By Jatin Grover
Telecom equipment maker Ericsson believes that the Indian telecom companies will be forced to switch to standalone mode of deploying 5G network over time because of the growing use cases of 5G technology.
“Let’s say five years into the future, there can potentially be some services that works only on the standalone technology which could push the telecom operators towards this,” Magnus Ewerbring, chief technology officer for Asia-Pacific region at Ericsson, told FE.
The key difference between the two technologies is that in the non-standalone mode, 5G technology is deployed on top of 4G network which means that the devices use existing 4G network for functions such as initiating calls and setting up initial connections, while 5G technology is used for faster data transfers.
A non-standalone mode, though, is cost effective but lacks advanced 5G features such as ultra-fast connections which are required by enterprises. In case of the standalone mode, the 5G network deployed is independent of the 4G network.
For Ericsson, India is one of the top markets in terms of business opportunity. The telecom gear maker has tied up with telecom operators to rollout 5G network in the country.
Ericsson is working on both standalone and non-standalone technologies, everywhere in the world. The choice of the architecture depends on the techno-commercial strategy of the operator. The gear maker said that both solutions are stable and very much connected to what the operators want to offer in the market.
“With standalone approach, you (an operator) can enable faster content response time (for users), less interrupt time between technologies etc,” Ewerbring said. Barring Reliance Jio, telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are following non-standalone approach to launch 5G services in the country because of the much more evolved ecosystem.
Lately, the top two telecom operators in the country were seen criticising each other for their choice of architecture to deploy 5G.
There is a well-developed ecosystem of non-standalone 5G and that all devices work in this mode. In comparison, the standalone 5G architecture doesn’t have a developed ecosystem, Gopal Vittal, managing director and chief executive officer of Bharti Airtel had said in the post-results earnings call with analysts in August.
Vittal had even called Reliance Jio’s purchase of 700 MHz band ‘highly expensive’ without any added advantage. “All it (700 MHz band) does is to provide coverage at the edge, deep indoors, and in far-flung areas, and it gives you 4G-like speeds, nothing more,” he had said during the call.
Spectrum in the 700 MHz band was essential for Reliance Jio to rollout 5G services on a standalone basis.
In counter, Reliance Jio parent company Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani had said that the non-standalone mode would not deliver optimum 5G experience to the users. “The non-standalone approach is a hasty way to nominally claim a 5G launch, but it won’t deliver the breakthrough improvements in performance and capability possible with 5G,” Ambani had said at the 45th annual general meeting of the company in August.
According to Ewerbring, 5G technology would be relevant for the longest time and at some point 4G will start to decay and at that time standalone technologies would be the key driver.
On the growing trend of open radio access network or Open RAN technology, Ewerbring said that technology will bring more dependencies with the involvement of different vendors, which could lead to a compromise on the technology.
Open RAN technologies involves use of technology and equipments from multiple vendors while deploying telecom network. Such technologies are expected to help the telecom companies save network equipment costs.
Ewerbring believes that the ecosystem for open technologies will take time to develop. At a time when telecom companies are targeting the complete rollout of 5G by next year, they should choose a robust and safer way like that provided by like Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung, rather than going for an explorative way like open technologies, he said.