Arqiva’s wholesale site and fibre model for dense mobile networks looks good

With 5G looming, this Arqiva small cell infrastructure pilot in London could be a model for multi-operator small cell deployments.

A pilot deployment of small cell infrastructure, including 90 street cabinets and 15km of dark fibre in London’s Hammersmith and Fulham borough could show the way forward for operators to cost-effectively deploy dense, high capacity, outdoor urban networks.

Although Telefonica O2 is the anchor customer for the pilot*, the pilot could also demonstrate a way for multiple operators to efficiently increase capacity in a dense urban environment like this area of central West London, which also includes several large entities such as event venues, shopping centres and football clubs.

Arqiva holds the concession from the Borough, liaising with planning, highway and digital offices. CityFibre is providing 15km of dark fibre to 90 street cabinets. The solution is entirely cabinetised. Individual operators can site small cells or remote radio head (RRH) units within the street cabinets, which TMN understands are designed to be big enough to support equipment from each of the UK’s four operators. Antennas on the nearby street light pole or site are then shared.

The idea is that a mobile operator can easily access the fibre, light it and start providing services without having to engage the local authority, negotiate a managed service with a fibre provider, or deploy any of their own physical infrastructure beyond the network elements they choose to deploy.

The high available capacities also means architectural options are flexible – an operator could use the fibre as backhaul between discreet small cells sited within the cabinets and a small cell gateway at an aggregation site such as a local BT Exchange, or it could use the links as fronthaul between centralised BBUs installed at the local PoP and Remote Radio Heads sited in the cabinets.

The high capacity of the fibre links also mean that operators can assess the links as suitable for 5G back/front/mid haul, even reaching the sort of capacities that might be required for mmWave solutions, down the line.

Other wholesale or managed small cell backhaul/fronthaul offers do exist. In 2018 BT launched its OSA Filter Connect service – now offering up to 10x10G wavelengths. Ontix has a ten year concession for London’s Westminster, and is proposing a hybrid dark fibre-wireless network in London’s Westminster. Managed or unmanaged, dark fibre offers could make it cheaper for operators to achieve the multi-Gbps capacities required to meet 5G NR demands. TMN understands, also, that the commercial model in Hammersmith and Fulham may see Arqiva offering connectivity on an area, rather than a per-site, basis.

* Although Arqiva’s PR doesn’t mention O2, TMN understands that the 90 cabinet sites are part of the 300 small cell roll out that Telefonica and Arqiva previously said they would roll out in London in 2018/19. The contract announcement named Hammersmith & Fulham as one of the boroughs within Arqiva’s concession.