New UK player seeks to broker shared and private networking for enterprises, cities
The Freshwave Group, a new UK network provider, is seeking to combine telecoms expertise and real-estate savvy to plug coverage gaps in public mobile coverage with shared and private networking. It is targeting enterprises and cities, as they seek to leverage new data traffic from traditional and non-traditional connected devices to drive digital change.
The company said the UK mobile market, particularly for enterprise customers, has been undermined by the “aggressive, self-interested commercial approach” of incumbent infrastructure providers, upon which UK mobile operators EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three have depended.
It said it will invest and collaborate to offer shared and private mobile networking capabilities to UK operators, enterprises, and governments.
Backed by UK investment firm Digital Colony, the group is seeking to bring mobile operators, central and local government and real estate providers together with new collaborative commercial models, it said.
The group brings together three UK businesses under the same group umbrella. These are mobile provider StrattoOpencell, small cell firm iWireless Solutions, and mast provider Spyder Facilities. The three divisions, acquired by Digital Colony between August 2018 and June 2019, are focused on indoor, outdoor, and mast digital infrastructure, respectively.
It claims have access already to around 5,000 mast site locations, 2,000 connected buildings, and 200 outdoor networks. Existing customers include Workspace Group and several central London boroughs, and the Docklands area.
The Freshwave Group has appointed Simon Frumkin as chief executive. Frumkin has held leadership positions at UK mobile operators including EE, Orange and T-Mobile. Most recently, he was managing director of EE’s Emergency Services Network (ESN) division, which handles a critical communications network for 300,000 first responders.
He also served as non-executive chairman at Mobile Broadband Network Ltd (MBNL), the network joint venture between EE and Three.
Frumkin said: “High-quality, dependable digital infrastructure is critical to so many but the UK market has been held back – particularly by the established infrastructure providers and their aggressive, self-interested commercial approach. We are pioneering collaborative commercial models which recognise the value each party brings and target the outcome that each is trying to achieve.
“From design and deployment to operation and maintenance, getting mobile networks live isn’t easy. With all the technical challenges and commercial pitfalls, it’s important that everyone involved has a partner they trust.”
He added: “With the race to 5G firmly underway, the only way forward is for cross-industry stakeholders to work together because no one group can solve this alone. With asset sharing, co-locating, new joint-funding models and collaborative use of our long-term investment capital, we’ll all boost UK connectivity faster, for less and in the right places.
“But what’s needed is a fresh approach. The Freshwave Group reimagines the economics and practicalities of digital infrastructure so that our customers can always connect their customers.”
The group will work with UK mobile operators, it said. In October, Vodafone agreed to sub-license unused LTE / 4G spectrum to StrattoOpencell under UK regulator Ofcom’s new spectrum policy, which seeks to bolster rural and indoor coverage, and drive industrial transformation. Vodafone is the first UK operator to make the move.
The agreement, initially, covers usage of its vacant 2600 MHz frequency spectrum on a holiday site in Devon, in the southwest of England. But it suggested the deal will expand for “consumers and businesses”, and said secondary licensing of its 2600 MHz spectrum will be also extended to “busy areas such as stadiums and city centres”.
Commentators have noted Ofcom’s sudden progressiveness with its spectrum policy, and something of a race on spectrum innovation with the US, bowling ahead with shared and neutral host networking arrangements in the CBRS band, and Europe, where Germany is pioneering spectrum industrial usage and the UK has obliged operators to release unused local spectrum.
Last summer, Ofcom confirmed plans to open up a large tranche of the UK airwaves for enterprises to deploy private and shared networks, dedicating the 3.8-4.2 GHz band for local deployments, requiring national operators to relinquish unused licensed spectrum to enterprises, and making available the lower 26 GHz band for private and shared access as well.
Ofcom will release spectrum in both shared spectrum bands and in licensed spectrum, already paid for by mobile operators for national coverage. The move represents a significant shift in UK spectrum policy, and follows spectrum liberalisation in other markets, notably the US and Germany, geared towards industrial transformation.
It has also just revealed plans to make 500MHz of contiguous spectrum in the lower 6 GHz band available for unlicensed indoor Wi-Fi and low-power outdoor Wi-Fi usage. It has also revealed plans to release an additional 18GHz of Extremely High Frequency (EHF) spectrum, above 100 GHz, for private and shared access.
A poll of medium and large UK enterprise by analyst house CCS Insight suggests two thirds of medium and large UK enterprises are critically affected within an hour of losing all digital connectivity, and the same percentage experience office-based mobile signal issues every day.
Jeffrey Ginsberg, managing director and chief executive at Digital Colony, said of the new project with the Freshwave Group: “With our end to end service capability, and our collaborative approach with all the mobile operators, the Freshwave Group is able to extend our unique approach to digital infrastructure in ways that best suit the UK market.”