Building more inclusive wireless networks: An interview with Brenna Berman

This summer, Dense Air welcomed Brenna Berman, a globally recognized expert on cities, technology, and urban innovation, as our Executive Vice President of Strategic Partnerships. In this role, Brenna brings her public and private sector leadership experience to bear in identifying opportunities for Dense Air to partner with cities and harness our innovative technology to strengthen connectivity for all residents.

We recently sat down with Brenna to discuss her new role, why equitable wireless access is so important, how Dense Air partners with cities to advance digital equity, and more.

Welcome to Dense Air, Brenna! A major reason why you decided to join the company was the opportunity to focus on expanding access to wireless broadband. Can you explain what this means and why it’s important?

In today’s interconnected world, access to broadband is critical to enabling individuals to work, study, engage with their community, and more. Unfortunately, due to the traditional way that infrastructure has been structured and built, many communities across the country lack equitable access to broadband, including uneven wireless coverage. Without reliable connectivity to digital services, this digital divide exacerbates existing inequalities.

While we can all agree that closing the digital divide is important, the real challenge lies in making it happen. Expanding networks requires significant investments in physical infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables and cellular towers. Geographical remoteness and inadequate funding make it logistically difficult and economically unviable for private providers to extend services to areas that are already underserved, such as rural and low-income communities. And when providers do expand their networks, they pay a high price to build duplicative infrastructure that disrupts city life.

This sounds like a daunting challenge. How can we address it?

It’s time — in fact, it’s long overdue — for us to fundamentally rethink this system to make digital equity achievable. Through new technologies, strategic funding models, and innovative public-private partnerships, we can support communities in reaching this important goal.

Achieving broadband equity will require a concerted effort from governments, private sector entities, and communities to overcome infrastructure challenges while ensuring affordability. It will not be a quick and easy process, but it will help to bring us closer to having an inclusive and equitable society.

What role does Dense Air play in this effort to advance broadband equity?

Dense Air is uniquely positioned to help communities tackle this critically important challenge because we take a holistic new approach to enabling carriers to expand their wireless networks. Our solution focuses on four main pillars:

  1. We deploy and operate innovative shared network infrastructure, which introduces, for the first time, the unique ability for multiple wireless network operators and private users to utilize the network simultaneously. This decreases the cost of building and managing the wireless networks over time.
  2. We leverage existing physical infrastructure, such as light poles, utility poles, and roofs, to reduce the cost of building the network, to deploy faster, and to reduce disruption to the community.
  3. We use data-driven coverage gap analysis to help us understand where a community lacks coverage today and to build a roadmap for the future. Our denseWare analytics tool evaluates coverage at the call level to help us and communities determine where best to make investments.
  4. We think holistically with our investments, which allows us and our partners to build a balanced business case across entire cities, not just the wealthiest neighborhoods.

How does Dense Air work with cities and other key stakeholders?

Combining technology innovation with strategic funding models is an excellent start to solving cities’ network challenges, but it isn’t enough. I know from years of experience as the Chief Information Officer of Chicago that cities can only achieve their innovation goals with strong partnerships based on aligned incentives.  That’s why, at Dense Air, we are focused on creating highly collaborative partnerships with cities as we help them solve intractable challenges. Through these partnerships, we contribute our technology and ingenuity to create new business opportunities. In turn, the cities and communities share infrastructure assets and help us streamline processes to drive down the overall cost and time of network deployment. As a result, communities receive reliable and affordable broadband access, in a shorter timeframe and with less disruption.  

Digital equity has been a rallying cry for cities for many years, but today, we have the ideal conditions to achieve the networks of the future that residents deserve. Dense Air is focused on delivering that future, and we look forward to partnering with the cities that share our vision.

Shared broadband infrastructure to empower Worthing

Worthing, a popular seaside town on England’s south coast, is a tale of two towns. During public holidays, and particularly throughout the summer months, the town transforms into a thriving tourist hub brimming with visitors – but as school term resumes and crowds thin out, the focus turns back to the residents and the local economy.

This seasonal rollercoaster strains Worthing’s mobile network infrastructure, leaving residents, visitors, and enterprises struggling to connect during times of peak demand – a tale becoming ever-more familiar in many towns and urban centers.

Acutely aware of the role connectivity plays in today’s society, the UK Department of Science Innovation and Technology (DSIT) today announced the winners of their Open Networks Ecosystem competition – an important initiative to bring together the public and private sectors to solve connectivity and infrastructure challenges.

