top of page

Site Title

Is Neutral Host the Ice Breaker for Private Wireless?

by Martha DeGrasse 









Image source: valadzionak_volha (FreePik)

Private 5G has a lot to offer hospitals, hotels and large corporate campuses, yet some of these customers may struggle to justify investments in this technology. But when it comes to CBRS neutral host networks, the ROI may be more apparent. Neutral host networks can broadcast public carrier signals indoors, so the people inside a building see full bars instead of low or no bars on their phones. A reliable cell signal inside an apartment building can mean higher rents and occupancy rates, and in a hospital it can mean the difference between life and death.


Some owners of Class A office buildings are investing in CBRS networks to support neutral host, with the expectation that private networks will follow. One example is Meta, which deployed CBRS under the direction of Joel Lindholm, who came to the hyperscaler from CommScope’s CBRS business unit. He was hired to stand up private LTE/5G networks, but once he got started, he discovered that what Meta really needed was reliable coverage from the public networks.


“We realized that neutral host was our higher priority,” he said. “So we pivoted and architected the network such that we could add a private network in the future.”


Lindholm has now moved on to start his own firm, InfiniG. He said Meta is still working towards private wireless. “The private network takes time and it is a big journey,” LIndholm said. “Coordinating the migration of multiple applications that are managed by different cross-functional stakeholders onto a private network is a big task. As an example, just within the security team, there are people focused on PTT phones, others on cameras, etc. That is why it takes so long."


Migrating dozens or even hundreds of applications to a private network is a heavy lift, but the payoff will be worth the effort, according to some wireless industry veterans. Christian LIndmark, VP and CTO at Stanford Health Care and School of Medicine, has a strong background in wireless and is very excited about private 5G.


“I absolutely believe 5G and private networks are the future,” Lindmark said on a recent webinar hosted by CBRS network vendor Celona. “If we really want to transform healthcare and if we want to make our patients’ lives better and actually bring care to our patients where they are, 5G is critical to making that happen,” he continued.


Lindmark is responsible for the technology in two Stanford hospitals, and neither of them has a private 5G network yet. But they do have Celona’s CBRS infrastructure because Stanford invested in a neutral host network. 


The neutral host network made sense for three reasons, Lindmark said. First, the university was building a new 800,000 square foot hospital and did not have a plan for 5G coverage inside. Second, Stanford bought Tri-Valley Hospital in Pleasanton, CA, a property which lacked in-building coverage altogether. And third, the property around Stanford’s main hospital used an aging distributed antenna system that was due for an upgrade. 


“Distributed antenna infrastructure is not cheap; it is actually quite expensive,” LIndmark said on the webinar. “Especially in hospital facilities, it is more expensive to go in and retrofit, so we were trying to figure out how do we provide a more cost-effective solution to replace these older DAS solutions? And that’s when we really started to dive into 5G as an option.”


Stanford Health Care settled on the Celona solution for neutral host. So far T-Mobile is the only carrier on board, but Lindmark expects all three major nationwide carriers to join eventually. 


Celona explained that its CBRS access points broadcast a T-Mobile Public Land Mobile Network ID so T-Mobile phones connect automatically. The access points connect over the local area network to Celona’s server, which securely routes the traffic over the internet to T-Mobile’s core network. 


Although other carriers are expected to join the network, they will not each need to bring their own radio signals as they would in a traditional DAS. Celona says its radio antenna units can support up to five separate carriers. That means Stanford has less infrastructure to deploy.


“We think we can reduce our costs 40% over a traditional DAS solution,” Lindmark projected. “Adding new technology without a hard dollar cost savings is really tough.”


Now that the new infrastructure is in place, Lindmark looks forward to exploring possibilities for private 5G using CBRS-enabled devices. He would like to see all wireless handheld communication devices move to a private network, including 4,000 shared clinical devices, 6,000 hospital-owned cell phones, 7,000 personal phones used by staff, 2,500 tablets and 1,200 radios used by hospital and parking lot staff. And all that could be just the beginning.


“If we really plan this right, we could get most of our IT use cases in the hospital …  we could move them all to 5G, and I really want to explore that,” Lindmark said. “We put a lot of wire into our hospitals, [and that means] more cooling, more power, more network switching.

Is it possible that we could reduce the cabling infrastructure required by half, put more of this onto a private 5G network? I’m intrigued to consider that.”




Celona AP installed at Stanford Hospital. Source: Celona

bottom of page