All municipalities are challenged to implement a smart cities strategy. There is interest to ensure that the mobile infrastructure can provide excellent coverage and meet the ever increasing capacity demands. They also want to implement smart city applications to streamline their municipal operations, provide information data, and improve services for their citizen. But while there are many studies showing the economic impact of excellent mobile coverage, and the operational efficiencies of smart cities applications, cities are still faced with the reality of how to pay for smart city networks, and how to operate these networks on an on-going basis. One way to help solve this dilemma is to engage with network developers on public-private partnerships.
As mobile networks transition to 5G, municipalities understand that their future economic development and growth is tied to excellent mobile communication infrastructure. While the mobile operators are developing plans to expand and upgrade their networks, they must prioritize where they can deploy additional small cells needed to enhance networks across the country. With a limited CapEx budget to meet the ever growing demand for mobile capacity, MNOs must choose where and when to spend to upgrade their networks. Cities can’t afford to be left behind.
To improve mobile networks in this generation, MNOs need to deploy large numbers of small cells to provide the coverage and capacity promised by advanced LTE and 5G. This creates an additional burden for municipalities, with each operator submitting applications for placing hundreds of small cell around their city. Municipalities are overburden with the administrative task of fulfilling these applications. In addition, if each operator deploys their own infrastructure in the urban core to support their own subscribers, the visual impact on the downtown urban core overrun by antennas and radios on every street pole will negatively impact the appeal of the city.
One potential answer would be for the city to deploy one neutral host network that can support the subscribers of all operators. This would eliminate the need to process the myriad of small cell requests for the operators, reduce the visual impact of adding mobile infrastructure to the urban core, and improve the economics for the operators. There are a number of key technologies which are coming on line now which can enable a neutral host network to support all subscribers, including Cloud RAN architectures, CBRS, and integrated architectural elements that can enable a streamlined network deployment that blends into look of a downtown area. But funding and running such a network on its own would be a challenge for a municipality.
Cities also want to implement smart cities applications to help with a range of issues and operational challenges. These may include such smart cities applications like environmental monitoring, security video cameras, gun shot detection, location based services, traffic monitoring and flow improvement, municipal communications with citizens, digital advertising, and many other applications not yet invented. All of these can be part of creating the future for each town. But again the challenge can be funding these deployments no matter how important the improved functionality of these application might be.
Municipalities can address both the challenge of building an ideal mobile solution for the downtown and implementing smart cities applications by working with a third party operator through the implementation of a public/private partnership to help fund both of these solutions. In addition to not having to find capital from the municipality and put it at risk, working with a third party can generate a revenue source from these networks for the city. Third party operators could offer a revenue sharing agreement with the city. They can build out the neutral host network, and develop contracts, with encouragement from the city, with the MNOs to support their subscribers. The third party operator can also generate revenue from advertising and other sources from the smart cities network. All of these revenue sources could be shared with the municipalities, which always can use additional ways to improve the general fund. The implementation of a public/private partnership with a third party operator can help a municipality address their short term needs to streamline the deployment of a next generation small cells mobile network, and smart cities network without putting their own money at risk.