Expectations were high for a surge in 5G Standalone (5G SA) deployments in 2023, yet the first half of the year saw only seven materialise.
30 deployments are listed by STL Partners as “in progress” on their tracker. In a report, the telecoms research firm examined the likelihood of these deployments occurring within 2023 and whether 5G SA remains a critical priority.
Previously, experts predicted a significant uptick in 5G SA core deployments in 2022, but the reality fell short.
Despite 21 launches of 5G NSA/SA converged – or pure 5G SA cores – in 2022 (compared to 18 in 2021), the January 2023 update of deployment tracking shifted all the outstanding 2022 deployments to the following year.
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: A cause for doubt?
With 30 pending 5G SA launches still on the horizon for 2023, questions arise about their feasibility in the remaining six months. It’s uncertain whether they will transpire as projected or potentially be delayed over the next several years or even scrapped altogether.
A report from September 2022, titled ‘5G standalone (SA) core: Why and how telcos should keep going,’ highlights reasons for the sluggish 5G SA adoption:
- Investment challenges: 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.
- Cloud partnerships: Many operators are strategizing their partnerships with hyperscale cloud providers, particularly related to using public cloud as a 5G SA infrastructure platform and how hyperscalers can accelerate SA network coverage.
- Competing investment priorities: Leading operators invested in open RAN and fibre rollout projects, potentially leading to delays in 5G SA deployments due to conflicting investment priorities.
- Organisational evolution: To fully harness 5G SA’s benefits, telcos must undergo organisational changes to support cloud practices and operations, which is a gradual process.
APAC leading the way
Although deployment progress has been slow 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.
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