, SIB Type 18 can additionally provide the UE with knowledge of the PLMN identity of the neighboring cells to be considered for cell reselection. This then enables a shared 3G small cell to be operated in an environment of two non-shared macro networks.

GWCN – Neutral Host Options for  two 4G LTE Operators 

“For a scenario in which two mobile operators decide to jointly apply a neutral-host model (e.g. operator 1 and operator 2 in our case study) the aggregate number of small cell sites would be reduced by 40% (QoE equal or better for each operator, compared with the deployment of a individual and dedicated small cells). Or even 50% (applying neutral-host model to all sites shared by both operators); resulting again in a significant reduction in costs also for dual operator neutral-host model.”

4G LTE Mobile Network Architecture

Neutral Host – Single Carrier small Cell- Single PLMN

Supported today by RKTPL’s E1000 series eNodeB with embedded EPC.RKTPL  can setup Single Carrier GWCN (Gateway Core Network) as below:

Single Carrier GWCN (Gateway Core Network)

Neutral Host – Single Carrier small Cell-Single PLMN  and Multi PLMN

Supported today by RKTPL’s E1000 series eNodeB with embedded EPC.RKTPL can setup Single Carrier GWCN (Gateway Core Network)  and or Single Carrier MOCN Multi PLMN as below:

Single Carrier MOCN Single  PLMN  and Single Carrier MOCN Multi PLMN

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As a leading technology and solutions provider, RKTPL brings together the top global ICT companies to advance the industry’s business priorities. RKTPL is currently working to address 5G, robocall mitigation, Smart Cities, IoT, artificial intelligence-enabled networks, distributed ledger/blockchain technology, cybersecurity, emergency services, quality of service, billing support, operations, and much more. These priorities follow a fast-track development lifecycle – from design and innovation through standards, specifications, requirements, business use cases, software toolkits, open source solutions, and interoperability testing.

 

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