Vodafone has launched 5G SA (Standalone) trials in London, Manchester, and Cardiff in its largest test of the technology yet.
The commercial launch has allowed the carrier to experiment with new ways to commercialise its network, including network slicing – where a portion of network is dedicated to a specific customer for their exclusive use. It will also allow customers to test 5G SA devices on a live, public network.
Vodafone selected Ericsson's dual-mode 5G core network as the dedicated provider for this trial. It follows trials at Coventry University in 2020, and a separate trial in Spain.
To date, the overwhelming majority of 5G deployments in the UK have been 5G NSA (non-standalone). This approach has seen 5G radios connected to a traditional LTE core. By contrast, 5G SA uses a proper 5G core. This comes with some tangible benefits.
Although the incumbent NSA approach has allowed carriers to quickly expand coverage while limiting their capital expenditures, picking a true end-to-end 5G environment means there are more options to actually commercialise their investment.
And that's because the introduction of 5G services has been costly, with carriers spending big on equipment and spectrum. They can't rely on consumer spending to recoup their expenditure.
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5G SA offers measurable performance increases, particularly when it comes to latencies. Although ordinary punters could take advantage of this (particularly when it comes to things like real-time communications and online gaming), the biggest market will likely be industrial and business users, who will want to provide low-latency connectivity to their IoT devices.
And, as mentioned, 5G SA allows for network slicing. This is a self-contained and separated part of the network that's leased by a specific tenant. A slice may consist of dedicated radio, transport, and core resources. By offering dedicated access, providers can address both the performance and security demands of their biz customers, and are less likely to be affected by transient spikes in demand from the public.
Vodafone isn't the sole carrier eyeing up a deployment of 5G SA. Both O2 and EE are in the preliminary stages of their own rollouts, having both selected Ericsson as their core provider. Additionally, O2 has said it plans to launch its inaugural 5G SA deployment in Germany later this year.
Three is also expected to launch 5G SA services in near future, having picked Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to configure and maintain its upcoming network rollout. ®