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The March of 5G Standalone Deployments

As we navigate the technological landscape of 2023, the buzz around 5G Standalone (5G SA) deployments continues to reverberate. However, the reality of these deployments has not quite lived up to the hype. Despite high expectations for a surge in 5G SA deployments this year, the first half of 2023 has seen only seven materialise, with 30 more listed as "in progress" by STL Partners on their tracker.

The telecoms research firm has been closely examining the likelihood of these deployments occurring within 2023 and whether 5G SA remains a critical priority. The reality of 5G SA core deployments in 2022 fell short of expert predictions, with only 21 launches of 5G NSA/SA converged – or pure 5G SA cores – compared to 18 in 2021.

As we reach the mid-point of 2023, only seven 5G SA core deployments have taken place. These include Reliance Jio in India, E& in the UAE, Vodafone in the UK, and Orange in Spain. The remaining 30 deployments are still on the horizon for 2023, but questions arise about their feasibility in the remaining six months.

The sluggish adoption of 5G SA can be attributed to several factors. The significant investment required for 5G SA lacks a clear ROI in some markets due to the absence of emerging use cases that exploit 5G SA’s capabilities in terms of latency, bandwidth, and connections. Many operators are strategising their partnerships with hyperscale cloud providers, particularly related to using public cloud as a 5G SA infrastructure platform and how hyperscale’s can accelerate SA network coverage.

Leading operators have also invested in open RAN and fibre rollout projects, potentially leading to delays in 5G SA deployments due to conflicting investment priorities. To fully harness 5G SA’s benefits, telcos must undergo organisational changes to support cloud practices and operations, which is a gradual process.

Despite the slow progress in some regions, Asia-Pacific (APAC) stands out with 31 deployments of 5G SA cores. These deployments – driven by leading operators in China, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan – are anchored in consumer-centric use cases like gaming, AR/VR, content streaming, and industrial IoT applications.

State support, robust consumer interest, the promise of premium services and local ecosystems of device manufacturers and app developers have been key drivers behind these deployments. As the world continues to grapple with the rollout of 5G SA, the focus shifts to the second half of 2023 to gauge whether the anticipated deployments will finally see the light of day and whether 5G SA’s significance will remain unshaken.

The journey of 5G SA deployments is a fascinating one, filled with anticipation, challenges, and opportunities. As we move forward, it will be interesting to see how this narrative unfolds and what it means for the future of telecommunications.

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