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Full-fledged 5G network deployment will require massive investment across all areas of service providers' networks.

Such financial commitment has telcos understandably cautious. They've been here before. Service providers invested billions of dollars into developing 4G LTE only to see over-the-top providers such as Netflix and Facebook prosper. 

Telcos can't afford to let the same story unfold with 5G. They need a way to make 5G work.

Failing to invest in the various technology components that make up 5G networks — virtualization, edge computing, optical and open networking, to name a few — will risk losing customers in the long term. 

Waiting for that next-gen technology to mature won't work either. Service providers not offering 5G connectivity and services soon may not be around long enough to succeed in the future. 

NSA vs SA architectures

This scenario, in part, is why the industry has broadly adopted a two-phased approach comprised of non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) 5G architectures.

Unlike previous generations in which 2G was supplanted by 3G, only to be ripped and replaced by 4G later on, 5G is not replacing anything. In fact, 4G LTE and 5G will coexist and complement each other for some time as service providers continue to invest in both. 

  • 5G NSA architectures allow service providers to utilize LTE core networks and base stations, while adding new 5G base stations to provide enhanced mobile broadband services and give consumers better bandwidth. They can be deployed much quicker than 5G SA architectures and represent a way for service providers to continue squeezing value from their existing 4G technology portfolio while transitioning to 5G. Initial 5G rollouts will be based on NSA architectures as service providers in a race to be the first to offer 5G services will focus on delivering much faster data speeds and reliable connectivity to consumers with 5G-enabled devices.
  • Fully-independent 5G SA architectures will deliver the full potential of 5G — ultra-low latency, advanced network slicing and new uses cases to develop next-generation services around. Service providers would also need to build a new fully virtualized 5G network that includes the radio access, edge, transport and mobile core networks all separate from their current 4G infrastructure. However, viability depends on organizational readiness and equipment availability.

5G NSA can roll out quickly, but is limited when compared to SA 5G, which will take longer to deploy.

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It's not an either-or proposition. Service providers must leverage existing 4G infrastructure to deliver 5G NSA, while at the same time investing in the technology needed to work toward adopting 5G SA.

Deploying 5G NSA will allow service providers to gain market share, maximize ROI on existing 4G LTE infrastructure and enable the Internet of Things (IoT) while they transition to 5G SA.

Navigating 5G complexity with a partner

The disaggregated, virtualized nature of the 5G economy adds complexity to the equation. 

Network downtime is a non-starter for any service provider, which needs to know deployed solutions will work as intended from the moment they're turned on. 

Such complexity demands strong partnerships.

World Wide Technology's (WWT) deep industry relationships with OEMs and extensive lab capabilities in our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) help service providers get to market faster with scalable solutions that help solve the 5G puzzle

WWT in collaboration with our industry leading partners, is building a multi-OEM 5G NSA lab architecture in the ATC which service providers can leverage to quickly design and validate 5G NSA network solutions. The ATC is a key enabler for innovation and helps our customers de-risk and accelerate critical technology decisions. 

Once validated in the ATC, WWT can kit, stage and deploy the solution at scale through our global network of Integration Centers. 

A smooth transition

WWT's unique end-to-end value proposition enables service providers to go to market quicker with 5G NSA architectures that allow them to protect their customer base while attracting new customers as they transition to a full 5G SA network.

5G SA networks expected to begin rolling out in late 2020 or early 2021 at the earliest. Even then, NSA and SA architectures are expected to live alongside each other for a considerable period. 

According to recent research from IHS Markit, the deployment of NSA architecture is divided into two phases: 

Phase I involves two major deployment/upgrade steps: 

  1. Upgrade both access and core network infrastructure of the LTE network to enable LTE network interwork with 5G NR.
  2. Deploy 5G NR selectively in areas with expectedly high demand for data services.

Phase II involves the introduction of 5G core into the network and increasing the 5G coverage area. In this case, the 5G network would be less dependent on LTE infrastructure, which could still be used for service continuity. 

WWT's extensive partnerships and ability to piece together multi-vendor solutions in the ATC make us a valuable partner for service providers looking to best understand which technology or set of technologies will work together seamlessly to deliver 5G services that cater to their specific needs.