One of the winners of this competition is the Beach Energy-efficient Accessed Cluster for High-demand (BEACH) Project , an innovative shared 4G/5G shared small cell solution for Worthing. Dense Air is leading this project and working with West Sussex County Council; technology providers Radisys UK, VMware, and Sitenna; and the University of Glasgow; in collaboration with two of the UK’s largest mobile network operators (MNOs).

Whether you’re in a busy city centre or a rural village, a fast and reliable mobile connection is vital to staying in touch, accessing services and doing business. In order to secure that, we need to embrace a diverse and secure range of technology that will underpin the network. The projects we’re backing today with £88 million in Government research and development investment will use innovative Open RAN solutions to make our mobile networks more adaptable and resilient, with future-proofed technology to support bringing lightning-fast connections across the country for many years to come.

Sir John Whittingdale MP, Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure

Optimized for efficiency, the BEACH Project’s low-impact small cells flex capacity based on real-time demand data. Scaled down in the off-season, BEACH ramps up seamlessly when the crowds return. This intelligent load balancing means there is no more wasted energy – a key step toward West Sussex County’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.

Crucially, the BEACH Project also helps close the digital divide between the residents of Worthing and those of urban areas who enjoy stronger, more reliable mobile service. By sharing network infrastructure costs across multiple carriers and efficiently utilizing the existing gigabit fiber footprint, this project provides Worthing with the wireless mobile connectivity needed for the town to thrive and grow in the 21st century. As demand grows, the BEACH Project’s nimble shared architecture can scale to deliver the same high bandwidth that denser metro areas enjoy.

The BEACH Project embodies Dense Air’s vision of harnessing innovation to make connectivity more reliable, accessible, and inclusive. Part of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners’ CoFi platform, Dense Air combines open RAN infrastructure with shared spectrum, enabling multiple MNOs to share secure infrastructure. This model helps MNOs augment and improve their proprietary networks, lowers their operating costs, and increases 5G deployment speed.

This project also highlights Dense Air’s innovative and flexible approach to creating public-private partnerships that strengthen communities and improve urban life. Close collaboration with the West Sussex County Council and the Worthing Borough Council, along with a series of private sector partners, was instrumental in developing the scalable BEACH network and will be key to its smooth implementation. Locals and visitors will seamlessly experience improvements in their mobile service, while a new mobile app will provide the Council and DSIT with relevant data on network performance to inform future shared network rollouts across the country.

Worthing now serves as a model of how governments, communities, companies, and carriers can join forces to bridge the digital divide with inclusive solutions like shared wireless network infrastructure that expands the reach of 5G. The potential is enormous. But none of it is possible without visionary thinking — and most importantly, visionary partnerships between the public and private sectors. Worthing shows what’s possible when all parties work together to find innovative infrastructure solutions to communities’ pressing connectivity challenges.

A full list of successful projects and more about Beach can be found here.

Open RAN: Driving Innovation and Diversity in Tomorrow’s 5G Networks

Earlier this month, key stakeholders from across the telecom space gathered in New Orleans at the Connect (X) Conference to discuss a broad range of issues and opportunities shaping the future of the industry. One of the most widely discussed and debated topics this year was the introduction and execution of Open RAN, interoperable technologies that enable a more diverse, resilient, and secure ecosystem for radio access networks.      

At Dense Air, we’re delighted to see our industry increasingly turn its focus to the opportunities unlocked by Open RAN technologies, an area where we’ve long been focused, and which is at the core of our business. We believe that the widespread adoption of Open RAN is critical to closing the digital divide and making connectivity more open, shared, and inclusive.

Paul Trubridge, Dense Air’s SVP of Global Solutions, shared our perspective on the main stage:      

In many instances, the economics of a mobile network operator (MNO) building out its network is broken, which is why we see areas where coverage and capacity are limited. This is especially true for the mid-band 5G, where the revenue per user (RPU) advantages from 5G aren’t enough to fund overlays for each individual operator. RAN sharing fundamentally changes the economics and solves this problem: when RAN infrastructure is shared by multiple MNOs or mixed public/private use cases, the costs per operator are significantly reduced.

