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How CBRS neutral host networks are challenging the future of DAS

Nov. 22, 2021
The rise of unlicensed cellular technology available to companies has opened the door to new approaches for propagating cellular signals indoors – a long-standing problem for many commercial property owners.

Many large commercial properties that experience poor indoor cellular reception and performance have traditionally been outfitted with DAS to extend one or more public carrier signals to where it’s needed.

While DAS remains a viable option to this day, there are drawbacks that often prevent them from ever being deployed.

That’s why a new technology that leverages the citizens broadband radio service (CBRS) spectrum is on many commercial property owners’ radar.

This technology, known as neutral host network (NHN), is poised to be a low-cost alternative to DAS for new and retrofitted smart building deployments.

What’s the problem with DAS?

Deploying a distributed antenna system throughout a building or campus requires that a separate infrastructure be built out. This includes specialized cabling, antenna nodes and public carrier infrastructure.

The cost to implement this into new or existing buildings is quite high because of this. It also ties up data center racks and horizontal/vertical cabling tray space.

Finally, implementing and managing all these components can become complex when problems arise. Often, troubleshooting requires cooperation with one or more public cellular carriers. This can lead to finger pointing between groups as the division of responsibility can get blurry in DAS environments.

Introducing Neutral Host Networks (NHN)

In 2015, the FCC approved the public use of wireless spectrum in the 3550 to 3700 MHz range. This is known as band 48 – or the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).

For many enterprises, the appeal of CBRS is that they can purchase and deploy their own private LTE/5G wireless network that is free from interference when compared to unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum in the 2.4, 5 and 6GHz range.

While private LTE/5G networks are great for certain use-cases, an even more exciting scenario presents itself in the form of using CBRS and private LTE/5G networks to extend public cellular carrier networks inside commercial buildings. This is what neutral host networks provide.

Celona Inc., an innovator of private cellular network technology and new private 5G LAN solutions is at the forefront of NHN integrations. Mehmet Yavuz, Co-Founder and CTO at Celona gives us his take on deploying neutral host inside commercial properties.

“For the first time, we’re offering a true alternative to DAS that can be implemented at a fraction of the cost. Because the Celona radio access network integrates directly with an existing in-building corporate LAN, it eliminates the need for separate cabling and hardware which can get incredibly expensive to purchase and deploy.”

Yavuz goes on to describe the process of connecting a device to a deployed NHN. “From an end-user perspective, most smartphones or cellular-capable devices made in the past three years is likely CBRS compatible. These devices can natively and automatically roam onto a neutral host network that is advertising their carriers network identifier. Once connected, the device and user experience operate identically as if it were connected to a carrier’s macro cell tower.”

When will NHN be made available?

While NHN isn’t production ready just yet, it’s being fast-tracked by a number of private LTE/5G vendors including Celona. “Our NHN architecture is already well-established and integrates seamlessly with our Celona LTE and 5G edge platform and radio access network (RAN)”, states Yavuz. “This includes segmentation and secure transport of public carrier traffic across IPsec tunnels to the carrier or carrier’s respective core networks. We’re also in the process of working with multiple public carriers in the US and abroad to certify Celona’s private mobile network hardware and software for neutral host use.”

According to Yavuz, cellular carriers are enthusiastic about the potential for NHN as it can be used to further extend their wireless reach in areas where DAS is too expensive to deploy. Additionally, Celona predicts that building owners that already have DAS will still be interested in LTE/5G network deployments for private CBRS network use and to supplement their existing DAS with NHN for increased network capacity.

A serious contender for indoor wireless propagation

As was the case with consolidating business phone systems into IP networks in the early 2000’s, the consolidation of carrier networks onto the corporate LAN as a method of extending public carrier signal strength indoors is a logical evolution. In fact, considering the speed at which technology advances these days, it’s surprising that a technological architecture like NHN has taken so long to arrive.

Regardless of timing, NHN has indeed arrived – and it’s one of those technologies that will likely boost interest in private LTE and 5G deployments in the coming months.

About the Author

Andrew Froehlich | Contributor

As a highly regarded network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, Andrew Froehlich counts over two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Andrew is the founder and president of Colorado-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build-outs. He’s also the founder of an enterprise IT research and analysis firm, InfraMomentum. As the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT-related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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