Operator CTOs outline infrastructure sharing plans

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New growth first, backhaul next - can we still differentiate 

Vodafone and O2’s UK CTOs have told Mobile Europe that new growth will be the driver for most of their infrastructure sharing, with the consolidation of existing sites a minor factor.

O2 CTO Derek McManus said that it was important to understand that the operators are not sharing every site in the country. “New demand will drive the majority of this consolidation,” he said.

Both CTOs also insisted that they saw technical benefits from the partnership, rather than it being something purely driven from the financial side of the business. By working together on site costs operators would be able to expand and deepen coverage more efficiently, they said – improving service quality. They also both said that they envisioned working together on backhaul sharing to be the next step.

So how and where will the operators decide to consolidate their operations?

Jeni Mundy, CTO of Vodafone UK, said the operators would make cost the key priority, and look to combine investment in passive infrastructure where sites are in very close proximity to each other.

“We will work together where it is most cost effective and we see a good payback,” Munday said. “We will optimise our design solution on a collective basis, for instance how best to cover a particular town with 3G coverage.”

But the operators also insisted that they would retain the ability to differentiate on quality of service and coverage, despite sharing the same antennas where they do decide to share.

“Our data strategies may be completely different – and that will remain up to the individual operator,” Munday said.

McManus said that the same location can have different relationships with providers. “The driver for us is the opportunity for physical and geographical overlap, but that doesn’t stop us following different strategies.”

Ricky Watts, Aircom’s solutions and innovation director, and a former network engineer within mobile operators himself, said that the operators would be able to change the power and capacity of their base stations, but would be aligned in terms of their geographical coverage, as they cannot physically change the height, direction and position of a shared antenna.

“They can change their power output and some quality characteristics, but I’d say that’s about 20% of the overall ability to change things. The other 80% woul be determined by the cell position, antenna height and the direction its facing,” Watts said.