The Status of 5G Standalone (5G SA) Networks – March 2021

About 5G

I wonder if you have seen as many adverts talking about the 5G revolution as I have. In fact I have collected many of them here. The problem is that most of these promised 5G awesomeness can only be delivered when 5G Standalone networks are launched. 

Before going further, if you don’t know what 5G standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) networks are, then you may want to check one of my tutorials/video. For beginners here and slightly advanced version here. If you just want to learn about the 5G core, tutorial here.

I believe that the 5G Non-standalone networks are a hack that were designed mainly to show just the 5G icon and in some cases it also provided enhanced speeds. Some operators have realised this and are thinking about the 5G NSA sunset. There are some potential issues with 5G SA speeds that need sorting out though.

GSA recently held a webinar looking at the status of 5G Standalone networks. The video of the webinar is embedded at the end of the post. The webinar summarised the stats as following:

  • By mid-March 2021, 428 operators in 132 countries/territories were investing in 5G
  • 176 operators in 76 countries/territories had announced they had deployed 3GPP compliant 5G technology in their live networks
  • Of those, a total of 153 operators in 64 countries/territories had launched one or more 3GPP-compliant 5G services
    • 145 operators in 60 countries/territories had launched 3GPP-compliant 5G mobile services
    • 51 operators in 29 countries/territories had launched 3GPP-compliant 5G FWA or home broadband services
  • For comparison, there are 807 public LTE networks worldwide
  • GSA has identified 68 operators in 38 countries/territories that are investing in 5G standalone for public mobile networks
  • Of those, a total of 7 operators in 5 countries/territories had launched 5G SA networks
    • Operators in China have deployed/upgraded hundreds of thousands of base stations 
    • T-Mobile has a nationwide network
    • Plus China Mobile HK, Rain (South Africa) and DirecTV (Colombia)
  • Also ITC KSA (soft launch), STC KSA deployed, Telstra 5G core deployed, plus various contracts for 5G core systems

Private Networks, Non-public networks (NPN) and Industrial 5G Networks are also expected to make use of standalone 5G networks. As 5G networks get virtualized and open, we will see a lot more of these.

The webinar also highlighted the progress of 5G devices:

  • There has been rapid growth in the numbers and types of 5G devices being announced and launched
  • As of end February:
    • 628 5G devices announced
    • 404 commercially available (up from 303 at the end of November)
    • 104 vendors
    • 21 announced form factors
    • Majority are phones (306 announced, 274 commercial)
  • 5G SA devices are also appearing
    • 298 devices announced with 5G SA support
    • 204 commercial devices state support for 5G SA
      • Software upgrades likely to be required
    • Steadily climbing up as % of all 5G devices
      • Now >47% of announced
      • >50% of commercial

Here is the webinar:

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