A big telecom transformation is on the way, and the preparation for 5G has already begun. The impact of 5G creates over a $12 trillion market opportunity for Mobile Network Operators (MNO), as per The 5G Economy.

For mobile operator networks, choosing to adopt 5G technology is all about offering high-speed connectivity to their customers on devices that support fifth-generation network services.

To make the transition from traditional legacy core to 5G smooth, MNOs have two different options:

  • Non-Standalone Architecture (NSA)
  • Standalone Architecture (SA)

While both options serve the same purpose, they are different in terms of architecture, as well as functionality.

What is 5G Non-Standalone Architecture (NSA)?

Non-standalone architecture is a solution that allows Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to use their existing network & communication infrastructure and mobile core, rather than deploying an entirely new core for 5G.

MNOs can deploy 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) which they can support via their existing Evolved Packet Core (EPC), hence lowering capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operational expenditure (OPEX).

To reduce the network operating costs further, MNOs can incorporate the virtualization of Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN).

Following the above steps, in the beginning, will open new 5G revenue streams for mobile network operators and allow them to offer faster data speeds.

What is 5G Standalone Architecture (SA)?

On the contrary to NSA, 5G Standalone Architecture is a solution for deploying a completely new core architecture defined by 3GPP. It requires mobile network operators (MNOs) to implement new changes, including Service-Based Architecture (SBA) and functional disintegration of different network functions.

Though this architecture comes with the lucrative benefit of end-to-end high speed and full-service assurance, it also means additional infrastructure costs and complexities of running and managing multiple cores in the network.

Thus, you can conclude that while 5G NSA uses a new RAN which works alongside the 4G or LTE radio with the existing 4G Core or EPC, 5G SA requires you to include a new radio and also the 5G Core (5GC). Plus, 5G SA also requires the development of fully virtualized cloud-native architecture (CNA) that will further help you develop, deploy, and manage 5G services.

What is 5GC???

5G Core (5GC) allows you to enjoy the high throughput for expedited performance that is more than from what the 5G network demands. Besides, the use of virtualized SBA makes it possible to implement and deploy complete 5G software network functions.

What is the difference between 5G NSA and 5G SA?

Even though both architectures have the same target - to provide high-speed data, they are entirely different in terms of how they are built and how they function.

5G Non-Standalone Architecture (NSA) vs. 5G Standalone Architecture (SA)

5G Non-Standalone Architecture

  • The Network Radio (NR) of NSA 5G is the primitive version of SA 5G Network Radio. With NSA NR, 5G networks are supported by the existing LTE infrastructure.
  • It basically focuses on enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), where devices that support 5G use mmWave frequencies for enhanced data capacity but utilize the existing 4G infrastructure for voice communication.
  • This architecture allows businesses to launch 5G quickly with a limited budget and infrastructural changes and provides them a competitive edge over other mobile network operators.
  • It empowers MNOs to take advantage of the existing LTE/VoLTE infrastructure and increase capacity while delivering higher efficiency.
  • It doesn’t support network slicing, ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC), and machine-type communications (mMTC); however, its higher broadband speeds will allow users to enjoy video streaming, augmented reality, virtual reality, and immersive media experiences.

5G Standalone Architecture

  • SA 5G uses cutting-edge Network Radio (NR) that uses enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB). Plus, its NR also uses ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC) and enormous machine-type communications (mMTC) to ensure higher multi-gigabit data rates, improved efficiency, and lower costs.
  • It is built on the foundation of creating a whole new 5G Core infrastructure that will support 5th generation network services dedicated for only 5G devices and high-quality communication.
  • The NR of SA 5G features a new end-to-end architecture that will use mm-Waves and sub-GHz frequencies. It does not use the existing 4G LTE infrastructure, and hence the upfront cost of implementing 5G SA can be very high.
  • The high level of reliability and latency that 5G SA offers is necessary for handling demanding devices like smart-grid control machines, robotics, drone control, and industrial automation.
  • It supports advanced operations, like Network Slicing, URLLC, and mMTC to ensure ultra-low latency and also reinforces a wide range of next-gen use cases like remote control of critical infrastructure, self-driving vehicles, and more.

Mobile Network Operators that are trying to make their customers happy with 5G services at the earliest are typically focusing on NSA deployments for now. The non-standalone architecture will help them compete to deliver 5G speeds without making huge investments and wasting any time. However, most of these MNOs will gradually move to 5G SA. Thus, while NSA deployment makes a good choice for now when SA-based architecture is still in its fledgling state, SA deployment will make a smart choice in the future when 5G will become widespread.

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