Network abstract

Network-As-A-Service Model

I periodically write about how the cellular industry in the U.S. might be more efficient if it moved away from the conventional model for network operators. Under the conventional model, network operators have their own hardware placed throughout the country. A typical cell phone user will almost exclusively use his or her operator’s hardware for connectivity.

Other models are possible. Google Fi already allows dynamic switching across multiple networks. Further unconventional models have promise. I love the idea of decentralized networks. What if phones could connect to any cellular base station in an area (regardless of the company that runs it)? Software could automate an instantaneous, auction-like process where each base station in range of a device competes to offer cell phone users the best rates or quality of service.

While there are serious obstacles in the way of a decentralized model, there are rumblings about a less-extreme, network-as-a-service model for the U.S. While it wouldn’t be decentralized, third-party companies with network hardware could rent access to operators. Mike Dano of Light Reading dived into the possibility yesterday:

Just like the tenants of an apartment complex, wireless network operators like AT&T and Verizon pay rent to cell tower landlords for space on their towers.

And one analyst firm [Cowen] suggests that, in the future, those network operators may also rent their 5G radios and antennas from cell tower operators, too…Some executives in the cell tower industry agree that it’s a topic of discussion.

The full article is worth reading.

2 thoughts to “Network-As-A-Service Model”

  1. I certainly don’t want to give carriers a blank check and allow them to impose congestion / time-of-day pricing spikes in an automated auction system. Just imagine the rates in an area with only one carrier… Safer to let your carrier negotiate the terms of roaming, or else go with your much cheaper but patchy coverage with a cheap carrier.

    1. For what it’s worth, I don’t mean to suggest alternative models have no downsides vs. the conventional model. There’d be trade-offs. Blank checks could easily be avoided though. E.g., under a decentralized model, you could have setting to (a) limit the max you’re willing to pay and/or (b) limit the max speeds on a device when the cost of data is especially high.

      With a decentralized model, data might become a lot more expensive than it currently is at peak times. On the flip side, that would lead to much better incentives (providers would have a huge financial incentive to build out networks where capacity is constrained…users would think twice about downloading giant files at moments when other users on the network struggle to load simple web pages).

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