Cell site sharing is required to support today’s crowded mobile networks

“Sharing cell-site infrastructure in today’s competitive and crowded mobile environment must be increasingly accepted as standard practice by operators, if they are to reduce unnecessary costs and obtain optimum capacity and coverage levels over which to deliver the high-value content and services that, today, form their core, revenue-generating activities.”

These comments, by Peter Jackson, Director in Europe for provider of wireless base station enhancement products, Communications Components (CCI), reflect the growing need for increased levels of cell-site co-operation and equipment sharing between operators. By doing so, environmental impact is reduced and the performance of all parties competing for bandwidth and coverage from the same tower can be optimized, fairly. Currently, however, only around 15% of mobile operators engage in network sharing activities.

“As wireless networks continue to grow, greater daily demand for services has increased the pressure on cell sites to deliver more in terms of capacity and coverage,” Jackson continued. “In turn, site running costs have risen and one obvious way to defray these costs is by sharing key network infrastructure. In some cases, this enables operators to decommission existing cell sites to avoid unnecessary duplication of coverage, which, in turn, leads to huge savings.”

He said that efficient equipment sharing – not simply sharing a tower – will deliver increased site capabilities without impacting network performance. By using equipment such as low-loss combiners and multiplexers, capex and overall opex will be significantly reduced by enabling operators to share infrastructure viably, including RF equipment such as antenna systems. It also enables the addition of new technologies such as LTE, without compromising network quality.

Jackson illustrated the benefits of sharing citing the effect the positioning of an operator’s antenna system has on coverage and range: on a tower supporting four mobile operators in the same band, where each has its own antenna system, there is usually a minimum vertical-separation requirement of 2m between antennas to avoid cross coupling and interference. If these operators are not sharing, their 3m-high antenna systems, plus the 2m vertical separation between each, will take up 18m of a 30m tower. However, the RF signal coverage and range will lessen the closer to the ground the antennas are, with the bottom antenna achieving worst propagation and the operator/owner of that antenna achieving worst coverage for its subscribers.

“Good customer experience relies on good housekeeping at the base station,” said Jackson, “In the case of antenna systems, height really does matter and is a key factor in delivering good coverage. If all these operators shared a single antenna system, as well as other relevant and practical RF equipment, not only would they benefit from optimum height and tower positions resulting in optimum range and coverage, but they would also make major opex and capex savings in the process.”