Thursday, 6 August 2020

What about 5G Network Architecture Option 4 (a.k.a. NE-DC) ?

You heard the news about Standalone (SA) 5G network(s)? T-Mobile USA announced this week that "T-Mobile is the first operator in the world to launch a commercial nationwide standalone 5G network". Nationwide is the key word here. Back in February, the Saudi operator STC announced that "stc - Kuwait first to launch 5G E2E SA network in MENA". We will see a lot more announcements about SA 5G this year.


I blogged in detail about the 5G Network Architecture options in this post earlier here. There we looked at the different options in details and typical migration path between the options. Whenever any operator / vendor talks about SA 5G today, they are talking about Option 2. That was back in 2018. Since then, many of the options have lost momentum.

As we all know, the current 5G networks are Non-Standalone or NSA. They are also known as Option 3 or EN-DC. The next evolution is Standalone of SA deployment. It is also known as Option 2. Right now, not many operators or vendors are talking about other options.



While some of the operators have toned down asking for Option 7 (NGEN-DC) & 4 (NE-DC) support, others haven't. Deutsche Telekom is one such operator.


In a webinar on the topic 'The Journey to Standalone 5G' back in March (available on demand here - for DT part, jump to 39 minutes point), Peter Stevens, Principal Engineer, Mobile Access, Deutsche Telekom UK discussed why DT views Option 4 as important for them. In fact if you look at the picture above, you see that they even refer to Option 4 as SA.


One of the motivations from RAN point of view is that because many UEs are not accepting low-low LTE-NR band combinations. So if an operator decided to go with nationwide SA, they have to make the cell sizes smaller than they have to be. This can create coverage gaps with 5G SA. Of course many of the newer features work far better with 5G core (5GC) so option 4 will provide speed benefits of Option 3 NSA without the limitations of 4G EPC.


Standalone without Option 4 can reduce data rates as you can see in the picture above and explained in another of our posts here.


Finally, this last picture summaries the alternatives to Option 4, Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) or fallback to NSA when 5GC services are not needed. As the slide says, neither of these options is considered a good mainstream alternative to Option 4.

Let me know your thoughts about this in the comments below.

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