CHICAGO – Mobile subscribers usually don’t know whether they’re connected to a macro site, a distributed antenna system or even a Wi-Fi network. They just want to stay connected, everywhere and all the time. If connectivity is a problem, venue owners are often the ones who hear about it, and it may cost them business or customers. That’s why venues often look for “neutral host” connectivity solutions – systems that serve multiple carriers so that users will stay connected indoors regardless of their mobile service provider.
“Neutral hosts are increasingly popular for multi-tenant situations since multi-carrier DAS systems can add value with either carrier-led, venue-led or third-party business models,” according to Nick Marshall, principal analyst at ABI Research.
Carrier-led neutral host DAS is an emerging trend. Some of the first DAS supported only the lead carrier, and adding a second or third tenant often proved costly and cumbersome. The alternative was the consortium model, in which carriers tried to accommodate one another from the beginning, often with one “anchor carrier” bearing most of the cost. The consortium model does not have a great track record and carriers are looking for other solutions.
“We’re seeing that the consortium model is really reserved for worst case scenario only,” said John Bramfeld of Advanced RF Technologies. “The carriers do not like going that route. More and more often they’re deploying neutral host, but going it alone. They’re not waiting on partners to agree, they’re not waiting for any of that coordination.”
“Even if it’s carrier-led you have to be prepared for neutral host,” agreed Michael Shumate, business operations VP at CommScope’s DAS unit. “So you may have a carrier-led project but the solution has to support neutral host.”
In practice, this often means that in-building systems go live with just one carrier, and others come on board later. For carriers, the cost of waiting for their competitors appears to outweigh the cost of deploying without them.
“Sprint and Verizon right now are very anxious to get some of their spectrum and some of the networks built out,” said Bramfeld. “They’re putting out neutral host, but it is completely Verizon, Sprint … [that]fund it.”
AT&T also deploys neutral host DAS. The company will invite other carriers to become tenants, taking on the role typically performed by a tower company or another neutral host provider, like Mobilitie or ExteNet Systems.
Distributed antenna systems designed to evolve from single to multiple carrier solutions make sense to third-party providers as well. ExteNet Systems designed and built a neutral host DAS for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, but to date Verizon Wireless is the only tenant. Corning is the equipment vendor and ExteNet said that one of the reasons for the vendor choice was carrier confidence in Corning’s product line. ExteNet says it is currently in talks with two other carriers who may soon add their radio equipment to the DAS.
Written by, MARTHA DEGRASSE, Editor, Wireless Infrastructure