LAS VEGAS —A top AT&T network executive scoffed at the idea that operators in the U.S. should consider sharing some of their 5G network infrastructure with each other in order to deploy the next-generation of network technology more quickly. “I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Tom Keathley, SVP of wireless network architecture and design at AT&T. “It’s not that it’s impossible. But the desire to do it from an operator perspective is not good. We would lose control,” he said.
Keathley added that it would be particularly difficult to determine the right kind of sharing arrangement with another operator and still maintain the quality of the network as well as protect the company’s network investment.
The idea of 5G network sharing was first proposed by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler yesterday during his keynote address at the CTIA Super Mobility 2016 conference here. Wheeler said that operators need to get more creative when building their 5G networks and should consider network sharing. Wheeler reminded the audience that in 2001 Cingular (prior to its acquisition by AT&T) and T-Mobile shared their wireless networks in three states.
But Keathley (who was with Cingular during its network-sharing days with T-Mobile) says that arrangement happened because of spectrum constraints in certain markets. And he said that both companies were happy when the sharing arrangement was no longer necessary due to AT&T’s acquisition of Cingular.
But equipment vendors say that network sharing is possible, if operators are willing to work out the details. According to Minish Jindal, head of technology and strategy development at Ericsson, operators could potentially share the radio access network with each other but then have their own core network. With a virtualized core, operators could still differentiate their services from each other and maintain their own quality of service. “The core is where you would differentiate,” Jindal said. “The difference would be in the kind of services you would offer on top of the pipe,” he added.
Jindal added that Canadian operators Bell Mobility and Telus share some components of their wireless network infrastructure.