Service provider thinking about infrastructure sharing always is intimately and directly related to their perceptions of business advantage. Actors will favor sharing when economic or business advantage can be obtained, and will oppose it when there is perceived harm.

New questions will arise as small networks become essential for 5G networks. In many markets and scenarios, it will be argued that only a shared infrastructure approach will work. That might well prove to be a good forecast, as small cell networks will require extensive backhaul networks, and that need might multiply based on the number of major competitors in each specific market. 

Networks that are dense, with large numbers of small cells, and virtualized baseband signal processing, will require a huge number of new radio sites, backhaul links and power sources. In markets with multiple suppliers, there is “a clear argument for a single, shared network,” argue Rethink Wireless analysts. 

On the other hand, as always, larger suppliers will think hard about any shared infrastructure proposals that allow competitors to compete more effectively. 

As always, that might be an argument better received in some markets than others. Where one or two suppliers believe they have financial or other advantages favoring building and owning their own network, they are likely to act that way. In other markets, where no single provider believes it can reap advantages for building and owning its own small network, cooperation and shared infrastructure are likely to be better received.

Those third party networks might work much as tower companies now operate, offering colocation and backhaul to multiple mobile operators. In some cases, regulatory authorities might try and create independent, third party neutral host suppliers.