Three Ireland launches 5G standalone with Ericsson

Three Ireland became the latest operator to launch a 5G standalone (SA) service in collaboration with Ericsson, although the technology will initially only be available on a trial basis to select corporate customers.

The CK Hutchison-owned operator nevertheless claims to have achieved a first in Ireland, beating both former state incumbent Eir and Vodafone Ireland to the 5G SA post.

Vodafone might beg to differ, as it has been offering 5G SA-based mobile private networks (MPN) to enterprise customers since 2021, also with Ericsson. In August this year, Ericsson and Vodafone Ireland partnered to install a 5G SA MPN for the Irish rugby team ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in September.

However, Three Ireland emphasized that it is offering 5G SA capabilities on a public network for the first time in Ireland. It also said it has partnered with Technological University Shannon (TUS) to trial 5G SA technology and begin “showcasing its capabilities in real-life scenarios.”

2023 saw more 5G SA launches, but far from a deluge

Three Ireland also joins a slowly expanding cohort of mobile network operators (MNOs) that have launched or are about to launch 5G SA, many of which on a fully commercial basis. 

Recent announcements have come from Deutsche Telekom, which confirmed it will deploy the technology in 2024. It is the last of the three incumbent German MNOs to launch 5G SA since rival operators Telefónica Deutschland (O2 Germany) and Vodafone Germany have already deployed the technology for businesses and consumers.

O2 Germany started offering 5G SA services in October, while Vodafone Germany launched 5G SA services to the wider market under the 5G+ moniker in March 2022.

Over in the U.K., Vodafone UK this year became the first of the nation’s four MNOs to provide 5G SA. At the time, Vodafone UK’s Chief Network Officer Andrea Dona said the operator had been working with Ericsson to build the 5G SA core.

However, it remains the case that 5G SA networks are relatively thin on the ground at a global level, certainly when it comes to public as opposed to private 5G networks.

The recent edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report observed that an increasing number of operators are deploying 5G SA, although it counted only around 40 5G SA launches in public networks to date.

According to a November 2023 update from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), 43 operators have deployed, launched or soft-launched 5G SA networks. Dell’Oro puts the number at 45 as of the third quarter of 2023.

Not all MNOs feel ready to embrace what is a much more complicated technology. As explained by Joe Russo, EVP and president of Verizon’s Global Networks and Technology group, he wanted to make sure 5G SA would really benefit customers before deploying the technology.

Part of that is having enough compatible devices, mainly smartphones, in customers’ hands that can take advantage of 5G SA. Another piece of the puzzle is making sure that whenever there are interactions between the 4G LTE and 5G networks, customers get the same voice quality, handoffs and availability that add up to five 9s reliability.

In a recent update on the mobile core network market, Dell’Oro Research Director Dave Bolan commented that after five years into the 5G era, “we are still seeing more 5G non-standalone (5G NSA) networks being launched than 5G SA, and the pace of 5G SA networks has slowed from 17 launched in 2022 to only seven so far in 2023.”

However, Bolan said Dell’Oro expects more 5G SA networks to be deployed in 2024 than in 2023. He also noted that Ericsson is the vendor of record for the 5G packet core for all seven 5G SA networks launched in 2023.