Expect non-standalone 5G NR networks in 2019, standalone potentially in 2020
The latest Ericsson Mobility Report projects 5G will achieve global scale more quickly than previous generations of cellular, reaching 1.5 billion subscribers by 2024 and covering 40% of the world’s population in the same timeframe. 5G New Radio technology has two different versions: non-standalone, which is the basis of commercial launches expected by year-end and throughout 2019, and standalone, which comes with an entirely new core architecture.. 5G is the fifth generation of mobile communication and is the successor of 4G LTE. The key enhancements of 5G are replacement of landlines, which could happen within the next several years, more advanced antenna technology, and much wider bandwidth.
5G is designed to support three primary use cases: enhanced mobile broadband, or eMBB, which is geared toward handsets; ultra-reliable low-latency Communications, or URLLC, which includes industrial IoT appliances and autonomous machines; and massive machine-type communications, which includes things like sensors.
Non-standalone 5G NR (also known as NSA) is an early version of Standalone 5G NR, and is primarily used for eMBB. NSA, which uses an LTE RAN and core with the addition of a 5G component carrier, is currently testing in markets from Norway to China, and by early 2019 5G-compatible smartphones will be available, though the 5G network will largely rely on existing 4G LTE infrastructure. The inaugural NSA 5G NR release will hone in on enhanced mobile broadband to increase data bandwidth and reliability by tapping high-capacity millimeter wave frequencies. It will act as a kind of initial step that will allow carriers to offer commercial services in 2019, rather than waiting until 2020. However, millimeter wave 5G has a much shorter range and a much higher interference rate than its predecessors. The NSA release will allow for engineers to dissect and resolve these issues.
Standalone 5G NR is slated to be released in the 2020 timeframe and is designed to be even more efficient than the preceding LTE and the non-standalone variant. Standalone 5G NR will lead to lower costs for operators and improved performance for users. The standalone version envisions a totally new RAN and core network. Like NSA, standalone will use millimeter wave bands, as well as low- and mid-band frequencies, to deliver wide-area coverage and multi-gigabit connections.
While 5G technology is the evolutionary upgrade of mobile communications networks, the NSA initial roll-out has given carriers a leg up in market testing and delivering new consumer experiences. While it’s something of a preview of standalone 5G, any technology that can keep up with consumer and enterprise data demand, while lowering carrier opex, will be met with a significant market opportunity.