Freshwave says four way operator sharing on same indoor small cells a world first

Freshwave now has all four UK MNOs signed up to its Omni Network neutral host service.

UK neutral host provider Freshwave has publicly announced that all four major UK operators have now signed up to its Omni Network service, allowing them to share the same small cell in-building network. That means that in projects ranging from 6,000 to 350,000 square feet, Freshwave has a solution that can support four carrier connectivity from a single small cell rollout, using Commscope’s OneCell platform.

The two companies gave a taste of the upcoming service at April’s Small Cell World Summit, announcing that a four-operator agreement was upcoming.

The service conforms to the NHIB JOTS protocol, a UK operator-led specification which lays out the architecture for aggregating small cell traffic from neutral host infrastructure to mobile operator cores via a NHIB gateway. Commscope has had NHIB JOTS deployments since 2021 and told TMN that it already had three operators sharing on the Freshwave platform. EE is the last to join, with a Freshwave release claiming this is now the first service in the world with four operators sharing a single small cell platform.

The current Freshwave Omni network deployment is a MORAN solution, meaning that operators share the physical chassis that hosts the controller and then also share the same access points, with each MNO being allocated their own baseband and RF module, meaning there is no sharing of resources or power. Freshwave is providing a management capability for the service from its own data centre.

TMN understands that the Commscope solution can also support MOCN, although the UK regulator and the JOTS operators are not yet in support of that option, something that may take some time to sort out. Where MORAN (Multi Operator RAN) sees operators share everything in the RAN infrastructure except the carriers, MOCN (Multi Operator Core Network) sees the RAN carriers being shared with the core networks being kept separate.

The lack of MOCN support within JOTS is not ideal currently for 5G small cell vendors that cannot support MORAN, as the 4G layer will remain on MORAN and 5G indoors is yet to take off. Airspan Network’s technical director for 5G and Open RAN, speaking on a panel at Small Cells World Summit in April, said that “of all the possible models, I believe MOCN is the one that offers greater flexibility and savings, also enabling co-existence between Public and Private Networks. This is a reality today with CBRS in USA, where Airspan Networks is actively working in several commercial rollouts. We are looking forward for more markets to open the door to MOCN Neutral Host Small Cells deployments in the near future.”

Commscope launched the RP5000 Series back in 2018. It describes it as a multi-carrier, multi-channel solution that supports up to four frequency bands simultaneously. The radio points are software upgradeable, allowing operators to convert existing LTE bands to 5G NR via software, and then support higher 5G frequencies with an RF module upgrade. It says it is the only company that currently supports four operators from its platform.

A Freshwave release said that the company would consider using other small cell providers in future, but added to TMN that they’d have to adhere to the MNOs’ requirements with NHIB JOTS.

In February of this year Commscope announced that its OneCell small cells would support Open RAN integration to third party O-DUs (O-RAN DIstributed Units), the lower baseband processing portion of the disaggregated Open RAN baseband. It said at the time, “For the OneCell platform, CommScope is extending its current virtualised open fronthaul access to support third-party O-DUs — an industry first. This enables MNOs to leverage both native small cell and new Open RAN integration options while accelerating multi-operator 5G adoption for enterprises.”

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