The 3GPP hit a critical milestone this week by approving the 5G standalone (5G SA) specification that is part of the Release 15 standard. 5G SA will give wireless operators and equipment makers the option of deploying 5G without being dependent upon an underlying 4G LTE network.
Standalone 5G NR will have full user and control plane capability and will use the next-gen core network architecture.
Balazs Bertenyi, chairman of the 3GPP RAN Working Group, via Twitter called the fete: “An impressive achievement in a remarkably short time, with credit due particularly to the Working Groups.”
The 5G SA standard is different from the 5G non-standalone (5G NA) specification that was announced last December. The 5G NA architecture leverages the 5G New Radio (NR) air interfaces as well as the existing 4G LTE core network.
Within hours of ratifying the 5G SA specification, several 5G players announced that they have already demonstrated a 3GPP-compliant 5G NR standalone call. Ericsson, Intel, the China Mobile Research Institute, and China Mobile said that they made a test call using 3.5 GHz spectrum and using Ericsson’s 5G NR base stations and Intel’s 5G NR platform prototype.
Later this year, Ericsson and China Mobile plan to deploy a standalone 5G NR field trial in the city of Suzhou in the Jiangsu Province.
Many operators are expected to launch their 5G networks using 5G NA and then migrate to 5G SA. In an interview with SDxCentral in April, Haesung Park, senior manager of the ICT R&D Center, network technology R&D center, and access network lab at SK Telecom, said that SK Telecom will use non-standalone 5G NR to deploy 5G in the first half of 2019, and then in its second phase of deployment it will move to 5G SA.
According to a recent GSMA Intelligence report, operators in China are more likely to adopt 5G SA from the beginning and not deploy 5G non-standalone. The report noted that 5G SA offers high performance and less complexity because it doesn’t rely on the legacy 4G LTE network. However, it is expected to be initially more expensive to deploy.