As LTE matures and Rel-15 standard freezes, mobile operators should start carefully considering available network upgrade paths. Unlike LTE, the primary goal of 5G will not only be about increasing data rates and network capacity. This time, 5G promises more opportunities and KPIs to address vertical industries and innovative applications for exploring new revenue sources. In the early life of 5G, operators will have the option to choose between two network deployment modes.
The choice to be made by operators is architectural in nature. Mobile operators will have to choose between deploying a full 5G standalone (SA) network that provides E2E 5G experience or deploying a 5G non-standalone (NSA) network to be complemented and supported by LTE network. While the former will take time to develop, the latter offers limited 5G benefits confined to the improvement in some network KPIs.
In addition, 5G NSA is expected to be less capital-intensive as compared to 5G SA architecture. However, as demonstrated by evidence presented in this white paper, that may not be the case. Therefore, the choice will be based on spectrum availability and use case requirements rather than budget.
The two 5G network architecture options can be compared by looking at four main perspectives: investment, spectrum availability, service offerings, and network KPIs.
As the comparison above shows, 5G SA architecture network deployment cost can seem capital intensive, but with the right deployment strategy operators can bring the cost down sharply. This strategy can be summarized as follows:
- Adopt selective 5G coverage to start in areas with highest demand for data.
- Co-site 4G and 5G whenever possible and consolidate RF equipment for lower costs.
- Deploy 5G Core in a data center relying on cloud and virtualization technologies.
- Start with fundamental 5G Core features only to lower investment.
Applying the above strategy, the 5G SA option becomes more economical and deployable as fast as NSA. Moreover, it allows operators to support all use cases of 5G and penetrate new verticals, as this paper will explain.
This is an executive summary. To view the full contents of this white paper, please download the accompanying pdf.