Amidst all the hype about 5G, one thing has been consistent – the standards bodies have delivered the goods ahead of schedule, and the final building block, the 5G standalone network specification, is now complete and in the history books. So, what does this mean? Simply that infrastructure providers such as Ericsson, Nokia, and others now have a final specification for the equipment that they’re building for network operators.
Standalone (SA) 5G Will Accelerate Simplification & Efficiency
More specifically, this particular specification addresses the “Standalone” (SA) version of 5G with a distributed core (the brains of the network), as opposed to the Non-Standalone (NSA) specification that was completed in December. The NSA specification allows 5G devices to use the existing 4G core, enabling speed to market for 5G devices without a network operator having to update the core network before implementing 5G. Since 4G will work hand-in-hand with 5G for the foreseeable future, this is a somewhat elegant approach that will ultimately save time and money for all involved.
On the other hand, one of the benefits of SA vs. NSA is latency performance. In addition to 5G being 10x, or more, faster than 4G, latency — or the responsiveness of the network — is designed to improve significantly in 5G. In fact, the latency performance of the 5G specification will be in the single-digit milliseconds end to end. The only way to accomplish this is to distribute core network functions to the edge of the network, thus the Standalone spec.
The Future’s So Bright
At the end of the day, 5G will have significant benefits for network operators as well as end customers. For network operators, 5G will be significantly more efficient, thus lowering their cost to deliver a given bit of data. Ultimately, this will translate into lower costs for customers. In particular, I believe that this will result in flat-rate, or unlimited, pricing that will open up a whole new set of applications that thus far have been relegated to wired or fiber connections. In addition, the promise of super-fast, super-responsive networks (think “wireless fiber”) will open up whole new categories of use cases that will enable enterprises to make money, save money, and/or create a competitive advantage.
A Strong Start Out of the Gate & Keeping Pace
But let’s put things into perspective. 5G won’t be deployed everywhere right away. In fact, it might be years before we see significant percentages of network coverage with 5G. But that’s OK. The whole approach to the 5G standard has been a gradual one that enhances the performance of 4G at the same time, since 4G is deployed pretty much everywhere. Accordingly, when devices drop from 5G to 4G, the performance difference will not be that noticeable. This allows an elegant path forward that enables companies to invest now without worrying that those investments will be stranded.
There are exciting times ahead with all the applications that 5G will enable. And with the standards now complete, the starting gun has gone off. It’s time to get on the pathway to 5G!
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