Open RAN architecture is built with scalability as a primary goal. It allows for multiple operators and mixed-use cases, which means that multiple vendors can use a single network site. For instance, Open RAN supports MORAN (Multi Operator RAN), which allows all the infrastructure except the radio carriers — the antenna, tower, site, and power — to be shared by multiple mobile operators. Open RAN also supports MOCN (Multi Operator Core Network), which is similar but allows two or more network operators to share the carriers as well. Because Open RAN technologies are highly customizable, they create the building blocks for a system that can remain scalable and reliable, even as network demand increases.

Thanks to cloud computing, Open RAN architecture also allows for virtualization — meaning the use of dedicated hardware with flexible software components that can scale the network. If the RAN footprint needs to expand or new service providers want to be hosted or new use cases emerge, we have the ability to do that without investing in expensive new hardware.

Finally, Dense Air’s use of Open RAN architecture also allows the network to use a range of vendors, as opposed to being locked in to one vendor in perpetuity. For instance, we can mix-and-match radio units and scale up or down using hyper-scaler software technology. Because Dense Air can do this without having to install new physical infrastructure, we can ensure that the network uses the best suppliers for the task at hand, increasing vendor diversity and reducing supply chain risks.

Taken together, through our early adoption of Open RAN technology, we have created a future-proof solution. By allowing for multiple vendors, virtualizing key components, and allowing multiple operators to leverage the same hardware, we’re building a solution that can expand as a population’s needs expand — deployments that can stand the test of time.

We’re excited to see others across our industry increasingly start to appreciate the innovation and opportunities that Open RAN technologies can unlock.

– Ken Czosnowski, EVP Business Development

Dense Air partners with Citymesh and Digi to expand 5G access across Belgium

As the widespread adoption of 5G accelerates, Dense Air is delighted to partner with Citymesh and Digi. Through this partnership, Citymesh and Digi will strengthen their 5G network across Belgium by deploying Dense Air’s RAN-as-a-Service (RaaS) small cells, which will enable the MNOs to offer enhanced coverage, higher speeds, and greater capacity. The deployment of Dense Air’s small cells will densify Citymesh and Digi’s existing macro network across the country while expanding 4G and 5G service availability in hard-to-reach places that the macro layer struggles to reach.

This partnership and deployment build on Citymesh and Digi’s acquisition of Dense Air Belgium, a subsidiary of Dense Air Networks, earlier this year. Dense Air Belgium has enhanced the MNOs’ spectrum portfolio with its 2.6GHz TDD spectrum, which added 45MHz of prime 4G/5G spectrum to Citymesh and Digi’s spectrum portfolio, and provides access to Dense Air’s unique RaaS 4G and 5G neutral host solution, both of which will play an important role in enhancing  4G and 5G services in high-density urban areas – all at a significantly reduced cost. 

5G network availability across across Belgium is extremely limited, particularly in Brussels if compared to other urban centres.

Dense Air’s mission is to help communities and carriers realize the promise of 5G, which we achieve by driving down the costs of small cell deployments through RAN infrastructure that can accommodate multiple operators and multiple use cases. This approach yielded breakthroughs in 2023: current multi-band radio units now support up to 400 MHz wideband radios carrying MNO-licenced and shared spectrum for public and private networks.

By using big data insights provided by Dense Air’s proprietary DenseWare analytics platform, Citymesh and Digi will now be able to target deployments street-by-street and even building-by-building, identifying where mobile networks are not performing — and, importantly, where macro investment is not viable.

Working with Citymesh and Digi, Dense Air will deliver meaningful improvements to existing end-users while also helping to drive and support new 4G and 5G business cases. Be it street-side, indoor, or outdoor, understanding where 4G and 5G networks are failing offers hugely valuable insight for operators as they consider where shared and as-a-service solutions can be deployed on a cost-optimized and shared basis.

As research on actively shared 5G Open RAN yields breakthroughs, Dense Air and Radisys announce a strategic partnership

Since late 2021, Dense Air and a team of software engineers and solution architects from Radisys have conducted an intensive research and development project to explore the mass market use of Open RAN (O-RAN). Today, Dense Air and Radisys are proud to announce both a strategic partnership as well as the news that their joint efforts have solved  fundamental challenges relating to 5G interoperability.

The success of this project will allow Dense Air to commercialize its research and deploy the technology in late 2023. 

