What is 5G Standalone: Is it Different from 5G Non-Standalone?

Picture of John Gieske

John Gieske

Principal Engineer - LTE / 5G
Network infrastructure

Most of us are already using 5G or the fifth generation of mobile connectivity. It represents a significant upgrade from its predecessor, 4G. It is also lovable for its faster data speed, lower latency, and capacity. 

However, two things appear when we talk about 5G network: standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA). In this blog, I will explain “What is 5G standalone or non-standalone?” 

Well, 4G to 5G transition involves a critical intermediate step known as 5G NSA. In this network, the 5G networks are built on the existing 4G LTE infrastructure. Through this, the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) leverage their existing network investments. 

Alternatively, SA represents the full realization of 5G capabilities. It involves a new end-to-end 5G network including 5G New Radio (NR) and 5G Core network.  This setup allows the network to leverage all the advanced features of 5G, like network slicing and ultra-reliable low-latency communication.

Want to know more? Continue reading, please!

5G Standalone (SA) Architecture

This network involves a completely new core architecture – transitioning the control plane over to the 5G core. Likewise, this core is built on a cloud-based platform that sets it apart from other telecommunication technologies.

Standalone technology allows 5G to reach its full potential with high speeds, low latency, and high bandwidth. In this way, it saves money for carriers and enhances user performance. As of now, approximately 35 service providers have introduced or set up standalone networks.

5G Standalone Architecture

Compatibility

Standalone 5G is compatible with various devices and applications. It powers multiple new technological innovations like mmWave, Sub-6 GHz, Low-band, and Beamforming. In this way, it delivers faster data transfer and broader network coverage.

Performance

If we compare 5G SA with NSA in performance context, you will love the prior one. The reasons are that it offers lower latency, higher data rates, and improved energy efficiency due the use of 5G RAN and a cloud-native 5G core, like I said earlier. 

Hence, the simplification and improved efficiency lowers costs and enhance performance up to the edge of the network. With its ultra-low latency of 1 millisecond, it promises near-instantaneous data delivery. 

Applications

Lots of 5G standalone applications and use cases are feasible in global scenarios. 

For instance, if you think about the automotive industry, the collab between telecom companies and manufacturers can bring brilliant results. This industry can experience particularly, the development of vehicle-to-everything (5G C-V2X) applications. They may include real-time situational awareness, seamless over-the-air software updates, and cooperation between vehicles during emergencies. 

The standalone 5G can reduce the collisions between pedestrians and vehicles. In my view, the collaboration between SoftBank and Honda is a perfect example of it. 

Those startups competing to get a stand in the market can also apply 5G standalone networks throughout their business. Through this, they can develop pioneering new apps for consumers and industries. 

In the gaming industry, 5G SA offers an enriched experience with HD live streaming, cloud gaming, and ultra-low latency. It means gaming will not be restricted to devices with high computing power. 

The implementation of 5G SA in the healthcare industry can lead to significant advancements. It can happen due to the high data rate, better QoS, low latency, and high reliability of the 5G network. 

In the Internet of Things (IoT) sector, standalone can contribute to the connections of billions of smart devices. The benefactors can interact and share data independently if such 5G standalone integration happens. 

The Benefits of 5G Standalone (SA)

Certainly, the framework of a network plays a vital role in the smooth operation of any organization, facilitating communication, data sharing, and overall business processes. While managing it, you may face multiple complexities.

Enhanced Performance

SA provides superior performance in terms of speed, latency, and reliability. It offers a peak data rate of up to 20 Gbps, which is 20 times faster than 4G. Moreover, it provides ultra-low latency of 1 millisecond. It is crucial for real-time applications like online gaming and autonomous driving.

Network Slicing

Operators can create multiple virtual networks using network slicing on a single physical network infrastructure. And 5G standalone is great for this. Each sliced network can serve the needs of different apps or services. In this way, SA ensures better network optimization and performance. 

Improved Device Density

5G SA is designed to support a much higher density of devices than previous generations. It can support up to 1 million devices within a square kilometer. In this sense, it is ideal for Internet of Things (IoT) applications with a large number of connected devices.

Energy Efficiency

It reduces operating costs for network operators and extends the battery life of 5G devices. It is beneficial in IoT scenarios where many devices are battery-powered. 

Enabling New Applications and Services

Standalone can enable a host of new applications and services that were not possible with previous generations. These include real-time automation in industries, autonomous vehicles, remote healthcare, and immersive entertainment experiences. 

Simplified Network Architecture

It offers a simplified network architecture than 5G NSA. It eliminates the complexity of dual connectivity and the need to maintain backward compatibility with older technologies.

Let’s talk about some benefits or use cases of 5G SA. Different businesses or mobile network operators (MNOs) can apply this network for these benefits:

Key Benefits of 5g SA for Consumers and Businesses

Benefits for Consumers

Benefits for Businesses

Improved reliability
Network slicing
More responsive networks
Smart manufacturing
Lower latency
IoT-driven innovation
Less battery drain
Greater customer service satisfaction
Improved 5G coverage

Enabling both a private and business profile 

Stronger indoor signals

Next-gen security software

Better security 

Generate more revenues

What is 5G Non-Standalone (NSA)?

Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G is a transitional technology. It combines existing 4G LTE infrastructure with a 5G Radio Access Network (RAN). Hence, it serves as a necessary step in the 5G global transition. It has been the primary way most of the world has experienced 5G on their devices, particularly from 2019. 

What is 5G Non-Standalone

5G Non-Standalone (NSA) Architecture

Unlike 5G SA, the NSA involves the coupling of 5G radios with a 4G LTE Evolved Packet Core (EPC). This EPC handles the control functions, and 5G radios manage the user plane data. Hence, this setup allows for a faster rollout of 5G services. It may take less time to transition to completely independent 5G networks (SA) using existing network assets. 

5G Non-Standalone Architecture

Compatibility 

5G NSA is compatible with existing 4G LTE networks. So, it is generally compatible with most modern mobile networks. It also allows for a smooth transition to 5G. Smartphones, tabs, and other devices with components like 5G-capable modems and antennas can connect to this network. 

Performance

Certainly, 5G non-standalone provides improved performance over 4G. But it cannot exploit the 5G potential fully as it rely on the 4G core. In simple words, it offers enhanced mobile broadband. But it cannot deliver the same level of low latency or reliability as a 5G SA deployment. 

Applications

5G NSA can enable enhanced mobile broadband applications. It provides more speed over 4G. However, it is limited in its ability to support applications that require the full range of 5G capabilities (like URLLC and mMTC). Some notable use cases for non-standalone 5G networks are video streaming and conferencing, cloud and mobile gaming, and large file downloads.

MNOs can save money and time by deploying 5G non-standalone networks. It eliminates the need to build fully new networks like 5G standalone. Hence, the applications will be almost same as 5G SA. It is because NSA has some limitations. For instance, it provides limited mmTC and uRLLC support that is more in standalone.

Keeping these things in mind, NSA can provide enhanced IoT connectivity, more than 4G but its capacity is constrained by the 4G infrastructure. In sensor networks and remote monitoring, this network can help in real-time data collection from sensors. Similarly, it supports some remote control applications and industrial automation. But depending on 4G architecture, it may not perform well as 5G SA applications.

Major Differences: 5g Standalone vs. Non-Standalone

In this part, you can learn about the differences between these two types of 5G networks.

Challenges in Implementing 5G Standalone

If you want to implement 5G Standalone (SA), you may keep several things in your mind for a successful deployment. 

Challenges

Explanations

Technical
  • Needs fully new core network (5G NR and 5G Core)
  • Needs new network infrastructure and equipment
Financial
  • High costs for deployment and development
  • Expenses may include network management costs 
Regulatory
  • MNOs need to follow the local regulatory requirements (licenses, safety, security, and compatibility)

Operational

  • Managing and maintaining the new network architecture to ensure reliability and performancet

Is 5G SA Better than 5G NSA? 

Till now, I have explained everything about two distinct paths of 5G. But you may ask which one is better, SA or NSA? Let’s figure it out!

If you think about NSA, the existing 4G infrastructure supports them with the 4G LTE-based core and 5G radio antennas. But, in the case of SA, it uses a dedicated 5G core. It unlocks capabilities like faster upload speeds and ultra-low latency. You can prefer standalone 5G if your priority is better performance without thinking about costs and relevant challenges.

Standalone 5G architecture simplifies planning and execution by using a single radio access technology (RAT). It enables faster access to the spectrum. Moreover, non-standalone offers enhanced smartphone experiences worldwide. Still, many key innovations require the presence of 5G standalone networks.

Standalone is also better if you think about applications nowadays. The newly invented devices require lower latency, higher speeds, and reliable networks, which SA can provide. However the limitations of non-standalone for the dependency on existing 4G infrastructure, these facilities may appear indistinct. Yet, in terms of saving money and ease of management, 5G NSA is the winner.

Nybsys – Your 5G SA and NSA Partner

Did you like the discussion – what is 5G standalone? I hope you have learned new things. Now, we invite you to Nybsys as a leading provider of 5G core network solutions. We offer both 5G SA and NSA deployments.

Our prime focus is on delivering high-performance, reliable, and cost-effective 5G solutions. You can get these relevant services from us:

  • 5G core at edge
  • 5G core at hybrid
  • 5G core at cloud

Nybsys 5G Core provides rapid data transfer, adaptability, and low energy consumption. It allows for the addition of capacity and reach using Wi-Fi and CBRS, even with licensed spectrum constraints. 

The solution is easy to deploy and 3GPP compliant. It also offers vendor-agnostic interoperability, helping you avoid vendor lock-in and enjoy enhanced flexibility. 

Request a demo today for any 5G queries. Thank you very much! 

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