Sharing of the active network has long been shunned by operators, fearing loss of control and differentiation, but the economics of a saturating market are driving some MNOs to take a kinder view. And emerging technologies, especially in the virtualized RAN and 5G core, will make it easier for operators to maintain full control of their network experience on common infrastructure.
Before those standards mature, however, rising numbers of MNOs, especially in Europe, are sharing their RANs using existing mechanisms. A new example is that of Telenor and Telia in Denmark, which are working to roll out a shared 5G network based on Nokia equipment, using the 3GPP MOCN (multi-operator core network) approach.
This allows for each MNO to have its own core, and so control quality of services, user prioritization and other areas of differentiation. But the passive and active network, as well as spectrum, are shared.
The shared network will initially be used to trial 5G services, including voice calls, but could become a commercial reality in future, if regulators approve. The operators carried out successful end-to-end test calls on the network and claim it is the first to support live MOCN capabilities for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G simultaneously.
“We hope that this trial demonstrates to operators around the world that there are multiple options open to them to get their 5G networks up and running quickly and at the lowest possible cost,” said Tommi Uitto, president of mobile networks at Nokia.
Telia Denmark’s CTO, Henrik Kofod, also highlighted the reduced carbon footprint and energy costs associated with active sharing. “I hope this will inspire other operators in the Danish market to move in the same direction. Network sharing is a great choice when it comes to building sustainable 5G networks,” he said.
The UK has been a leadership market for sharing of passive infrastructure, mainly towers and other cell sites, and is also paving the way to active sharing. Vodafone and O2, both of which are negotiating 5G active sharing agreements with various partners in Europe, are working together on this in their shared UK footprint. In January, Vodafone switched on a 5G network capable of multi-operator support, but using a different 3GPP standard, MORAN (multi-operator RAN).