Advances in digital technology will further the real-time, engaging and more immersive experiences in the digital world, a virtual landscape which is steadily inching towards a 10 Gbps network speed across the globe.

5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability and a more uniform user experience to ever-expanding volume of users. Higher performance and improved efficiency of 5G will affect many industries including manufacturing, transport, retail and healthcare, along with a plethora of other industries.

However, the true potential of 5G cannot be realized without the deployment of a 5G standalone (SA) core. The 5G core itself is designed as a Service Based Architecture (SBA) which virtualizes network functions altogether, providing the full range of 5G features enterprise needs for factory automation, autonomous vehicle operation, remote sensing and more. In non-standalone (NSA) architecture, the 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) and its New Radio (NR) interface is combined with the existing LTE and EPC infrastructure Core Network, 4G Radio and 4G Core respectively. Compared to NSA, the 5G Standalone network demonstrates advantages in uplink (UL), End-to-End (E2E) latency, edge computing, etc., and therefore provides broader user experience. Although a cost-effective option for initial 5G deployments, operators have been compromising with the latency issues in an NSA setting. As such, many operators are eagerly waiting to capitalize on the 5GSA setup. The low latency capacity of 5GSA can enable new technologies such as industrial robots, self-driving cars and remote sensing, etc. which are crucial for productivity efficiency.

“The deployment of 5G standalone (SA) networks is increasing in many regions as communications service providers (CSPs) gear up for innovation to address the business opportunities beyond enhanced mobile broadband. A solid digital network infrastructure supports enterprises’ digital transformation plans, and their new capabilities can be turned into new customers,” says Peter Jonsson, Executive Editor, Ericsson Mobility Report.

5G standalone as an enabler:

Network slicing:   5GSA will enable automated network slicing to be used in a variety of industrial applications. SA’s delivery for 5G private networking can accelerate commercial deployments by the virtualization of networks (Network Function Virtualization (NFV) / Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technology) on the same physical hardware through network slicing.  5GSA can be required for mmWave private network deployments where verticals need a fully isolated network. Network slicing allows the implementation of customized functionality and network operation specific to the

needs of the unique customer rather than a one-size-fits-all approach in the current and previous mobile generations.

IoT connectivity: SA complements massive IoT on the network as the 5G core can support up to one million devices within a square kilometer, which is far superior to what previous cellular standards could accommodate. Moreover, using 5G NB-IoT connectivity service can integrate the satellite network with existing terrestrial networks to provide IoT connectivity for customers located remotely.

Carrier aggregation (CA):  CA combines two or more bands to increase bandwidth. As more smart devices start to implement carrier aggregation, operators can add new revenue-generating packages      through this technology.

AR/AI-based technologies: Big cloud operators and telecom vendors are collaborating to simplify the consumption of secure and private 5G networks that can run latency-sensitive applications on various industry sites. AR applications that run on the cloud are helping transform the workforce and boost employee capabilities while reducing manufacturing startup time. Mixed reality-based integrated communications are allowing industry operators, maintainers and their teams to efficiently follow work instructions to perform inspections and complete complex and unfamiliar tasks independently.  Moreover, by leveraging multi-access edge computing (MEC) and cloud with data analytics, the operations team can monitor and analyze data to ensure quality metrics are maintained and presented to line workers in real-time. 5GSA connectivity will speed up analysis and data gathering processes, improving production line efficiency across the factory sites.

5GSA deployment headways:

According to GSMA, in the early stage of 5GSA deployment, enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) service interworking between 4G and 5G is necessary to ensure service continuity, while ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) and Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) services will be supported at later stages. As of early 2022, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) reported that 99 operators in 50 countries worldwide are investing in either public 5G Standalone (SA) network      trials or actual planned deployments, and that 20 operators in 16 countries and territories, including the Middle East had already launched public 5GSA networks.

The 5G spectrum resources defined in the 3GPP protocol can be divided into two frequency ranges, FR1 and FR2. While FR1 includes Sub6 GHz bands aka low-frequency bands, it is the primary band for 5G. The frequencies below 3 GHz—also called sub-3Ghz, and the others are referred to as C-band.

FR2 is the mmWave of 6 GHz or higher, also referred to as the high-frequency bands, which are extended bands for 5G. There are excessive spectrum resources available in FR2. In 2019, Etisalat tested 5GSA in the 3.5GHz carrier with a spectrum of 100MHz.  Using a Standalone (SA) smartphone, throughput of over 1.5Gbps was achieved in download speed and 200Mbps on the upload speed, enabling the seamless management of upgrades and migration from NSA to SA.  Experts believe that more FR1 spectrum deployments will make the 5GSA deployment appealing in the future.

Looking ahead

5GSA coupled with new technologies such as cloud, network slicing, edge computing and AI will open up multiple innovative applications and solutions for customers, especially for vertical industries (manufacturing, healthcare, real-time surveillance and others). For instance, in the case of the health sector, the enhanced connectivity of 5GSA could enable reliable digital support to doctors during highly critical procedures such as the real-time care for patients with cardiac problems. The collating and transmitting of technical information from different medical systems to assist the doctors remotely will warrant secure, low-latency high-bandwidth to support quick decision-making in matters of life and death. This, 5GSA can deliver. Countries around the world are providing impetus to their technological sectors with massive investments in capital and human resources. Industry 4.0 Technologies are being implemented across industry verticals, and the key component of the overall functionality lies in the greater connectivity capacity of 5GSA.  

Operators may be facing headwinds in 5GSA deployment in terms of 1) monetization opportunities and      uncertainties emanating from issues of network migration and 2) traffic management from both a performance and cost standpoint. However,  the innovative features of 5GSA that complement enterprise requirements such as low latency, expanded device support and multiple connections for various corporate tasks – should keep the network service providers well motivated in the meantime.

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