37 per cent of mobile operators say they will begin deploying 5G standalone (SA) within the next two years, according to a new worldwide survey of 41 mobile operators released today by Enea. The report reveals how operators are addressing 5G architecture, edge deployment, and a network data layer.

The survey shows that 27 per cent of operators will deploy 5G SA within 12-18 months with a further 10 per cent within 24 months. With the maturity of 3GPP standards, such as the Release 16 freeze in March 2020, operators now see a clear path to 5G SA infrastructure. The overall timeline is supported by a total of 49 per cent of operators who plan to deploy 5G SA within the next four years.

Analysis shows that operators choose different strategies when it comes to the edge. 85 per cent of operators are planning edge deployments at some point, but more than half of the operators in the survey have no strategy for doing so. 32 per cent are going only with limited, specific use cases such as smart factories, smart cities, or retail, while others are holding off until the business case for edge deployment becomes more viable.

The survey also includes a section about the network data layer which serves as single point of storage for all data about subscriptions, network services, devices, and connections in a 5G network. Responses show that more than 50 percent of operators plan to move to a common network data layer across their network functions as they roll out 5G. Only 2 per cent choose to keep vendor specific data storage, indicating that the time has come to make architectural choices.

Commenting on the development, Sue Rudd, Director, Networks and Service Platforms, Strategy Analytics, said, “Operators are beginning to firm up plans for how they will implement flexible, multi-vendor service architectures that enable them to deploy and monetise their 5G networks and differentiate their services. The survey indicates that several operators have figured out how to deploy SA in the next couple of years. This could be as ‘islands’ of 5G radio access with a 5G SA core for special services, starting late 2021.”

Operators in the survey also listed the most important factors for choosing a network data layer. The top three are: gaining a unified view of customer data, the ability to deploy in slices or at the edge, and the ability to monetise subscriber data.

Meanwhile, Jan Häglund, President and CEO at Enea, said, “We’ve now entered a phase where operators plan to deploy a 5G SA core as the next step after introducing 5G radio access running on existing 4G core. It is interesting to see that most operators have identified the benefits of a common 5G data management layer that serves as the backend for all their network applications.”