5G Non-Standalone vs. 5G Standalone

5G Non-Standalone vs. 5G Standalone

December 3rd, 2019 - Telecom, Roaming

By Nina Le-Richardson, Director of Product Management

In the last 5G blog, I mentioned that operators will invest over $1 trillion in 5G networks over the next several years. These 5G networks will be much more than just New Radio (NR) access as these future networks will be an integration of cross-domain networks.

More importantly, 5G systems are expected to be built in a way to enable logical network slices, which will allow telecom operators to provide networks on an as-a-service basis and meet a wide range of use cases. Each use case receives optimized resources and network topology, covering SLA-specified factors (connectivity, speed, capacity) for that application.

There are four primary features that 5G supports that will give rise to an endless amount of new use cases.

As mentioned above, Network Slicing allows the creation of multiple virtual networks atop a shared physical infrastructure.

Next is enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB). High capacity, faster throughput, higher user mobility that is geared towards handsets and replacement of landlines are the hallmarks of eMBB.

The third feature is Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) which will deliver advanced services for latency sensitive connected devices such as factory automation, autonomous driving, the industrial internet and smart grid or robotic surgeries.

The fourth feature is massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) which will provide connectivity to many devices which transmit sporadically a low amount of traffic over billions of devices without overloading the network.

There are two emerging 5G deployment options out of the seven options defined by 3GPP (a standards organization which develops protocols for mobile telephony):

  • Option 2 – Standalone or SA. This option deploys a 5G core and a New Radio 5th Generation NodeB. This deployment offers the full feature set of 5G: Network Slicing, eMBB, mMTC, and URLLC. Option 2 is not backwards compatible to 4G.
  • Option 3 – Non-standalone (NSA), or EN-DC (E-Ultra New Radio Dual Connectivity), utilizes a 4G EPC with a 5G NodeB (gNB). This option is most popular for mobile operators looking to quickly deploy 5G speeds utilizing existing LTE deployments. However, NSA Option 3 does not allow for true 5G NR features, such as Network Slicing, URLLC and high capacity support for IoT, such as mMTC.

Operators deploying NSA Option 3 will also need to establish a Split Bearer Configuration to separate the User Plane and Control Plane to enable the expected 5G data speeds. The SCG (Secondary Cell Group) split bearer configuration allows the S-GW to send separate flows of user plane data to the Master or the Secondary RAN node. The Secondary en-gNB can also split data it receives from the core network and therefore the S-GW is splitting to Master eNB and en-gNB directly to achieve the highest expected data rates.

For mobile operators who are looking to deliver mainly high-speed connectivity to consumers with 5G-enabled devices, NSA mode allows operators to leverage their existing network assets rather than deploying a completely new end-to-end 5G network. However, operators who want to focus on new services for Internet of Things (IoT), Machine-to-Machine (M2M), or offer mobile broadband in market, may have the business drivers to deploy 5G SA architecture out of the gate.

NSA allows the operator to launch 5G quickly for eMBB to gain thought and market leadership.  Operators can leverage their existing LTE/VoLTE footprint to maximize their LTE installed base and boost capacity while increasing delivery efficiency. However, Network Slicing, URLLC and mMTC won’t be supported. The higher broadband speeds will enable services such as video streaming, augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) and an immersive media experience.

SA supports Network Slicing, URLLC and mMTC bringing ultra-low latency and a wider array of use cases such as remote control of critical infrastructure and self-driving vehicles. However, the NR is not backwards compatible to the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) which is the framework for providing converged voice and data on a 4G LTE network. The level of reliability and latency will be vital to smart-grid control, industrial automation, robotics and drone control and coordination.

With the two 5G deployment options outlined above, the question is do we really need SA 5G, if we can move forward on the strength of existing LTE network assets that have served us so well? The simple answer is yes. Standalone 5G NR is a key enabler for service providers to develop their offerings. I’ll address deployment options in the next blog.

Coming Soon – Blog #4 What to Expect with 5G Roaming

Read our previous post in this series “The 5G Hype“ and “LTE Has Gas in the Tank

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