What ails 5G-SA?
Our recent report “Virtual Core – Gateway to the “Real 5G”; brought out one thing very clearly - 5G SA is clearly taking longer than anticipated.
The reasons are many – telco ennui with the constant architectural flux without commensurate returns being the main one. Telcos have had their fingers burnt with the seemingly never-ending development cycle of a reliable and acceptable MANO.
If the MANO experience is a sobering reality check for
telcos, they did not lose hope. In came containers and microservices, with a
ready-to-deploy orchestrator in form of Kubernetes. Notwithstanding all the
challenges surrounding the implementation of containers in performance-intense
and latency sensitive network function like the mobile core; the value
proposition of containers is beyond doubt – and this was established close to
the end of last decade. Containers are therefore no longer the reason for telco
reluctance in embracing the SA mode, which lends itself elegantly to SBA.
What is the reason for the delay then?
A few things happened in the last couple of years.
The increasing hostility between the two major geopolitical
power blocks has translated into an indirect (or otherwise) embargo on vendors
for either side into markets on the other. Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, ZTE and
Samsung among others do not have free access to the markets on the “other
side”. Lack of competition and subsequent choices is always problematic for any
market, especially the fledgling ones, as it slows the pace of innovation.
Then of course there was Covid-19! The uncertainty
surrounding the pandemic in its early stages (should we now say that we have
progressed to the late stage?) definitely inserted a pause in the telco plans
for going the SA way. This strategy worked for them, as the pandemic changed
data consumption patterns for the better with the global demand for mobile data
showing a sharp upward turn. Remote, data-intensive interactions became the
norm and are here to stay. The spurt in data can be elegantly addressed using
the NSA mode, which focuses only on the throughput enhancement capabilities of
5G. One should also not forget the role played by the Dynamic Spread Spectrum
(DSS) technology, which allows 5G networks to run on 4G bands using dynamic
frequency allocation at the base station level; although it can used in lower
frequency bands only.
Finally, one must not forget that 5G SA will require a
complete ecosystem of mobile edge infrastructure as well as well-defined (in
other words, fool proof) use-cases on the enterprise side to make a viable case
for itself. And there is the question of telcos requiring to re-engineer their
processes to cope with cloud-native 5G-SA core. Telcos typically follow a
phased transition to avoid hiccups. Steps include the following:
Deployment of cloud-native 4G EPC to familiarize with cloud-native
Deployment of dual-mode cores to allow SA and NSA to co-exist
Building a parallel cloud-native infrastructure
Insight Research, we have had to revise our projections for container-based
Cores downward for through 2023.
So how does the future portend for 5G SA?
It is bright, unquestionably. We are more knowledgeable and
surefooted about dealing with the pandemic. As the global economy kickstarts
itself, the use-cases for which network slicing was envisaged, are making a
resounding comeback. The war in Ukraine will have an impact on telco spending
in the short run as European markets in particular will be subjected to
enormous strain arising out of commodity crunch. The subsequent inevitable
easing of the situation, however, will engineer a spurt in telco spending in
the European region.
Of special interest in the upswing is the support for
network slicing. A lesser realized import of network slicing is how attractive
it makes 5G for private networks to employed by enterprises. 4G offered the
first taste of private mobile networks and 5G SA will make the experience
richer and more meaningful. Product and process engineering industries (of
course, with deep pockets) are already utilizing this faculty wherever options
The world will be keenly watching the greenfield network
rollout of Dish TV, which is said to be 5G SA compliant from the word go. The
operator is poised complete its first rollout obligation of 20% coverage by
June 2022. Also of interest is the 5G spectrum auction in India that was
completed in July 2022. We will definitely discuss that another day.
For more insights on 5G-SA and the general state of the
virtualized core technology market, check out our latest report “Virtual
Core – Gateway to the “Real 5G”.
Kaustubha Parkhi, Principal Analyst – Insight Research