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Mobile infrastructure sharing

In developing countries in particular, mobile telephony has been central in making services available to large sections of the population. However, much remains to be done to increase the penetration of mobile services, particularly in rural areas. The problem arises from the high cost of network infrastructure. This leads to high prices, as operators seek to recover their investment.

Sharing mobile infrastructure is an alternative that lowers the cost of network deployment, especially in rural areas or marginal markets. Mobile infrastructure sharing may also stimulate migration to new technologies and the deployment of mobile broadband. It may also enhance competition between mobile operators and service providers, when safeguards are used to prevent anti-competitive behaviour.

There are two basic categories of mobile infrastructure sharing: passive and active. The former refers to the sharing of physical space, for example by buildings, sites and masts, where networks remain separate (see Figure). In active sharing, elements of the active layer of a mobile network are shared, such as antennas, entire base stations or even elements of the core network. Active sharing includes mobile roaming, which allows an operator to make use of another’s network in a place where it has no coverage or infrastructure of its own.

Figure 1 — Passive mobile sharing (site sharing)

The assembly of passive equipment in one structure for mobile telecommunications is generally referred to as a “site”. Agreements by one or more operators to put their equipment on the same structure such as a tower, a roof or a mast, is called “site sharing” or “collocation”. Several elements of the passive infrastructure can be shared, as well as facilities such as the power supply and air conditioning. Antennas and transmission equipment might also be shared, but are considered to be part of the active (or transmission) infrastructure.

Source: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Recommendations on Infrastructure Sharing.

Policy-makers and regulators are examining the role that mobile network sharing can play in increasing access to information and communication technologies. The focus is on how this could generate economic growth, improve quality of life and help developing and developed countries to meet the objectives of the World Summit on the Information Society and the Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations. Here are some examples of what is happening in mobile infrastructure sharing around the globe.

Spain and the United Kingdom

Most European countries promote the sharing of passive infrastructure by mobile operators. Given the high cost of obtaining 3G (IMT-2000) licences, many European operators have also been considering sharing active infrastructure for 3G mobile services. An example is the agreement between Orange and Vodafone to share infrastructure in the United Kingdom and in Spain, while managing their own traffic independently and remaining competitors at the wholesale and retail level. According to Vodafone, the UK sharing agreement will reduce capital and operating costs by up to 30 per cent. In Spain, the arrangement will reduce the operators’ number of sites by around 40 per cent, while offering services to towns across the country with fewer than 25 000 inhabitants. The agreement also allows for 3G wireless services to be provided to 19 provinces in rural areas of Spain.


At the beginning of 2008, the Brazilian government issued 44 licences for the provision of 3G mobile services. Four operators were licensed in each of 11 licensing areas with a total population of 17.3 million. Regulator ANATEL took measures to ensure that communities with fewer than 30 000 inhabitants (a large percentage of the total) would receive wireless broadband coverage. In each area, the total number of such communities was divided equally among the four licensed operators, who must offer them access to broadband. All the operators in an area are allowed to use each other’s networks to provide services. ANATEL intends that the whole country should have access to wireless broadband services by 2016.


In Jordan, all mobile telephony licensees are required to provide infrastructure sharing and collocation to other licensees, subject to availability. Jordan’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) reserves the right to intervene if mobile companies fail to reach agreement on infrastructure sharing and national roaming. When TRC determines that infrastructure sharing is feasible, it decides the terms and conditions under which this must take place. Operators must also provide each other with national roaming agreements, which must be deposited with TRC.


In Canada, the government has announced a policy of auctioning advance wireless services (AWS) radio spectrum in the 2 GHz band. It will reserve part of the newly auctioned spectrum for new market entrants, and will make network sharing compulsory. Incumbents are required to provide “out of territory” roaming capabilities to licensees for at least 10 years, and “in-territory roaming” to new entrants for five years. The new framework also includes mandatory sharing of antenna towers and infrastructure sites, and the prohibition of most exclusive site sharing arrangements.


The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has recommended allowing wireless network operators to share infrastructure, in order to promote roll-out and increase availability and affordability of services. The Indian Department of Telecommunications (DoT) aims to establish a subsidy support scheme for sharing passive infrastructure at some 18 000 wireless towers in rural areas by 2010, and to increase sharing in urban areas to 70 per cent by 2010.

Meanwhile, the Indian Universal Service Obligation Fund has launched a scheme to provide subsidies for setting up and managing around 8000 towers for the provision of mobile services in remote areas with no wireless coverage. The subsidy is only given for infrastructure that will be shared by at least three operators. According to DoT, operators have already entered into sharing agreements and the resulting mobile services should be operational by May 2008.


The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has identified infrastructure sharing as one of the criteria for issuing licences for 3G mobile spectrum. Applicants must show that they can and will share infrastructure, including physical facilities and network capacity. The aim is to maximize use of existing network resources, including capacity, base stations and backbone facilities. Applicants must also be committed and able to provide domestic roaming.

This article is based on “Mobile sharing”, a Discussion Paper for ITU’s eighth Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) by Camila Borba Lefèvre, Legal Advisor, Machado, Meyer, Sendacz & Opice, Brazil. All the GSR Discussion Papers can be found on the TREG website of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau’s Regulatory and Market Environment Division at


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