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China races ahead as rest of world dithers over standalone 5G

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Dell’Oro Group says operators' fear of move to standalone 5G stunts growth of mobile core networks

Research from the Dell’Oro Group claims that operator reluctance to move from non-standalone 5G to standalone 5G is restricting growth in the mobile core network market. 

Mobile operators can’t bear to let go of the non-standalone 5G networks that rely on the LTE Evolved Packet Core, the report says. A move to a standalone (SA) 5G, which runs on a new cloud-native core network, would stimulate market growth. 

Only the Chinese operators are displaying the boldness needed, according to Dell’Oro Group, which reports that in the Asia Pacific region 70% of operator investment goes on 5G core equipment. 

Overall, the research firm found that growth in core network spending has slowed, from a double digit year-on-year rate rise to a 6% growth rate this year. 

Dell’Oro Group research director David Bolan attributed the slowdown to the sluggish uptake of 5G standalone networks. Bolan called on mobile operators to make up their minds.

No shortage of NFV Options

“CSPs [Comms service providers] need to decide which direction to take for 5G SA deployments. CSPs have several options to mull over, with new choices that were not available during the switch from 3G to 4G,” said Bolan.

It is a huge decision which could decide the fate of network function virtualisation infrastructure (NFVI) Bolan conceded. However the CSPs are blessed with a variety of options. “NFVI can be procured from a 5G core vendor, a third-party, the public cloud or another platform like the Rakuten Communications Platform,” said Bolan. 

Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE and Mavenir are the top mobile core network equipment vendors, according to Dell’Oro Group. Its research also found that 4G core spend is in continual decline, but still makes up 70% of the mix between 4G and 5G.” 

Standalone 5G on trial across Europe

The upsurge in spending could be imminent as there is plenty of relevant trial activity and planned deployments, reports Dell’Oro Group. The ultimate goal is to create ‘zero touch’ operations and the delivery of cloud-native 5G’s flagship feature – network slicing.

Nokia recently signed a single-vendor deal with A1 Telekom Group to deploy standalone 5G in Serbia and Slovenia. Vodafone Spain has selected Ericsson for pre-commercial standalone 5G support, including cloud-native 5G core and future network applications. In France, Orange is evaluating standalone 5G in tandem with related tech, including artificial intelligence and Open RAN.

In a blog post on the website of German operator Deutsche Telekom CTO Walter Goldenits (see our recent interview with him here) said the launch of its 5G Standalone (SA) network depends on use cases and the availability of devices.

“If the first use cases are still available in 2021, then 5G Standalone will come in 2021. Otherwise we will jump in 2022 at the latest,” said Goldenits.