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Neutral host claims to be the answer to telcos' 5G prayers

The vast majority of telcos and enterprises would use a neutral host provider to help tackle the challenges associated with 5G network densification, according to new research.

Mary Lennighan

November 3, 2023

4 Min Read
5g network technology background. Vector 5g data transfer concept. EPS 10
5g network technology background. Vector 5g data transfer concept.

The vast majority of telcos and enterprises would use a neutral host provider to help tackle the challenges associated with 5G network densification, according to new research.

As many as 92% of operators and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic would go for a neutral host model if told it could remove the headaches that densification brings, new research commissioned by Boldyn Networks and published this week shows.

If you look past the obviously carefully-chosen wording (let’s face it, most telcos would likely opt for a yoghurt-pots-and-string model if told that it could help remove those same headaches) and the fact that the study was set up by a firm with a vested interest in the market, there are some interesting stats in Boldyn Networks’ ‘Neutral hosts: the answer to 5G densification in delivering an interconnected future’ report.

For those who might have missed it, Boldyn Networks came into being under its current brand in June. Headquartered in the UK, it is essentially BAI Communications’ northern hemisphere operations, plus those of the raft of companies it has acquired in recent years: Mobilitie, Signal Point Systems, Transit Wireless, Vilicom and ZenFi Networks. It styles itself as one of the world’s largest neutral host providers, although its operations are centred on the US, the UK and Ireland, Italy and Hong Kong.

The survey that informed Boldyn’s report was carried out among 600 people, half in the US and half in the UK and Ireland, at enterprises, public sector companies, and telecoms operators. 47% of the organisations surveyed claimed that the increasing deployment of macro or small cells was a priority; essentially, almost half are looking very closely at network densification.

In the interests of full disclosure, that need for more cells was far from the biggest challenge facing respondents when it comes to 5G rollout. The need for more fibre in the ground, justifying the required capex when use cases are still unclear, and jumping through political and regulatory hoops were all identified as bigger concerns. But all these issues overlap and play into the densification drive too.

And as Boldyn points out, densification across the entire network will come with a hefty price tag. Nonetheless, it notes that 73% of telcos in the US have clear 5G network densification strategies, falling to 65% in the UK and Ireland, which makes sense when you take into account the relative maturity of those markets.

The report states that once the concept of neutral host infrastructure was explained – a fairly worrying statement given that a sizeable portion of those surveyed were telecoms players – those respondents that did not currently work with neutral host providers expressed high levels of interest in using the model to support 5G densification. Indeed, 80% of UK and Ireland telcos said they were likely to consider a neutral host provider as an alternative deployment method, as did 79% of US telcos.

Cost-effectiveness was the main reason given, for telcos, enterprises and public sector outfits, but its interesting to note that telecoms operators rated the sustainability angle highly too.

“If you were told that neutral host providers could remove some of the headaches associated with 5G densification, how likely would you be to pursue this option for network deployment?” the survey then asked. Boldyn describes the 92% positive response rate as “staggering,” but it’s arguably more surprising that 8% answered in the negative, given that the question is essentially phrased as “if this thing were the answer to all your problems, would you want it?”

The telcos bucked the trend here, incidentally, with 96% of UK and Ireland telco respondents and 95% in the US saying they would be likely or very likely to go for a neutral host under those terms.

All of that said, the neutral host model does have a part to play in 5G densification. As Boldyn explains, it can help alleviate the upfront costs associated with new network rollout for telcos and others, as well as aiding with technical and regulatory challenges.

But we already knew that. And the report does nothing to actually quantify those potential benefits. However, its main aim seems to be spreading the word about the very existence of the neutral host model, and it does a decent job of that.

 

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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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