Vodafone boasts 5G SA prowess with advanced 5G uplink test

Vodafone hailed a successful test of advanced 5G uplink technology, and made use of the occasion to trumpet its own “pioneering” rollout of standalone (SA) 5G networks, with launches in two markets already under its belt and pilots underway in other markets.

Vodafone teamed up with Qualcomm Technologies and Xiaomi to show how 5G SA networks will enable much faster upload speeds when new smartphones and devices are launched later in 2024.

Describing it as the first European technical test of a technology called Uplink Carrier Aggregation with Tx Switching, the three partners said they achieved peak upload speeds of 273 Mbps. The test combined Vodafone’s 5G SA networks in Germany and Spain with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 Mobile Platform from Qualcomm and the next Xiaomi flagship smartphone.

As noted by Vodafone, most of today’s smartphones and home broadband services are capable of an average upload speed of 100 Mbps. “The enhanced 5G technology raises upload speeds closer to download levels whilst also extending coverage and increasing capacity,” the operator said.

Better uplink capabilities, Vodafone added, will enable customers to upload photos, videos and files “at almost double the speed possible today when next generation devices arrive later this year. This is important to meet the growing demand for cloud storage, video streaming, augmented and virtual reality applications and multi-player gaming.”

Uplink Carrier Aggregation with Tx Switching combines multiple transmission channels supported by the smartphone and the mobile antenna. According to Vodafone, the new technique is “made possible using the advanced capabilities of 5G SA,” which it has so far launched commercially in Germany and the United Kingdom.

It now plans to “progressively” update sites to support Uplink Carrier Aggregation with Tx Switching as new devices become available.

Vodafone did not provide further details on the new devices it expects to see in 2024. However, one notable development this year will be the arrival of 5G-Advanced in 3GPP Release 18, which among other features will benefit services that focus on uplink communication.

Qualcomm has already been readying for this next phase of 5G with its 5G-advanced ready chipset, the Snapdragon X75. The chip is based on the 3GPP Release 17 standard but will work with 3GPP Release 18. 

In October, the mobile technology group then unveiled the next-generation Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 mobile platform that comes equipped with the Snapdragon X75. The first devices to use Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 are the Xiaomi 14 and Xiaomi 14 Pro, followed by the OnePlus 12, the Samsung Galaxy S24, the Honor Magic 6 series, the Realme GT, with more to come.

5G SA: a small but growing cohort

As for 5G SA, Vodafone markets its 5G SA networks under 5G Ultra in the UK and 5G+ in Germany. At a global level, it’s still fair to say that the number of commercially launched standalone networks remains relatively small.

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.

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.