There is an increasing trend for mobile network operators (MNOs) in Latin America to adopt a variety of infrastructure models. This is being driven mainly by commercial and efficiency considerations, rather than regulatory mandates(1).
GSMA understands that any infrastructure sharing -when it´s technically possible- should therefore be permitted and driven by market economics and consequent result of commercial negotiation, not mandated and not subject to regulatory constraints or additional fees. This will encourage investments, competition and technological innovation in a field where these elements are needed to close the digital gap allowing broadband access to everyone.
Types of Infrastructure Sharing
Infrastructure sharing may be passive or active.
Passive sharing includes site sharing, where operators use the same physical components but have different site masts, antennas, cabinets and backhaul. A common example is shared roof-top installations. Practical challenges include availability of space and property rights. A second type of passive sharing is mast sharing where the antennas of different operators are placed on the same mast or antenna frame but the radio transmission equipment remain separate.
In active sharing, operators may share the radio access network (RAN) or the core network. The RAN sharing case may create operational and architectural challenges. For additional core sharing, operators also share the core functionality, demanding more efforts and alignments from operators. Again there may be issues of compatibility between the technology platforms used by the operators.
The potential of infrastructure sharing
Mobile operators are investigating infrastructure sharing to optimize the utilization of the assets, reduce costs and avoid duplication of infrastructure (in line with town and country planning objectives). It may also reduce site acquisition time. Another commercial model is the presence of specialist tower companies in several markets which develop the physical sites that may be available to several operators.
Infrastructure sharing has the potential to:
- Lead to faster and wider roll-out of coverage into new and currently underserved geographical areas
- Strengthen competition
- Reduce the number of antenna sites
- Reduce the energy and carbon footprint of mobile networks
- Reduce the environmental impact of mobile infrastructure on landscape
- Reduce costs for operators
The regulatory framework
The regulatory framework of a country should facilitate all types of infrastructure sharing arrangements, which can involve the sharing of various components of mobile networks, including both so-called passive and active sharing and involve deeper integration.
Infrastructure sharing agreements should be governed under commercial law and, as such, subject to assessment under general competition law. In some cases, site sharing increases competition by giving operators access to key sites necessary to compete on quality of service and coverage. Governments may also consider positive incentives to roll out into underserved areas.
We believe that Governments should remove restrictions and obstacles on operator network sharing agreements in order to promote efficient deployment of mobile network antenna sites based on commercial private negotiation.
(1) As an example for the Indian market, it has been estimated that mast and site sharing together may allow operators to save close to 30% on CAPEX and OPEX. Sharing part, or all, of the radio access network (RAN) produces substantial savings for operators and it has been estimated that cost savings could increase free cash flow by up to 20% for a typical European operator.