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What is a private neutral host network and why do I need one?

Neutral host for events, venues

Private networks have been showcased as a key transformative technology for low-latency, high-speed networks in Industry 4.0 and other industrial applications ranging from warehousing, utilities/energy, and transportation. These deployments have made headlines, but have remained focused on custom deployments for industry specific use cases. One of the major challenges hindering the true growth of private networks has been scalable, repeatable uses.

An obvious killer (and low-hanging fruit) use case for private networks is to extend the macro network to deliver major carrier voice and data services where they are not currently well served. Everyone understands the challenge of being in an area with no coverage, either indoors or outdoors, and the value of seamless connectivity in both public and business spaces.

The current widely-deployed option for extending cellular coverage from multiple service providers is with DAS (distributed antenna system) networks, which are generally available for large venues or large enterprises. However, these networks can come with expensive contracts, lengthy installation times, and specialized equipment from a single vendor.

With CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service), private networks offer a unique shared spectrum that can broadcast connectivity for all major carriers to provide this Neutral Host service. Now a business owner or institution can build out a Neutral Host network to provide better services and experiences for customers, employees, or tenants.

Spectrum-Based vs. SCaaS Neutral Hosts

Per ABI Research, “a neutral host can be defined as a third-party mobile network provider that enables multiple wireless service providers to use its infrastructure, such as 5G cell towers and small cells.”

There are two primary types of neutral hosts: spectrum-based and Multi-Operator Small Cell-as-a-Service (SCaaS).

A spectrum-based neutral host owns the spectrum and the infrastructure to support shared cellular service. A DAS network is an example of a spectrum-based neutral host where one MNO (mobile network operator) would generally own the equipment—say in a large venue—and offer other MNOs the ability to use the infrastructure.

In contrast, SCaaS neutral hosts provide shared cellular connectivity for multiple carriers over shared spectrum (like CBRS) by clustering small cells (also known as radios or access points), sharing backhauls, and using a virtualized cell to support multiple operators and frequencies. Private neutral host networks is an example of SCaaS where the organization or enterprise owns the equipment and uses CBRS as the shared cellular spectrum. SCaaS neutral hosts leverage Multiple Operator Core Network (MOCN) technology to seamlessly integrate with—and extend—major public networks.

What Are the Advantages of Private Neutral Host Networks?

Private neutral host networks provide secure and reliable shared access to key cellular services using small cells. This paradigm allows service providers and mobile network operators (MNOs) to support private networks and deliver connectivity without deploying their own equipment. Typically hosted by enterprises and commercial real estate owners, these networks provide customized services and reliable LTE or 5G coverage in buildings, across large campuses, and at outdoor events.

Neutral host network architecture

Figure 1. An illustrative diagram highlighting neutral host network (NHN) architecture with interconnected service providers, including the integration of gateways, enterprise user equipment (UE), and the evolved packet cores (EPCs) of each service provider. (Source: ResearchGate)

In contrast to stand-alone distributed antenna systems (DAS), neutral host networks cost-effectively support the spectrum band requirements of each service provider and MNO without additional equipment—simplifying installation, streamlining integration, and reducing power consumption. Unlike Wi-Fi, neutral host networks enable seamless roaming, offering improved coverage and capacity for high-density environments.

Operational Models and Applications

Private neutral host networks have the benefit of providing both neutral host services and private network services with shared small cell infrastructure. For example, a private neutral host network deployed on a college campus can provide multi-MNO connectivity and private cellular services for on-campus video safety systems, point-of-sale systems, push-to-talk communication, and other use cases for added security, lower latency, and cost savings.

Private neutral host networks also enable a wide range of applications where traditional connectivity solutions such as Wi-Fi, DAS, and public networks may fall short. Surpassing both stand-alone DAS and Wi-Fi, they handle multiple mobile operators and high user density without degradation. Concerts and events at public outdoor venues can benefit from private neutral host networks with seamless roaming and reliable and scalable connectivity.

Private neutral host networks also support:

  • Connectivity-as-a-Service: Provides buildings and campuses with flexible, scalable on-demand network services. In a 5G implementation, for example, network slicing facilitates specific quality of service (QoS) parameters for each organization, apartment, employee, or student.
  • Managed security: Delivers tiered connectivity for customized security monitoring and incident response—with multiple, dedicated private networks ensuring low-latency and operational redundancy for surveillance cameras, motion sensors, and building access systems.
  • First responder toolbox: Enables secure inter-agency communication between local, state, and federal officials, as well as high-speed connectivity to external MNOs.
  • Asset tracking: Uses precise location capabilities (in a 5G implementation) to efficiently track assets in retail spaces, at events, and across large campuses.

Key Components of Private Neutral Host Networks

Building a private neutral host network involves a careful analysis of potential applications and infrastructure requirements. Small cells—both indoor and outdoor— are crucial components for most deployments to deliver targeted, flexible coverage. Similarly essential, core network servers, which connect to small cells via high-speed backhauls, support multiple SIM cards and services from various MNOs. CBRS SAS, optimally complemented by an integrated domain proxy, efficiently manages spectrum allocation in the 3.5GHz band.

Ethernet smart switches connect multiple radios within a network, directing data packets to their intended destinations, while routers manage data traffic between different networks. Reduced Capability (RedCap) mobile adapters cost-effectively support essential 5G features for IoT devices, including network slicing, precise positioning, and accurate timing and synchronization. Lastly, firewalls and intrusion detection systems bolster network security, blocking unauthorized access and continuously monitoring for anomalous or malicious activity.

Conclusion

Private neutral host networks can be the key to increased adoption of private cellular by combining the benefits of public cellular networks with the ability to deliver customized connectivity. With a strong ecosystem of vendors for small cells, core technology, and applications, neutral host connectivity will drive private network adoption beyond Industry 4.0 and industrial use cases.

The MosoLabs’ team is working closely with MNOs, system integrators, and other technology vendors to provide a neutral host offering for venues, campuses, businesses and other organizations. Reach out to our team to find out more.