In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile, Spectrum

How much of tomorrow’s 5G business will be based on use of unlicensed spectrum in a direct sense? And how much activity will be be produced by traditional mobile operators, compared to new providers that might more resemble Boingo or even Wi-Fi hotspots.

By at least some estimates, it is possible that neutral host or other small cell deployments not owned by a mobile operator could represent a third to perhaps half of deployments in some venue use cases. Generally known as licensed shared access (LSA), the idea is that multiple users or entities can share specific spectrum assets, much as Wi-Fi operates. 

One potential driver is  Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), a form of LSA. Another driver is the ability to use mobile protocols entirely within unlicensed spectrum, or to do so in conjunction with licensed spectrum assets.

MulteFire, for example, supports operation of networks using 4G Long Term Evolution platforms, in unlicensed (using unlicensed spectrum only) or shared spectrum (aggregating licensed and unlicensed LTE capacity).

In principle, enterprises could create their own LTE networks, presumably to support multi-supplier indoor mobile connections.That would be especially helpful to some service providers, such as Comcast, which have huge networks of hotspots in consumer venues, but could use CBRS to create enterprise venue coverage.

In-building neutral host solutions are common for enterprise Wi-Fi and also distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments.

The issue is how much more that could be extended as small cell networks become more important. In principle, that could include both creation and operation of neutral host facilities that allow people to use their mobile phones with any mobile operator’s service.

In other cases, enterprises might also use the LTE in unlicensed spectrum to support custom applications on a campus or venue basis.

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