Being first doesn’t necessarily give too much away about the winner, but it is an indicator of progress.
Vodafone UK has said it is the first telecoms operator in the country to launch a Standalone (SA) 5G network on the Coventry University campus. The launch of this network will allow the telco to trial new ideas and services focused on ultra-low latency and much higher capacity which are only feasible with SA 5G.
“This new phase of 5G starts to deliver on the incredible capabilities of 5G that have had so much attention but haven’t yet been brought to life,” said Vodafone UK CTO Scott Petty. “From here, we will really start to see 5G make a difference to the way organisations think about being connected, and what’s possible with connectivity in the future.”
To date, 5G has been little more than a disappointing, incremental upgrade on 4G. Download speeds have improved, as has latency, but the promise of 5G is yet to be realised. And it cannot be delivered on Non-standalone (NSA) networks.
As it stands currently, the vast majority of the world, aside from a few exceptions, are operating Non-standalone (NSA) networks. These networks do allow telecoms operators to deliver incremental 5G upgrades, but the risk of overhype is clearly present. Some customers might question whether the speed upgrades are proportionate to the sheer weight of buzz which surrounds 5G, and part of this is the industry’s inability to communicate the benefits of the technology.
If an operator only wants to deliver faster download speeds and incremental improvements to latency, NSA 5G will probably suffice. However, alongside a cloud-native 5G Core, SA 5G bring ultra-low latency usecases into the fray, supports advanced network-slicing functions, allows for significant upgrades on speed and capacity and allows for the creation of new services which are not possible on 4G or NSA 5G networks.
At Coventry University, Vodafone UK will start trialling virtual reality learning technologies for the local hospitals, testing ultra-reliable, low latency communications for usecases such as full factory automation and autonomous vehicles, and will build on existing work to bring network slicing into the 5G era.
What is worth noting as while Vodafone UK is claiming a ‘first’ accolade in the UK, there are others who have made such progress. SK Telecom said it completed its first ‘standalone (SA) 5G data session’ in January, while ZTE and MTN Uganda claimed to have jointly launched the first 5G SA network in East Africa. China Broadcasting Network (CBN), the fourth MNO in China, has said it will launch its own SA network during 2020 also.
There are pockets of progress around the world, but that should not take the gloss off progress for Vodafone UK. SA networks are currently the exception not the rule, but most importantly, this is a step towards delivering the 5G promise which has been so wildly hyped over recent years.