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Neutral hosts have the edge in a
data-driven era

Explore how neutral hosts can play a significant role in providing high-end active connectivity, enabling enterprises to access data-intensive applications.

As advanced technologies such as AI, digital-physical fusion and the metaverse become more commonplace, edge services and in-building connectivity are crucial for them to thrive. The third of our three-part series on neutral hosts explores the potential for this win-win shared infrastructure model to unleash the exponential potential of networking.  


Away from the golden beaches of Cidade Maravilhosa, Bernardo and Arthur Lima – twins who were born conjoined at the head – were ready to return home after a successful separation. The three-year-old boys underwent surgery in Rio de Janeiro with assistance from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. 

While separations are nothing new, this procedure marks a significant milestone in medical advancement – made possible with the collaboration of surgeons in different countries, assisted by virtual reality technology. It's one of the many examples of advanced technology relying on edge computing and high-performance connectivity.

If the challenge of surgeons performing the procedure situated in different countries wasn’t tricky enough, the fact that the network is already working hard adds to the complication. 

The latest data-intensive technologies have added complexity to the data center space. And the evolving industrial, enterprise and consumer metaverses, other cloud-based technologies, and the infiltration of AI in enterprise applications and processes will generate even more data that must be processed.

Neutral hosts help edge computing

“You need compute to sit at the edge and act as traffic cop to manage the sheer amount of data that will start being generated there – deciding what data gets ingested into the network, what data sits where it is and what data gets erased,” says Phil Kelley, EVP at Crown Castle International, which provides shared communications infrastructures. He highlights video, which already comes in huge volumes and can easily “swamp the networks.” 

Neutral hosts can help ensure edge services are implemented where needed most in a financially viable manner. The neutral host model involves infrastructure companies leasing their assets to multiple tenants and hosting various CSPs on the same foundation. This shared infrastructure model allows for the accelerated availability of advanced CSP services, including in-building 5G connectivity and simplified access to edge computing capabilities.

Edge services can unlock critical, latency-sensitive, and data-consuming applications in healthcare, logistics, automotive, airline, and manufacturing industries, presenting an opportunity for neutral hosts, regardless of their market. 

Those in the tower space can use their broad and granular geographical reach to open up new customer opportunities. At the same time, those in the data center space can expand their services from larger central data centers to smaller edge facilities. 

According to Hilary Mine, VP of Strategy and Technology at Nokia, neutral hosts consider edge cloud as a crucial opportunity for themselves. “Edge computing is vital for advanced technologies that rely on data, like AI and the metaverse. Locating compute power at the edge has an advantage over centralized data centers because it helps minimize network latency, reduce bandwidth demands, and store significant data locally.”

And as enterprises deploy more industrial metaverse-type use cases and utilize advanced AI-powered applications, tower companies “can be excellent partners” for enterprises with large amounts of data needing to be processed using AI right at the edge. 

Future networks need in-building solutions

As advanced technology amplifies, having optimum indoor and high-density connectivity becomes increasingly critical at the data source. In-building connectivity will likely play a crucial role in the operations of specific organizations and businesses in the future, particularly those that function within enclosed environments, such as hospitals, airports, and factories. 

The benefit of working with a neutral host company is that enterprises and CSPs can sidestep the expense of building and operating the small cell networks and data centers themselves. 

This represents a significant business opportunity for tower companies and makes in-building coverage crucial for their edge cloud strategies, as it draws the most benefit from their extensive geographical reach. Most of these companies already have experience with outdoor coverage, so it’s a natural expansion for them to provide in-building coverage using Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) or small cells. 

Additionally, most tower companies own fiber networks connecting their tower sites, which could be used to provide connectivity to buildings and venues in proximity to their edge data centers.

What is edge cloud?

The edge cloud places compute capabilities close to where traffic originates - at the edge of the network. This removes the need for all traffic to run over the full transport network, thus improving latency while optimizing the use of network resources.

Edge cloud resources will enable new, data-intensive applications, such as virtual reality, augmented reality and autonomous driving, which require compute capabilities close to the data source to perform at their best.


Data centers deliver data-driven era agility

Neutral host companies specializing in data centers play a crucial role in facilitating multi-cloud and edge deployments, and they’re gradually providing more services by offering their tenants storage, compute and connectivity services.

“Most major telcos globally use our fabric as their primary means to connect to public cloud resources,” says Jim Poole, VP of Business Development at Equinix. “Enterprise customers in our facilities use the same service to connect their networks to the cloud for that portion of their infrastructure that stays private.” 

One of the advantages of working with neutral hosts is that they’re constantly optimizing their data center solutions. In the not-so-distant past, connecting to the cloud might have taken a day or so. Now, it can happen in a couple of minutes. 

Tower companies with extensive distributed tower infrastructure are exploring opportunities to expand their business by investing in the data center industry. Many are building or purchasing geographically distributed edge data centers, and some have invested in large regional data centers, allowing them to simultaneously accommodate a wide range of enterprise and webscale customers.

Phil Kelley of Crown Castle is beginning to see more distributed data center sites bursting into this space. “The same densification trend that we see in wireless is happening on the compute side, and we're interested in following that trend closely,” he says. 

This blend of nimble edge and optimized central data centers creates a multi-cloud access platform that supports time-sensitive, responsive, and data-heavy applications necessary for the data-driven era.

The growing role of Neutral hosts

Neutral hosts are rapidly moving from companies that simply lease space – or specific co-location technologies – to full-service providers offering Infrastructure-as-a-Service solutions. 

This is only likely to continue as many operators are exploring ways to reduce their capital expenditures and focus on optimizing services for their customers. And in the future, neutral hosts will likely play a more significant role alongside CSPs and webscalers in the ecosystem. They can provide high-end active connectivity to those requiring their tower, fiber, and data center assets, ultimately enabling consumers and enterprises to access data-intensive applications.

For example, this could mean a combination of edge compute and ultra-high connectivity in hospitals. In-building would make virtual surgery more accessible – so the best surgeons don’t have to be local but can be pulled from a global talent pool. In factories, this could mean data-intensive product testing – which has become common in the industrial metaverse – would exponentially speed up production. In drug discovery, this could enable AI to run its own lab, run trials, and gradually personalize medicine.

By utilizing neutral host infrastructure, CSPs can avoid the cost and delays of constructing and managing small cell networks and data centers – allowing them to concentrate on rapidly creating or consolidating specialized services that cater to any target industry. Ultimately, this could make businesses more productive, industries more sustainable, innovative applications more readily available, transportation safer, and healthcare better for everyone.