A 5G standalone core unlocks a new era of connectivity for enterprise businesses eager to capitalize on the true potential of 5G
In a world where good is never enough, even advanced 5G networks are under pressure to constantly improve. Although 5G standalone (5G SA) — the next level of 5G — has encountered initially slow adoption rates since its global debut in 2020, experts predict that 2023 could be the year this advanced version of 5G truly takes hold. But to firmly grasp how the expansion of 5G SA impacts enterprise businesses, we must first answer the question, “What is 5G standalone?”
Understanding 5G standalone vs. non-standalone
Compared to its predecessors, 5G is a smarter cellular network covering more advanced use cases for enterprise, which can change depending on the type of 5G network. There are two main deployment modes for 5G networks: standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA).
Since the launch of 3G, cellular network standards advanced rapidly toward 5G — so much so that vendors creating the core infrastructure for these networks couldn’t keep up with the radio link advancements. To solve this issue, they created an interim standard called “non-standalone mode.”
5G NSA networks are hybrid 5G networks that use a 5G radio access network (RAN) and a 4G LTE core network. This combination allows for a more gradual deployment of 5G, allowing operators to begin upgrading their RANs before moving on to upgrade their core networks at a later date. This deployment method is the standard nearly all global network operators adopted when rolling out 5G, as it allowed them to transition to the new generation of cellular networks more quickly than if they waited to launch 5G SA.
5G SA networks are end-to-end networks with 5G cores. This allows all the benefits of 5G to be fully realized, including ultra-low latency, massive capacity, faster speeds, bolstered security, and improved reliability. Additionally, 5G standalone networks enable access to all 5G service categories, including:
- Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), which primarily focuses on speed, capacity, and mobile for laptop, tablet, and smartphone users — the only 5G attribute available on a 5G NSA network.
- Ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC), which supports mission-critical communications where data transfer requires minimal lag and high reliability.
- Massive machine-type communications (mMTC), which can connect a massive number of IoT devices in a given area — up to 1 million per square kilometer.
The benefits and challenges of a 5G SA network
With lower latency and higher throughput, 5G SA offers significantly improved performance over 4G LTE. This makes it ideal for applications that require real-time communication and countless other opportunities for burgeoning enterprises eager to capitalize on cellular networking.
One of the most significant advantages of 5G standalone networks lies in their ultra-low latency. With latency reduced to milliseconds, real-time applications such as remote surgery, autonomous vehicles, and augmented reality (AR) have become viable and highly responsive. Ultra-low latency ensures virtually zero lag time in critical situations to enhance safety and reliability.
SA networks operate on dedicated 5G spectrum bands, which reduces interference and congestion, making them more reliable and less prone to data outages. This reliability is especially crucial for critical applications such as emergency services and industrial automation.
Compared to its predecessors, 5G SA brings a wealth of security to the table. The technology boasts advanced encryption and authentication mechanisms, safeguarding sensitive data from potential cyber threats. Moreover — with features like end-to-end encryption and network slicing — 5G standalone networks are ideal for enterprises that must protect sensitive data, such as financial institutions and healthcare organizations.
With robust security measures and dependable connections, 5G SA ensures a solid foundation for various sectors to thrive, but it comes with its own set of challenges.
To benefit most from an SA network, routers must have the latest chipset available and installed. These chipsets — primarily found in smartphones — enable access to the 5G bands that support URLLC, mMTC, and more. This is the biggest drawback in the context of enterprise SA applications, as many enterprise equipment options are still generations behind chipset capabilities. As manufacturers begin incorporating compatible chipsets, cellular service providers are also continuously working toward inline security enabled networks.
How 5G SA supports network slicing
When 5G routers support current chipsets, that’s where the magic happens. This means that the enterprise equipment can then support one of the biggest advantages of a 5G standalone network: network slicing.
5G network slicing is a network architecture that enables virtualized networks to operate on the same physical network infrastructure. The basic idea of network slicing is to "slice" the original architecture into multiple logical and independent networks. These sliced networks can then be configured to effectively meet various application needs and service requirements.
Each virtual slice aligns with the service categories of 5G — including eMBB, URLLC, and mMTC — and can also be customized to support public safety or other unique enterprise needs.
Applying 5G standalone networking
With the ability to provide guaranteed service-level agreements and quality of service on a 5G SA network, enterprise businesses are armed with the confidence to drop old MPLS connections and realize the true operational potential of fifth-generation wireless connectivity. This includes:
- Integration with edge computing to facilitate data-intensive applications across thousands or even hundreds of thousands of IoT devices.
- High-speed, low-latency connectivity that self-driving cars need to operate safely.
- High-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity for virtual and augmented reality applications and high-definition, real-time video conferencing to support remote collaboration, training, and customer support.
- Connectivity for industrial devices and machines that enables the use of advanced technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.
These are just a few examples of how enterprise businesses can use 5G standalone networks. Expect to see even more innovative and groundbreaking applications as the technology and its capabilities develop.