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Infrastructure Sharing: Strategies for 3G/4G roll-out

May 27, 2015
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Next-generation services and data services have led to growth of opportunities for infrastructure providers. These data networks have grown on account of rapid urbanisation, increasing youth demographics, high economic activity, smart public administration and increased mobile internet usage. The chief enablers for data networks have been advanced IT management systems, mobile commerce, smartphone penetration, applications, smart meters and sensors leading to machine-to-machine communications and smart network infrastructure.

Data is expected to form over 99 per cent of the total telecom traffic, and video to form over 50 per cent of the total data traffic. In the coming years, data carried through Wi-Fi and small cells will exceed that carried through macro networks.

Key challenges

Higher interference and exponential growth of data traffic makes it impossible to drive the required spectral efficiencies from current macro deployment. There is a need to look for alternatives and more effective methods to handle the data demand utilising current spectrum and minimising interference. The major technical challenges pertain to coverage, quality and capacity. At present, coverage, both indoor and outdoor where macro deployment is not feasible and needs to be improved; and deployment for indoor coverage is a big challenge. Similarly, performance may be impacted because of interference in a dense urban environment. To reduce interference, smaller cell sites need to be deployed which have a smaller footprint. Operationally, it would mean acquiring strategic locations. However, it will be a difficult task to acquire space at strategic locations due to higher rentals and security concerns. Further, accessibility to a fibre network at strategic locations will be an important issue which may impact the speed of data traffic.

Redefining data network landscape

The upcoming data network landscape will include macro sites, micro sites, pico sites as well as small cells; and all these sites will be connected with fibre. This is because all sites will require a higher bandwidth, which can be provided through fibre backhaul. The three key focus areas under this emerging landscape will be small cells and hetnets, fibrisation of sites, and in-building solutions (IBSs) with Wi-Fi offload. These focus areas will ensure the that data network landscape is properly enabled by infrastructure players. If these requirements are achieved through conventional means it may lead to high capex. On the other hand, sharing of sites and networks is the ideal way to achieve these targets from the perspective of all cost parameters.

An example of this is utilising existing infrastructure, such as a light pole by adding elements like power systems, battery backup and antennas. This could be one of the easiest ways to deploy data networks as these poles are available everywhere and they have a decent height to cover a small area. Another example could be installing monoples wherever there is no existing infrastructure. Energy systems, and battery banks and other electronics can be installed on these poles with different arrangements. The equipment should be weatherproof and needs to be installed on the pole so that more space is not occupied. Further, the pole should be multitenant shareable. Some arrangements that are used in other countries include putting up advertisements on towers and deploying telecom equipment on minarets to provide coverage.

Therefore, shared infrastructure is crucial and should be created in a way that it allows the use of several technologies, such as 2G, 3G and 4G. The network infrastructure should be multi-operator, cost effective and ready to use.  There are many focus areas to ensure that this kind of infrastructure is made available, including estate management, operations and maintenance (O&M) services, energy management, last mile fibre, IBS and Wi-Fi, and small cells. Operators and infrastructure providers should concentrate on these areas in order to avail of the benefits of infrastructure sharing.

In addition, infrastructure sharing will allow for more effective usage of assets. It will lead to reduction in the main costs of infrastructure, such as landlord’s rent and O&M costs; as well as  reduction in diesel cosumption and air-conditioning load. Seamless long term evolution (LTE) networks with this kind of smart infrastructure offer faster data speeds, improved spectrum efficiency, more revenue and less cost to operators. For tower companies, infrastructure sharing will result in faster time-to-market and site deployment. It will also help reduce capex and O&M cost and lead to optimal cost of ownership. Besides, infrastructure sharing will bring about innovations such as advanced storage technologies (for example lithium-ion), energy efficient power systems and remote monitoring. These innovations will have a positive impact on the environment as it will lead to a low carbon footprint. In sum, infrastructure sharing can serve as the biggest enabler of LTE expansion through the creation of optimised cost, low carbon footprint and fast network deployment.

Based on a presentation by Sairam Prasad, Chief Executive Officer, Lineage Power

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