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5G Standalone Networks: Slow Growth Meets Market Optimism

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The slow growth rate of global investment in standalone 5G networks continues to worry the industry. For without 5G SA, operators essentially have only improved mobile data speeds at their disposal to recover their considerable 5G investments.

The recent statistics from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) show that for the second quarter of this year, 115 operators across 52 countries are investing in public 5G SA. Worryingly, this figure did not improve from the first quarter and has only seen a slight increase of three since the end of last year. These numbers encompass both actual implementations and planned rollouts, as well as 5G SA trials.

A total of 36 operators have initiated or carried out public 5G SA networks, including two soft launches. However, there seems to be a mismatch between these figures and the statements coming out of the industry.

For instance, New Zealand’s Spark recently unveiled plans to invest up to NZ$60 million ($37.5 million) over the next three years to upgrade its 5G network to SA, choosing Ericsson and Red Hat as its preferred vendors. Furthermore, Vodafone launched 5G Ultra in the UK a month before, a standalone offering redesigned to captivate a wider audience.

Therefore, considering these developments, an acceleration in 5G SA investments may be imminent. Despite not providing specific predictions, the GSA remains confident regarding the way forward. This anticipation is based primarily on the number of operators who are testing or piloting this technology, believing that 5G SA launches will keep progressing in stride. This certainly brings a wave of optimism when it comes to turning a profit.

Simultaneously, the GSA has recognized a considerable number of organizations utilizing 5G SA for private networks. As of May, over 1,000 organizations are known to deploy LTE or 5G private mobile networks or have acquired licenses to do so. Among them, 505 are using 5G, and 66 have already incorporated 5G SA. These organizations span across sectors, including manufacturing, academics, commercial research, construction, and more.

While there is a sense of dismay with progress in 5G SA, understanding the broader context reveals a much more promising outlook. The GSA concludes its recent findings stating, “The market is seeing the emergence of a strong 5G SA ecosystem with chipsets, devices of many types and users of public as well as private networks. We can expect to see the market go from strength to strength.” As such, while the journey towards monetization is winding, it appears we are heading in the right direction.

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