Verizon’s SA rollout will be multi-year effort

While the standalone (SA) version of 5G New Radio (NR) offers the ability to do snazzy new things like network slicing, it’s going to take time for U.S. operators to get to that stage, with Verizon’s VP or Technology Heidi Hemmer saying it will be a multi-year effort.

Right now, U.S. operators are offering 5G based on the non-standalone (NSA) version of the 5G NR standard, which relies on the LTE core.

Standalone refers to the 5G core, and “that’s going to be a multi-year transition from where we are today,” where Verizon is using 4G LTE anchor sites and the 4G core, she told FierceWirelessTech.

Going to the SA mode will allow the operator to offer additional products and services, but the RF experience won’t change. Plus, the ecosystem for SA mode needs to develop, such as handsets.

Hemmer did not say whether Verizon would first roll out SA in venues like stadiums, but the operator already is planning to use NSA 5G to offer novel services in NFL and other stadiums. 

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In a report earlier this month, Signals Research Group (SRG) President Michael Thelander said a strong case could be made for Verizon to leverage the SA network architectures in venues, such as U.S. Bank Stadium, where SRG found the 5G coverage to be near ubiquitous.

“We don’t have any insight into how (or when) Verizon will deploy SA, but we don’t see why it needs to wait for near-ubiquitous 5G coverage in downtown Minneapolis and the surrounding area when it already has ample 5G coverage within the stadium. With SA, the operator could offer new and compelling applications within the venue that enhance the fan experience, and which generate additional revenue for the operator, the NFL and the Vikings,” the report said.

Much has been made about the relative competitiveness of various countries’ 5G strategies and who’s ahead and behind, the report noted, with a lot of finger pointing, especially toward China. There’s an assumed competitive advantage they have over the United States because operators in China have access to virgin mid-band spectrum and they’re using it to build out nationwide 5G networks.

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“While true, and we can’t downplay the importance of spectrum in a country’s 5G ambitions, the simultaneous adoption of SA is HUGE! Without SA, the operators would be limited to LTE-like applications and services. Yes, they might run a bit faster and there might be a bit more capacity on a 5G network than on an LTE network, but the benefits would be incremental, and not revolutionary.”

“U.S. operators will have near ubiquitous nationwide 5G coverage in the next year with DSS [dynamic spectrum sharing], but it won’t do them much good, other than giving them the right to display a 5G icon on the smartphone,” the report added. “Only time will tell, but we wager those countries whose operators first adopt SA will have the clear competitive advantage when it comes to 5G.”

DSS this year

Verizon does plan this year to introduce DSS, which allows it to share the spectrum it uses for 4G with 5G. With its current 5G strategy, Verizon plans to cover half of the U.S. by the end of 2020. With DSS, it can use the same spectrum it uses for 4G LTE—which includes 700, 850 and 1900 MHz—for both 4G and 5G services as demand warrants.

RELATED: Verizon gears up for DSS launch next year

“We believe that that [DSS] is the best way for us to provide the best overall network experience for all our customers, whether they continue to be on 4G or they buy a 5G device and are on 5G because we will be able to balance the spectrum where it’s most needed,” Hemmer said.