Welcome to the next instalment of It’s time to share, a discussion about transitioning networks from fully owned by mobile network operators (MNOs) and broadcasters to using shared infrastructure.

This article focuses on the ongoing performance benefits and intrinsic efficiencies gained by using shared infrastructure.

Service assurance and high levels of network availability are key to providing a high-quality service for customers of MNOs and broadcasters. Communications infrastructure which is solely owned by a single operator requires dedicated resources for operations, monitoring and responding to issues to ensure seamless performance, and perform regular maintenance and improvements. Conversely, the shared approach enables these requisite resources to be expended across the many common services on the shared network, which increases utilisation and therefore the benefits associated with scale. As such, along with improvements in efficiency, this approach enables much faster identification of the source of any performance degradation, whether external or internal to the network.

By comparing services side-by-side, performance monitoring can be linked and targeted at resolving common network issues ahead of isolated service specific fault finding, the usual approach on a single operator network. Additionally, a performance issue on a single service can be quickly identified and dismissed as not created by the shared network. This leads to faster resolution times and improved performance for every user. For example, for Transit Wireless, majority-owned by BAI Communications (BAI), this approach often results in problem-solving for its customers before the customers’ own performance monitoring system has even identified the existence of an issue.

Within coverage venues that are difficult to access physically, for safety and scheduling reasons – such as train stations, airports, and stadiums, – baseline performance testing can be undertaken for all services in parallel on the shared infrastructure, as we do on the L-Line Tunnel under the East River in New York City. This significantly reduces the total resources needed for testing, by removing duplication, and highlights issues within any part of the network more effectively, by comparing results in parallel, for multiple services. This has the added benefit of decreasing the impact on the venues, by reducing the time required for performance testing.

When service providers expand their communication networks, such as the deployment of 5G, rather than employing dedicated resources, they outsource the design and construction responsibilities to common industry trusted companies. These companies are utilised to support multiple network rollouts. By engaging with this shared resource pool, the risks associated with rollouts is reduced, by accessing a common body of skilled technical resources. Continuous improvement of the common resource pool benefits all service providers. This is difficult to achieve if dedicated resources are deployed, as they do not have the exposure of lessons learned across multiple network rollouts.

The neutral host model often takes a similar resourcing approach for design and build, but it then extends this model into resourcing for operations, across its shared infrastructure. In Australia, our field and engineering teams support multiple service providers in this way using their broad knowledge base. This increases the technical capabilities of the operational team. This ultimately enables a higher level of service assurance.

When deploying and operating shared infrastructure the performance management tools are generally shared also, including network monitoring equipment. This requirement for shared operating tools provides the necessary volume, both sites and services, to support business investment in customised solutions, rather than being limited to just standardised tools. While this is indeed achievable with a traditional owner-operator model at a lower return on investment, the value-add comes from the holistic view provided when operating multiple services. Of equal value is the deeper data set from a larger number of sites and services that can be drawn on, enabling more comprehensive analysis of network performance, and ultimately lifting the performance of all customers’ services.

As an example of the ability to invest in customised tools for shared infrastructure, over the past three years, BAI’s research and development (R&D) team has been focused on creating new customised performance tool sets specifically for our shared broadcast network. R&D’s vision is to increase network performance and availability while reducing the downtime required to maintain it effectively. Custom development was required to achieve this vision as a standard tool does not currently exist. This solution reduces service outages, required for performance testing, while standardising data collection. This data can then be shared with our customers who can customise their reporting as needed. This investment would be unsustainable without a significant network and customer base.

In summary, shared infrastructure, provided by neutral host operators, enables a higher level of service assurance, especially in coverage areas where multiple service providers are supporting common customers. This is enhanced by pooling operational resources, faster resolution of performance issues via side-by-side comparison, and customised service performance monitoring solutions.

The next instalments in this series will highlight more of the thinking behind key investments and initiatives that BAI’s engineering and project teams are building and reinvesting in the shared networks we operate. I look forward to sharing them with you.