BandwidthX Blog

Comparing the Options in Mobile Network Agreements: Sharing, Roaming, and Xpacity

Johanna Visuri


Over the last several years mobile operators have increasingly adopted network sharing or national roaming agreements to combat rising costs and poor coverage areas and help drive the next generation innovation.  The first agreements were mainly focused on passive network sharing where non-electronic infrastructure at a cell site are being shared.  More recently, active network sharing agreements, where electronic infrastructure such as spectrum or radio access equipment is shared, have become more common as financial pressures and regulations have mounted burdening mobile operators. In 2019 network sharing announcements were made in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Spain and the UK by all the major industry players, including Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Vodafone and Tele2. Some operators are now eyeing denser population areas - where they spend the most CapEx for network capacity upgrades - as the next area of interest for these solutions.

While active network sharing and national roaming agreements have brought some financial relief and solutions to coverage issues, they have also brought more regulatory scrutiny, challenges to implementation, and no clear solutions for densely populated areas.  For example, the agreement in Belgium between Orange and Proximus had to overcome regulatory headwinds delaying its process, and in Czech Republic the EU Commission outright opposed the agreement. Besides the regulatory objections, crafting such precise agreements can be difficult. The upfront effort between MNOs to negotiate and determine what the consolidated network grid comprises is often onerous. As a result, roughly 80% of attempts to form sharing agreements fail.
At BandwidthX, we continue to receive many inquiries on how our solution is different. On the surface, Xpacity appears similar to national roaming and network sharing (MORAN or MOCN). In all three arrangements, devices from one MNO sometimes use particular elements of another MNO’s network. However, when more closely compared to Xpacity, there are fundamental differences in:

  • Complexity of agreements that need to be achieved
  • Amount of effort that is required to implement the solution
  • Source of the benefit to participating MNOs
  • Magnitude of savings
  • Performance improvement

These differences result from the agreement structure, the mechanism of assuring the agreed benefits, and the need for detailed coordination and common planning for making changes in the networks. These underlying factors are summarized in the tables on the right for each option.

Additionally, the circumstances in which national roaming or network sharing are applicable are different. National roaming is sometimes a temporary solution to extend coverage (mainly in low density rural areas) while an MNO builds out coverage, or as a stopgap in the initial coverage of a new radio access technology generation. Network sharing is most frequently applied to lower density areas; whereas, Xpacity is intended for more densely populated urban and suburban areas.

Sharing networks in densely populated urban areas where coverage is overlapping and capacity has been densified independently is difficult. In urban areas, conditions are far more fluid with frequent shifts in network demand (e.g., demonstrations, public events, COVID-19, etc.). Demand growth forces MNOs to add more capacity using various approaches. Resorting to network sharing agreements (MOCN or MORAN), which effectively collapse the two networks into one, adds a significant degree of complexity to coordinate network changes. Consequently, these arrangements are challenging to consummate – costing significant time, money, network modification, regulatory challenges, and loss of competitive differentiation. They are also far more difficult to unwind in the event participating MNOs wish to separate.

With Xpacity, there is no need for common network planning. MNOs do not need to share any information about their networks with the other participants, or coordinate the network planning activity in any way. Each MNO is free to make whatever network upgrades they deem beneficial and/or necessary. Each participant performs their own network modeling as they wish and only shares a few basic pieces of information about network performance with BandwidthX, such as a simulated demand map and predicted signal conditions so the optimal cross-network handover parameters can be calculated.

The source of the benefit for each compared alternative is also different in a subtle way:

  • While all the options aim to use network infrastructure more efficiently, MORAN, MOCN and National Roaming achieve this by making physical changes in the networks. They dismantle overlapping parts and, in case of network sharing, add new frequencies and make other equipment changes in the remaining cell sites.
  • In contrast, Xpacity uses optimization algorithms to calculate exactly where underutilized capacity in one network can be put to better use by subscribers of another. The desired effect is then achieved by specific additions to 3GPP-standard handover control parameters in all participating networks. This results in a much more efficient use of all existing capacity. The better performance and higher capacity are achieved without any network equipment changes. Therefore, the savings can be higher. The improved performance is available immediately when the parameters are applied.

To learn more please contact us.

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