The key to Dense Air’s actively shared 5G small cell infrastructure is the ability to support multiple operators and multiple use cases on the same radio nodes, which improves economics for mobile operator customers. Working with Radisys, Dense Air can simultaneously support 5G 3GPP Multi Operator Core Network (MOCN) and Multi Operator Radio Access Network (MORAN) sharing using the 5G edge network capabilities of their 5G Distributed and Centralized Unit (DU/CU) software portfolio. The result is that Dense Air can offer greater flexibility to mobile operators and reduce fronthaul and backhaul costs as well as the long-term total cost of using actively shared small cell infrastructure as a service.

It is expected that all future Dense Air small cell infrastructure builds will integrate this technology, which is designed to work with high-performance, multi-band radio units (RUs) and a fully cloud-hosted, virtualized CU and DU implementation.

Radisys now enables Dense Air to leverage the benefits and features of 5G NR Standalone (New Radios), including load management, coordination of performance and real-time management by operating over O-RAN Split 6 interfaces.

This joint work helps to advance Dense Air’s mission of densifying urban 5G deployments. By working in partnership with asset owners and cities to deploy RAN as a Service solutions, Dense Air can deploy clusters of neutral host streetside 5G small cells in both licensed and shared spectrum. By using the latest technology and existing streetside assets, Dense Air can help reduce costs and limit dependence on fiber, in part by utilizing the novel mmWave fronthaul. This is a critical step forward in enabling operators to densify their 5G footprint in urban environments and extend coverage in less dense locations.

Dense Air Working with the New Zealand Government to Explore Accelerating 5G Connectivity Nationwide

Dense Air is negotiating an administrative allocation of 3.5 GHz spectrum to help bring 5G connectivity to under-served areas of New Zealand.

The government of New Zealand has taken welcome steps to close the digital divide — and to enable New Zealand to become a leader in 5G network access across both populous cities and remote rural towns and communities. 

Holistic 5G coverage requires an unprecedented densification of radio access points, yet deployments that extend connectivity to rural regions and address city coverage gaps can be difficult and costly. Dense Air promotes and provides shared network infrastructure “as-a-Service” to help incumbent service providers deliver on these goals faster and more economically than traditional approaches allow. 

Dense Air’s shared, small-cell infrastructure doesn’t replace existing networks — it augments and extends them. Today, providers often have difficulty in reaching remote areas economically, and providing high-quality coverage to all corners of densely populated cities. Often, the investment required is not viable for a single service provider, and even with government initiatives for rural builds, such deployments are expensive to maintain. Dense Air’s neutral host radio access network addresses these issues by providing a seamless extension of the existing service providers’ networks, using shared infrastructure — economically increasing network density and offering ubiquitous coverage in places that might otherwise be left behind.

Today, we’re proud to announce that Dense Air, the world’s leading provider of shared 4G and 5G neutral host radio access network infrastructure, will work alongside Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP) to address mobile coverage challenges in under-served areas. CIP is the public entity established to manage the government of New Zealand’s investment in broadband infrastructure and seeks to facilitate the faster delivery of 4G and 5G services in rural communities across the country. 

The government has agreed to progress discussions around the provision of 3.5 GHz spectrum to Dense Air, subject to the outcome of final negotiations. Dense Air plans to use this spectrum, in partnership with the mobile service providers, to help extend and densify networks across the country. Thanks to the government’s work program, more New Zealanders will be better served by 5G connections, ensuring access to the same quality of mobile services as those in New Zealand’s more populated areas. 

Dense Air plans to work with the government through CIP to identify key rural locations of economic and community significance — including visitor sites, small towns, and other currently under-served communities — and to build a single shared network in these areas capable of broadcasting the services of each of the service providers. In parallel with these rural rollouts, Dense Air will deliver new, high-capacity neutral host infrastructure to provide coverage and capacity in under-served urban and suburban areas, and work with the government to identify the best applications for Dense Air technology in other settings.

Dense Air has been active in New Zealand since 2018. During this time Dense Air has successfully completed initial network integrations, technical trials, and production deployments. Since 2021, Dense Air’s solutions have been in commercial operation in New Zealand in diverse applications such as corporate offices and shopping malls. This next step into 5G neutral host solutions greatly expands the applicability of Dense Air’s solutions to the New Zealand market, allowing  Dense Air to expand and enhance New Zealand’s 4G and 5G network reach — providing connectivity where it’s needed.

Dense Air is a subsidiary of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a company that combines differentiated technology with precedent-setting infrastructure projects to address critical societal needs. Dense Air operates within SIP’s CoFi innovation platform, which aims to make connectivity more open, shared, and inclusive through public-private partnerships.

Read more here