A Telecom Transformation is underway. With 5G, a whole new generation of networks is being built to connect 50+ Billion Devices, creating more than a $12 trillion-dollar market opportunity for Mobile Network Operators. The road to 5G, it turns out though, isn’t a straight line.
The path that mobile network operators (MNOs) follow to 5G will depend a lot on how they plan to pay for that journey. For MNOs that are looking to deliver mainly high-speed connectivity to consumers with 5G-enabled devices, a non-standalone architecture (NSA) makes the most sense, because it allows them to leverage their existing network investments in transport and mobile core —rather than deploy a completely new end to end 5G network. This can be combined with efforts to reduce network operating costs by adopting virtualization and CUPS (Control and User plane separation) using software defined networking (SDN). These initial steps toward 5G, enable MNOs to begin offering 5G services providing faster data speeds and capture additional revenue streams.
For some MNOs, however, who have their sights set on new enterprise 5G services such as smart cities, smart factories or other vertical market solutions, a standalone architecture (SA) could make more sense. In this scenario, which 3GPP is still in the process of standardizing soon, MNOs could build an entirely new fully virtualized 5G network that includes new radio access network, new transport network and new 5G mobile core and edge networks – standing alone and separate from their existing 4G and legacy networks. 5G standalone arch is a fully virtualized, cloud native architecture (CNA) which introduces new ways to develop, deploy and manage services. CNA includes concepts of microservices and service-based interfaces which greatly simplify services, dramatically reducing the cost of operation and speeding up the introduction of new revenue-generating services. With 5G SA, the distinct advantage here is end-to-end support for 5G speeds and services. And the true promise of 5G is enterprise driven revenue – it changes business model from consumer-driven to enterprise-focused opening up entirely new use cases and revenue streams.
The Future of 5G Includes NSA and SA
It’s worth noting that NSA and SA aren’t an either/or proposition, but more of a “sooner or later” consideration. MNOs that begin with NSA can gradually add or migrate to SA over time. What we’ve seen at Affirmed from early 5G adopters are primarily NSA deployments as MNOs compete for the bragging rights (and the competitive advantage) of being the first to offer 5G speeds. These MNOs were typically the first to adopt 4G/LTE technologies as well, and so are fairly advanced in terms of network virtualization. Many of them are still using Affirmed’s solution as their virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) solution. One of the advantages of an Affirmed’s NSA-based solution is its ability to handle both 4G and 5G-based traffic as MNOs transform their networks.
At some point, of course, NSA and SA will converge as MNOs move to a full 5G architecture. Recognizing that, MNOs would do well to look for a mobile core platform that can transition easily from NSA to SA. Having a completely virtualized 5G architecture will offer MNOs the flexibility to migrate select functionality of their existing NSA solution to the 5G core platform over time, as new 5G services are enabled, allowing them to monetize their investment gradually rather than go all-in and hope to recoup their costs later.
With a clear path to evolving their networks from NSA to SA, Mobile Network Operators can win the race to revenues by operating their networks at webscale.
Source for market reference