Samsung, KT prepare for 5G SA with common core deployment in South Korea

Mobile operator KT is preparing for commercialization of 5G standalone (SA) with help from Samsung, deploying 5G SA and non-standalone (NSA) common core network in South Korea.

Samsung’s common core can support 5G SA and NSA modes, along with 4G at the same time, which the vendor said helps make easier to transition to standalone 5G, eventually nationwide. The deployment is a first in South Korea, where it’s initially set to run in KT’s mobile edge compute data centers across eight major cities.

KT didn’t set a launch date for a full commercial launch of SA 5G, but said it will align with availability of 5G SA-capable devices.   

Like most carriers, KT initially launched commercial 5G in NSA mode, which relies on an LTE anchor for signaling between user devices and the network. 5G standalone mode no longer does, and paves the way for introducing other advanced features.

Samsung called out KT’s adoption of its Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) solution in the network during the carrier’s early phases of commercializing 5G NSA.  

Samsung worked with KT early on in 5G so that standalone technologies could be delivered using its NSA infrastructure. The vendor pointed to CUPS as a way to introduce 5G SA services via software upgrades, without having to create a separate 5G SA core.

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“With this advantage, we are able to rapidly and easily deploy 5G SA and NSA common core in our MEC centers without additional core networks,” said Young-soo Seo, SVP and head of Network Research Technology Unit at KT Corporation, in a statement.

With CUPS, control and user plane functions are separated, and the architecture is a building block not unique to Samsung. 3GPP included CUPS in Release 14, saying in 2017 that it was set to be key core network feature for many operators.

The separation gives operators more flexibility with deployments, according to 3GPP, with the ability for control plane and user plane resources to be located and scaled independently, and without impacting existing nodes.

Deployed in KT’s MEC centers, Samsung’s common core brings services closer to end-users, providing low-latency and decreased mobile battery consumption for consumers.

RELATED: T-Mobile launches nationwide 5G standalone network

It also has implications for enterprises, which can opt for either SA and/or NSA networks to scale business-specific services.

According to Samsung, the common core is a key network design principle for the 3GPP-based 5G core strategy, where various access technologies like LTE and NR (and non-3GPP access like Wi-Fi or fixed broadband) can be integrated through a common interface. That falls alongside the vendor’s other key components of network slicing, automation, and cloud-native.

In the U.S., T-Mobile is the only operator to launch a nationwide 5G SA network, with each Verizon and AT&T expecting to commercialize or scale in 2021.

With a shift to SA, operators can eventually introduce new services and advanced features, such as network slicing.

Network slicing often gets attention as a way to monetize 5G by allowing operators to offer specialized services with the ability to essentially divvy up or section off ‘slices’ of the network to allocate different resources for applications or customers based on need. If an enterprise application, for example, requires a high level of reliability and therefore needs certain quality of service elements or other network resources specific to that use.