Assessing European operators’ readiness for neutral-host indoor cellular networks

26 March 2024 | Strategy

Lei Shi | Jacob Renning

Perspective | PDF (21 pages)


As operators in advanced 5G markets continue to expand their outdoor 5G roll-outs, attention is increasingly turning towards enhancing indoor coverage. The neutral host model, in particular, is beginning to gain interest as a way of offering shared access to a unified indoor network infrastructure. Even though many European operators are still focusing on outdoor 5G coverage expansion, the rising expectation for seamless indoor connectivity highlights the need for renewed consideration of the potential cost benefits of adopting a neutral host approach, such as capex and opex savings. It is important to investigate the readiness among European mobile network operators (MNOs) to adopt neutral-host solutions for indoor 5G networks.

Key concerns raised by MNOs for partnering with neutral hosts include: the potential loss of network differentiation, challenges in trusting new third-party providers, and issues around operational control. Conversely, there are also significant upsides from such partnerships, including external/co-investment opportunities, operational and cost efficiencies, increased relevance for MNOs using their own licensed spectrum, and the fulfilment of building owners’ preferences for unified network infrastructures.

Operators have different reasons behind the varying emphasis they place on specific concerns and upsides. This is attributed to diverse experiences with network sharing – ranging from passive collaborations to active partnerships with tower companies – and budget availability for indoor deployment at scale. Moreover, the strategic importance of indoor coverage, as perceived by MNOs, plays an important role in determining their urgency for improving the connectivity to customers in buildings and their openness to partnering with neutral hosts.

The telecoms landscape is evolving. MNOs are beginning to recognise neutral hosts as value-creating partners to address indoor coverage challenges efficiently and cost-effectively. However, the success of these collaborations hinges on the MNOs’ adaptability and willingness to embrace the changing dynamics of the telecoms industry.

Assessing European operators’ readiness for neutral-host indoor cellular networks