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The evolving trend towards telecommunications network sharing

December 12, 2018

As telecommunication network technologies continue to evolve, the way operators plan and implement their infrastructure is also changing.

The ‘standard model’ of an operator having sole ownership of the all the elements and layers within a network is no longer necessarily the norm and innovative techniques are being used to tackle new challenges, such as rapid user growth and increasing complexity of migration.

One of those techniques is telecommunications network sharing and there are five main categories for which network sharing can be classified. They are, RAN sharing, mast sharing, site sharing, core network sharing and network roaming.

Each have their similarities and can often be confused, but there are fundamental differences that define them. This blog looks at each form of network sharing to understand their differences and define (and redefine) how they are used to shape modern and legacy telecommunications networks and, in many cases, bring the two together.

RAN Sharing

One of the most comprehensive forms of access network sharing is RAN sharing.

RAN sharing is when all parts of the access network are shared, including radio equipment, antennas, masts and backhaul equipment. This cuts costs significantly for operators that are lacking existing infrastructure and at the same time generates revenue for those that possess that infrastructure but have capacity for additional service.

Implementation of RAN sharing can vary depending on the network partners, but a typical example would be where both operators share all the access network elements incorporated into a single network, which is then split into separate networks at the core connection point. At this point, each individual operator will split out the traffic from its customers on its own core network ring and will be processed by its own core network elements and infrastructure.

This form of network sharing allows Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s) to keep separate networks and spectrum.

Implementing RAN sharing can be challenging. Particularly when an operator has developed and evolved an existing network independently over a long period of time. This can lead to complications with inter-connectivity between equipment supplied by different vendors. Not only that, but operational procedures may vary and control mechanisms that are in place could need to be altered significantly.

In many cases, legacy telecommunications equipment that has been discontinued from manufacture will need to be used to ensure successful interconnectivity between more modern equipment and fundamental elements of the network that were introduced perhaps years before. Although in some cases they can be challenging to obtain, these parts can be sourced from specialist legacy telecommunications equipment suppliers such as Carritech.

Mast Sharing

With mast sharing (also known as tower sharing), operators will install their own access infrastructure such as antennas and base station cabinets on shared masts, antenna frames or rooftops that are then used in their separate telecommunication networks. Although the physical masts are shared, it is important to note that operator coverage remains completely separate.

In many cases, existing masts are strengthened and made taller in order to incorporate several sets of antennae.

Using shared mast sites is favourable to many operators as they are well regulated with controlled access for their own engineers and are often maintained and secured by a third-party infrastructure provider. However, there are alternatives to shared sites, such as privately-owned chimneys or rooftops that can be obtained and used at sites at a cost.

Site Sharing

Site sharing is probably the easiest and most commonly implemented form of networking sharing. Although it is a category of network sharing, all that is actually shared is location of the equipment. The site itself is used to house the operator’s individual masts, antennas, cabinets and backhaul.

Within a telecoms network infrastructure compound, each operator will either own or lease a plot which they can then use for their own network. Some parts of the physical support equipment are shared, such as housing, sheltering, air conditioning and power supply but none of the actual telecommunication network equipment.

This form of network sharing is particularly popular in areas where there is short supply of available space or significant planning approval would be required to create a new plot that can be used.

Site sharing, along with mast sharing are categorised as forms of passive sharing.

Core Network Sharing

It is possible to share certain parts of the core network, including the transmission ring and core networks VAS (Value Added Systems) that represent logical entities.

When an operator has spare capacity available on its core ring network, they may share this with another operator. Building a core network ring can be expensive, both in time and resources; therefore, many new entrants in the telecommunications operator industry will opt to source this capacity from existing networks.

Many fixed network operators that actively sell capacity on their network on a wholesale basis, will provide the mechanisms to quickly and easily roll out a network as they make arrangements to implement their own architecture.

Network Roaming

Often overlooked as a form of network sharing, networking roaming can also be included in this list, although the traffic and data from one operator’s subscriber is carried and routed onto another operator’s network.

There is no need for common operating network elements for this type of sharing to be used and for that reason many operators don’t categorise network roaming as a form of network sharing.

There are different variations of network roaming that can be categorised into: national roaming, international roaming and inter-system roaming.

National Roaming happens between operators (often competitors) with the same country code when they provide services within the same region or within different geographic regions. Agreements are put in place between operators that allow users to roam onto a host network if their home network is not available within that location.

International roaming is similar to national roaming, with the key difference being that is occurs between operators within different country codes. For example, phones can be taken abroad and used to receive the same voice services and any VAS services that are subscribed to (provided the host service has the capability to provide these services).

Inter-system roaming is when network operate at different standards and architecture, such as in the case of 3G and GSM roaming.

As networks continue to evolve and both operators and users require more flexibility in establishing, building-out and using telecommunications networks, operators are having to use innovative methods, often working together with their competitors to utilise as much available equipment and capacity as possible from existing infrastructure.

This will require more interconnectivity between legacy and modern telecommunication equipment than ever before, in order to minimise network disruption and maximise customer satisfaction. In order to achieve, maintain and build on this interconnectivity, operators utilise specialist legacy equipment services, such as those provided by Carritech. These services include repair and maintenance of existing equipment, product supply and ongoing support.

To find out more about Carritech and our services click here or contact us via email at contact@carritech.com or call +44 0203 006 1170.

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