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37% of mobile operators to deploy 5G standalone by 2022

13 Mar 2020

Mobile operators are increasingly going all in for 5G, with an upward trend of companies committing to implementing a standalone (SA) policy.

37% of mobile operators say they will begin deploying 5G SA within the next two years, according to a new worldwide survey of 41 mobile operators released today by Enea. 

The survey reveals a gradual move away from non-standalone (NSA) deployments, which introduces 5G networks, but are aided by existing 4G networks.

The growing amount of companies showing interest in SA deployment shows the sheer pace of adoption of 5G by mobile operators.

The survey shows 27% of operators will deploy 5G SA within 12-18 months, with a further 10% within 24 months. 

Enea says operators are seeing a clearer path to 5G SA infrastructure, especially with the maturity of 3GPP standards, such as the Release 16 freeze this month.

The overall timeline is supported by a total of 49% of operators who plan to deploy 5G SA within the next four years, according to Enea.

Other results from the survey indicate edge strategies vary greatly amongst mobile operators.

85% of operators are planning edge deployments at some point, but more than half of the operators in the survey have no strategy for doing so. 

32% are going only with limited, specific use cases such as smart factories, smart cities, or retail, while others are holding off until the business case for edge deployment becomes more viable.

The survey also includes a section about the network data layer which serves as single point of storage for all data about subscriptions, network services, devices, and connections in a 5G network. 

More than 50% of operators plan to move to a common network data layer across their network functions as they roll out 5G, according to the survey results. 

And only 2% choose to keep vendor-specific data storage, indicating that the time has come to make architectural choices, says Enea.

"Operators are beginning to firm up plans for how they will implement multi-vendor service architectures that enable them to deploy their 5G networks" says Strategy Analytics director of networks and service platforms Sue Rudd.

"The survey indicates several operators have figured out how to deploy SA in the next couple of years. 

“This could be as ‘islands' of 5G radio access with a 5G SA core for special services, starting late 2021."

Operators in the survey also listed the most important factors for choosing a network data layer. The top three are: gaining a unified view of customer data, the ability to deploy in slices or at the edge, and the ability to monetize subscriber data.

"We've now entered a phase where operators plan to deploy a 5G SA core as the next step after introducing 5G radio access running on existing 4G core," says Enea president and chief executive officer Jan Haglund. 

"It is interesting to see that most operators have identified the benefits of a common 5G data management layer that serves as the backend for all their network applications."