Operators in South Korea, Japan and China will be among the first ones in the world to launch commercial 5G networks of significant scale. For example, China is likely to have a pre-commercial 5G launch soon and 2020 is set to be the year for commercial rollout of the next generation mobile services. By then, it is expected that technologies and ecosystems will be fully ready and it will be the right timing for the full-fledged standalone (SA) mode of 5G.
The Chinese operators all aim to be the best in their network quality and the service they can offer, in which case SA mode has its advantages. By definition, SA mode means 5G radio built with 5G core networks, therefore it can realise all the new use cases the technologies have promised, including the two primary cases, vertical and ultra reliable low latency communications.
Despite the recent momentum of SA mode from Chinese and global operators, there are also quite a number of operators with preference for NSA mode. For some operators this decision is based on speed advantage, the ability to roll out 5G as soon as possible. For others this option is also heavily related to cost, as by definition, NSA mode is 5G radio with LTE core networks, therefore saving the cost of building out the 5G core network, at least at the initial stage. Some 5G use cases do not need end-to-end 5G coverage, and NSA mode will already be able to deliver good enough experience, taking examples of EMBB and OTT services. Also, ZTE believes that most operators starting with NSA mode will migrate to SA mode when the 5G technology and ecosystem are more mature and more cost efficient.
This November ZTE commented with Lightreading, they are happy and able to support whichever route to 5G its operator partners may choose, SA or NSA.
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