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5G Non-Standalone and 5G Standalone

What is 5G non-standalone

5G non-standalone (NSA) refers to the initial deployment mode of 5G networks where the new 5G radio access technology is added on top of existing 4G LTE infrastructure. In this deployment mode, 5G networks primarily rely on the existing LTE core network for essential functions like authentication, security, and session management.

While NSA deployment brings some of the benefits of 5G, it may not realise the full potential of the technology. True 5G is 5G standalone which will be phase 2 for the majority of communication service providers.

What is 5G standalone

5G standalone (SA) refers to a full, independent deployment of 5G networks that does not rely on existing 4G LTE infrastructure for connectivity and core network functions. In an SA deployment, all network elements, including radio access, core network, and management functions, are based on 5G specifications, allowing for the full realization of the capabilities and benefits of 5G technology.

Key benefits of 5G standalone deployment include:

1. End-to-End 5G Capabilities: SA enables the complete suite of 5G features, including enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC), and massive machine-type communication (mMTC). This unlocks the potential for a wide range of transformative use cases across industries such as virtual reality, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities.

2. Network Slicing: SA networks support network slicing, which allows for the creation of multiple virtualized networks within a single physical infrastructure. This capability enables tailored network services with specific quality of service (QoS) parameters to meet diverse requirements for different applications and services.

3. Reduced Latency: SA architecture significantly reduces latency compared to non-standalone deployments, enabling real-time interactions and mission-critical applications that demand ultra-low latency, such as remote control of industrial machinery or telemedicine.

4. Enhanced Security and Privacy: With SA, 5G security features are fully deployed, providing enhanced protection against cyber threats and ensuring the privacy and integrity of user data and network operations.

5. Expanded IoT Connectivity: SA networks support massive machine-type communication, enabling the connection of a vast number of IoT devices with diverse requirements, from low-power, low-data-rate sensors to high-bandwidth, low-latency applications.

6. Future-Proof Infrastructure: By deploying 5G networks in standalone mode, operators can future-proof their infrastructure and prepare for the next generation of digital services and applications, enabling them to stay competitive and meet evolving consumer and enterprise demands.

Overall, 5G standalone deployment represents a significant leap forward in terms of network capabilities and opens up opportunities for innovation, efficiency, and new business models across various industries.

Figure 1 - Non-Standalone  (option 3)

Figure 2 - Standalone (option 2)

Lets get technical - deployment options

5G can be deployed in five different deployment options, where SA (standalone) options consist of only one generation of radio access technology and NSA options consist of two generations of radio access technologies (4G LTE and 5G).


The early deployments will be adopting either nonstandalone option 3 or standalone option 2 as the standardisation of these two options have already been completed. 

What is Option 3 and Option 2 deployment methods - 

5G non-standalone option 3 <figure 1> is where radio access network is composed of eNBs (eNode Bs) as the master node and gNBs (gNode Bs) as the secondary node (see left side of digram above). The radio access network is connected to EPC (Evolved Packet Core). The NSA option 3, as it leverages existing 4G deployment, can be brought to market quickly with minor modification to the 4G network. This option also supports legacy 4G devices and the 5G devices only need to support NR (New Radio) protocols so device can also be developed quickly. On the other hand, NSA option 3 does not introduce 5GC and therefore may not be optimised for new 5G use cases beyond mobile broadband. 


5G standalone option 2 <figure 2> is where radio access network consists of only gNBs (gNode Bs) and connects to 5GC (5G Core), and the 5GC interworks with EPC (see right side of figure 2). SA option 2 has no impact on LTE radio and can fully support all 5G use cases by enabling network slicing via cloud native service-based architecture. On the other hand, this option requires both NR and 5GC, making time-to-market slower and deployment cost higher than that of NSA option 3. Furthermore, the devices would need to support NR and core network protocols so it would take more time to develop devices. Finally, as the standalone 5G System would need to interwork with EPC to ensure service continuity depending on coverage, the interworking between EPC and 5GC may be necessary.

5G standalone deployment provides new enhanced features such as network slicing, ultra-low latency, security and service assurance enabling industry 4.0

Source - GSMA

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