SK Telecom from South Korea is once again gaining on its home market, where many technological innovations take place. The operator claims that it successfully tested and used earlier this summer a standalone 5G terminal, base station and network core. Successful data transmission in a clean 5G network was initiated by Ericsson base stations and basic equipment as well as Qualcomm terminals, according to SK Telecom. The operator is not alien to early implementation - he previously submitted a claim to the world's first mobile 5G network based on standards in the market in December 2018. Like all currently available mobile 5G networks, SK Telecom operates on a non-autonomous core (NSA), which means that the operator relies on the 4G LTE core to support both generations of cellular technology. The operator claims it plans to commercialize 5G SA infrastructure in the first half of 2020. Together with other new features such as network cutting and mobile edge calculation (MEC). SK Telecom is not the only operator passing to the core of 5G SA, but it is one of the earliest and most advanced so far. Over the past few months, T-Mobile US has completed a 5G SA data session using multi-vendor equipment; Ericsson has developed 5G New Radio (NR) software, which operators will have to implement a clean 5G network; and Qualcomm and Ericsson initiated a 5G SA data connection test. Huawei, Nokia, ZTE and other suppliers and operators are also completing tests and switching to 5G SA implementations. Asia Leads Push to 5G Standalone "Basically, there is much more interest and involvement in the transition to SA in Asia, and I think it is motivated by a more aggressive focus on 5G, especially in South Korea and China," said Monica Paolini, founder and president of Senza Fili. She added that operators using only 5G in the millimeter wave spectrum (mmWave), which is largely the case in the United States so far, have little incentive to hurry to the core of 5G SA. "5G is good for marketing, SA not so why rush?" - said Paolini. "Due to all the advantages of SA, this will require significant work and a new approach to older networks." Some of the most advertised 5G benefits, such as network division, require SA, but in the near future it only makes sense for operators ready to implement slicing networks she added. Operators in "[the United States] and Europe will lag behind - I think in a year, maybe even longer. This may depend on how smooth and beneficial it is to switch to SA, ”Paolini explained. "It's hard to say who's ahead of us because some operators may be building their first 5G networks to get SA, while others are implementing NSA infrastructure to prepare the ground," said Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. "I don't think we have a good idea of what the landscape looks like by the end of 2020 or early 2021, especially since Apple is expected to release the iPhone 5G in the second half of 2020." Diverging paths to 5G This transition period also provides operators who did not press for early 5G networks to be able to switch directly to the 5G SA network and "make clear differences between 4G and 5G networks more marketable than current NSA networks," said Sag. In addition to the 5G SA architecture, including the 5G core, operators are also waiting for devices to support it, says Dave Bolan, senior analyst at Dell'Oro Group. He added that early devices supporting 5G SA may appear around mid-2020. In the meantime, operators can move to 5G SA to increase network coverage, especially since 5G NSA has not yet matched the coverage of 4G LTE networks, especially indoors, explained Bolan. Nevertheless, the 5G SA SK Telecom test and commercialization plans over the next nine months are a "significant development" because according to Sag SK Telecom is actively developing 5G SA, and not just talking about it. He explained that SK Telecom is also a value deviating from doubling the speed compared to the NSA and three-fold improvement in data processing efficiency. The development of the 5G SA network also prompted the Dell’Oro Group to adjust the forecast revenues from the 5G infrastructure upwards, according to Stefan Pongratz, vice president of the market research company. "In addition to improving dynamics with NR 5G, service providers are re-evaluating their basic 5G roadmaps, reflecting a more optimistic view of revenue-raising factors that stimulate a higher core investment ratio," he said.
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