Neutral hosts delivering private networks – matching supply and demand

At the Smart Cities Expo World Congress this month, Small Cell Forum (SCF) continued its collaboration with the UK Government’s Department for International Trade hosting the third in a series of workshops that explore opportunities around private networks. This workshop explored 5G strategies in the context of cities.  

Discussions developed around the role of the neutral host in delivering private networking capabilities, including how to integrate private networks into the public network and discussing the system integrator capability. With a range of trials and use cases presented during the workshop, one thing that came out clearly was that small private network trials were able to scale quickly and demonstrate some clear use cases in a range of sectors, but the demand is yet to grow significantly because many industries are unaware of the benefits, or the technology is not yet available to support them. 

The UK’s Department for International Trade is interested in this area because it reaches into many industrial and enterprise sectors and their connectivity needs, stimulating UK inward and outward investment dialogues around the emerging network capability. 

This is also a key area of focus for SCF, which has work program streams in neutral host requirements, private network blueprints and Open RAN architectures.   

The workshop opened with keynotes presentations, firstly from Eduardo Fichmann, from Cellnex, who talked about advances in private networks in cities; how small cells are an important enabler of private network trials; and shared that Cellnex is also investing in trials around Connect Vehicles and the automotive sector and how their neutral hosting business understanding supports growing their private networks business. 

The second keynote was by Dritan Kaleshi, from Digital Catapult discussing the private cellular networks supply side capability as seen from the UK and introducing the new UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN). He presented a study by UK5G carried out in partnership with Real Wireless that shows the supply side growth in capability, but the demand side is somewhat fragmented at present and choices of devices that are interoperable with many networks are not easily available. These are issues that focussed collaboration, templates or blueprints for deployments could help to resolve. 

The workshop then broke into two separate panels, the first on ports, where a variety of case studies and trials were discussed including a presentation from BT on Belfast Port and its private 5G network.  

Simon Fletcher, SCF’s CSO observed that: “Ports have provided a useful proving ground for innovative approaches, beyond the radio and into the core and connected devices – for example for drones used for surveillance. It was good to hear about trials and real use cases in action from the panel. Ports that are embedded into a large conurbation can surely be catalysts for development of the connectivity driven economy.” 

The second panel discussed city venues and stadiums, also touching on manufacturing. Neutral host models are proving important in the context of stadiums and the surrounding zones, not just in the bowl but also in the nearby community for retail and transport. UK industry driven innovation projects trialling new user experiences (such as Vista) in the stadium environment are starting to show the benefit of quality connectivity in venues. The panel noted however that consensus on neutral host models for cities especially in the Middle East is currently a challenge, but private network blueprints from organizations such as SCF could help ease this problem in the future. 

Both SCF and the Department for International Trade plan to continue this series of workshops focusing on neutral hosts and private networks. Details of the next event will be released soon. If you are interested in any of the areas discussed in this article, or wish to participate in upcoming workshops with SCF and DIT contact us via email [email protected].