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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Osama Said, business development leader for mobile networks at Nokia MEA, expounds on his company’s neutral hosting practices and how they simplify network management and implementation to streamline complex operations.

How does Nokia contribute to achieving a host-neutral approach in its operations?

Telecommunication networks are evolving rapidly on all fronts. Catering for traffic demand drives continuous expansions; hosting new use cases requires further network adaptations; boosting network efficiency and capabilities requires continuous hosting of newer technologies; cloudification; virtualization; and improving energy efficiency and sustainability. All this produces overstretched network infrastructure for service providers. These overstretched networks are impacting every service provider in the same country with different adaptation speeds and priorities. Neutral hosting practices provide superior solutions to many domains that have less competitive sensitivity and can reduce capital investment, reduce network complexity, and simplify network management.

In a neutral host model, infrastructure companies lease their infrastructure assets to multiple tenants, recouping their network build costs by hosting various CSPs on the same foundation. Nokia, as a telecommunications provider, plays a key role in enabling the markets for neutral-host operations. Nokia’s strategy is to enable simplicity in network management and implementation. Nokia has adopted a strategic focus on neutral host domains to understand market trends, private and public investment movements, and the different stakeholders that are required to facilitate more neutral hosting practices in the different markets.

Nokia has implemented a wide spectrum of multi-tenant capabilities across its entire product and solution portfolio, enabling the right foundation and removing the technology barriers.

Nokia solutions are designed to enable additional tenant hosting through software updates, only allowing very efficient and seamless operations and rollout without the need to visit every individual location. This results in great savings on costs and a faster time to market.

What specific initiatives or technologies has Nokia implemented to support host-neutral practices?

One of the Nokia initiatives in that domain is Nokia Rural Connect. The Nokia Rural Connect solution offering includes a full suite of rural radio site solutions, including Towers, Power, Transport, Antennas and all active elements. These solutions can be adapted to customer needs and multiple rural solution scenarios.

Nokia’s lean site solution provides a unique value proposition when it comes to space requirements, superior energy efficiency, modularity, and readiness for multi-tenant hosting.

Nokia’s technology of Baseband and Radio modules allows the start of low technologies and configuration and seamlessly paves the way toward site upgrades and the introduction of new technologies. Neutral host solutions can start from as low as 2G-only sites and be upgraded to cater for increasing traffic or for new tenant introductions. Upgrades to higher configuration levels can be done, introducing new sectors or new technology such as 3G/LTE and 5G.

Nokia’s Virtualized Airscale Controller and Management System offers low cost and multi-front scalability to cater for capacity demands and provide the capability to adopt multi-tenant neutral hosting deployments.

Can you provide examples of how Nokia's host-neutral approach has positively impacted the environment and local communities?

As part of Nokia’s social responsibilities in the markets in which we operate, we work with our partners to connect the unconnected, reduce the digital dividend and provide voice and data for local communities. Telephony services will provide these communities access to the whole country’s ecosystem of services, such as financial, logistics, medical, etc., and will enable government initiatives to extend their reach in the country.

As part of our environmental sustainability approach, we provide zero-carbon footprint solutions through our energy-efficient solutions that can be solely supplied by environmentally friendly off-grid power solutions. These practices also have a direct impact on improving employment rates, as it is Nokia’s vision to depend solely on local talent to operate and maintain these deployments.

Are there any specific challenges or obstacles that companies like Nokia face when implementing host-neutral practices?

Neutral host practices are operations that involve multiple stakeholders. It starts with understanding the regulatory requirements of that specific implementation and preparing the required licenses and practices to allow a neutral host/multi-tenant environment. We see a very positive movement in many countries in the Middle East and Africa and will continue to facilitate such solutions in more countries.

Service providers, potential neutral host companies (InfraCo, for example), and telecommunications providers must work hand-in-hand to qualify and develop scenarios and areas of collaboration.

Qualifying one of the neutral host use cases requires a deep understanding of the business environment, adopting a suitable go-to-market approach that serves the Tricon interests (service providers, InfraCos and telecommunication providers) and, moreover, provides practical value to businesses, communities and ESG domains.

Adopting a neutral host approach for service providers translates into a strategic shift from capital expenditure and asset ownership to operational expenditure, recurring subscription models and a more neutralized and competitive landscape. Moreover, moving these nominated business domains to Neutral Host providers will require a transition phase and the buildup of competence.

These are the main challenges and topics that require continuous collaboration to facilitate neutral hosting implementations with a wider presence.

How does Nokia collaborate with other stakeholders to promote host-neutral practices and drive sustainability in the telecommunications industry?

Service providers are under pressure to find new business models to help them free up capital to invest in core business areas, meet different regulatory obligations on committing minimum levels of service across the country, and ease financial pressure on overstretched telecommunication infrastructure while helping them provide shareholder value.

Nokia has a strategic focus on understanding the reshaping of investment in the telecom markets and taking a leading position in identifying the various opportunities that arise from investment in telecom infrastructure.

InfraCo (a real estate company that owns the passive infrastructure) has started to realize different opportunities to diversify its investment and play a vital role in digitalization. The primary growth element was to increase multi-tenancy on the passive infrastructure as physical assets.

The second growth strategy for platform expansion was to enter into active domains, positioning themselves as a neutral host in domains where there is a higher and faster ROI. Rural opportunities, early adaptation of niche technologies and maturing old technologies that are not competitive and sensitive represent good areas for Neutral Hosts in general.

Nokia is playing an important role in shaping these different use cases, go-to-market strategies and creating business models that elaborate the value to infraCO, service providers and regulators. Through these use cases, along with its strong business sense for all parties, it also brings a great contribution toward social responsibility and ESG domains, which are core values for Nokia.

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