3G network sharing is set to sweep through developed markets, and will have profound implications for mobile operators, vendors and regulators, according to a new report, 3G Infrastructure Sharing: the future for mobile networks, published by Analysys, the global advisers on telecoms, IT and media.
"Despite a number of announcements made around the time of 3G licence awards, the mobile industry was not ready to adopt extensive network sharing," said Dr Alastair Brydon, co-author of the report.
"Early interest in infrastructure sharing evaporated, and mobile operators chose to build and operate their own dedicated 3G networks. However, network sharing is back on the agenda. Mobile operators face major expenses in the coming years, including investments in femtocells, LTE, broadcasting networks and fixed broadband. As a result, most operators will not be able to invest sufficient amounts quickly enough on their own to exploit 3G's full potential."
Key findings from the new report include:
* Recent announcements of network sharing agreements between major network operators, such as T-Mobile and 3 in the UK (in December 2007), indicate a change in attitude towards network sharing.
* Network sharing can have considerable cost benefits. For example, a network operator that aims to extend its 3G network to 13 000 sites can save USD1 billion in capital expense (by reducing the need for new base station equipment and sites) and USD1 billion in operational expense (by sharing the cost of operating sites) over ten years by sharing 3G networks. 2G network sharing could provide even greater cost savings.
* Network sharing can take different forms. At one extreme, two mobile operators might share physical resources, such as sites and masts, but not network equipment. At the other extreme, all mobile operators in a country could share the same radio access and core networks. Different forms of network sharing will present different challenges. Sharing of radio access networks will be the most common approach.
"3G network coverage must be at least as good as 2G network coverage if mobile users are to be encouraged to migrate to 3G services, as operators' experience in Japan has demonstrated. Most 3G networks are nowhere near this," says Dr Mark Heath. "Network sharing provides mobile operators with the means to accelerate 3G coverage roll-out dramatically. It has taken the UK operator 3 about four years to increase its number of 3G base stations from about 5000 to 7500, but its network sharing agreement with T-Mobile will enable it to increase this number to 13 000 within two years."
3G Infrastructure Sharing: the future for mobile networks reviews a range of network sharing arrangements, from site sharing through to complete network sharing. It evaluates the potential cost savings and assesses the other benefits.