5G technology promises game-changing mobile networks with super-fast speeds, ultra-low latency, and a whole host of exciting new applications.
But the rollout of 5G technology isn’t as simple as installing the new infrastructure and releasing compatible devices. There are many decisions for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to consider regarding 5G deployment. And one of the most important is Standalone (SA) vs Non-Standalone (NSA) architectures.
Radio Access Network and Core Network
Before we get into the difference between the two, we need a basic understanding of the main modules that make up mobile networks, notably the Radio Access Network (RAN) and core network.
The RAN is what connects your device to the network using radio signals. The RAN comprises base stations (or phone towers) and antennas covering a specific region.
While the RAN transfers information between the phone tower and a user’s device, the core network (sometimes referred to as the backbone network) provides the information. It is the core network that coordinates the RAN and provides access to the Internet.
SA Architecture Vs NSA Architecture
The difference between SA and NSA is that 5G SA is built on both 5G New Radio (NR) and a 5G core network; hence the name it is entirely “stand alone”. In comparison, 5G NSA uses 5G NR, but is built on top of the 4G core network.
While the use of NR offers higher bandwidth, it is the combination of NR and the 5G core found in SA that will offer the high throughput and low latency communication that will make a range of new applications possible.
The Benefits of Each
The utilisation of the existing 4G infrastructure dramatically reduces the cost and simplifies 5G rollout. The vast majority of 5G currently in use is NSA, and while it doesn’t offer SA performance it still improves bandwidth and boosts the capacity of mobile networks.
NSA is great for MNOs looking to deliver high-speed mobile networks now by leveraging the existing 4G infrastructure.
SA is 5G unchained from the limitations of the 4G infrastructure to offer super-fast network speeds alongside ultra-low latency. 5G SA is set to offer a range of benefits, including new enterprise 5G services such as smart cities. In addition, with a cloud-native 5G core, services can take advantage of advanced IoT, edge computing and network slicing.
Many MNOs, having released NSA infrastructure to-date, are now focusing on SA planning and deployment over the coming years to unlock the full potential of 5G.
Why 5G Requires Both SA and NSA Deployment
While there is considerable discussion about the pros and cons of the two different 5G architectures, it doesn’t come down to one or the other. Successful 5G deployment requires both SA and NSA.While 5G SA and the network performance it offers is the ultimate goal, it is currently limited to a small number of territories. However, NSA is offering improved network performance to many users right now.
Many MNOs see the advantage of investing in 5G NSA and migrating its functionality to the 5G core as it becomes more prevalent.