5G network sharing the new normal as KDDI, Softbank ink deal

via Flickr © TR Haun (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Flickr © TR Haun (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • Telcos focused on cutting cost specifically of rural deployment
  • Use of high, mid-band spectrum necessitates large number of cell sites
  • Operators more willing than ever to buddy up on infrastructure rollout

Going it alone in 5G is proving to be the exception to the rule, as more telcos buddy up to cut the cost of next-gen network deployment.

The latest example comes to us this week courtesy of Japanese telcos KDDI and Softbank. They have agreed to share sites to accelerate 5G rollout specifically in rural areas.

In a joint statement, KDDI and Softbank noted that with high and mid-band spectrum being used for 5G, more base stations are needed to provide sufficient coverage.

"More than ever before, carriers need to promote mutual infrastructure sharing to efficiently construct a network of 5G base stations," the telcos said.

It says something about how the economics of 5G deployment stack up – or don't stack up – that telcos in markets the world over are so willing to compartmentalise their rivalry and readily establish sharing agreements. Not for in-fill deployment, but for greenfield deployment.

In almost all cases, the dust has barely settled on a 5G spectrum auction before telcos have jumped into bed together.

With that in mind, I wonder how long it will be before German telcos, newly-embittered after bidding billions of euros on 5G frequencies, will consider partnering with one another?

Active or passive?

Network sharing is not a new concept, of course, and it is logical, if a little over-simplified, to assume that operators that have been sharing things like masts for many years will continue to do so when it comes to 5G.

However, while historically operators have opted for passive network sharing, these days there seems to be a greater appetite for active sharing, which covers transport networks and base station equipment etc., and not just the towers and the sites.

This was the case in Italy anyway, when incumbent TIM and Vodafone have signed an MoU covering active 5G network sharing.

In the UK, Vodafone and O2 have extended their 4G infrastructure-sharing deal – which was for the most part a passive kit-sharing agreement – to include 5G and potentially, further down the line, shared fibre backhaul as well.

Back to Japan, and Softbank and KDDI are also working with new player Rakuten Mobile and power grid operator TEPCO to explore the feasibility of sharing antennas installed on TEPCO's utility poles.

All this network sharing of course heaps even more pressure on telcos to differentiate on service. But with all these new revenue streams promised by 5G, that should be fairly straight forward, right...?

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