Vodafone UK readies for standalone 5G future

Vodafone became the second mobile operator in the UK to flag the first anniversary of its commercial 5G rollout, which comes just over a month after BT/EE marked the occasion with a relatively terse announcement.

Like its rival, Vodafone UK appears reluctant to give details on actual take-up of the service, suggesting that things have been going a bit slower than was originally hoped. Indeed, it seems that 5G takeup generally has been lower than expected, prompting KT CEO Hyeon-Mo Ku to urge operators to take a different approach with 5G altogether.

As part of its first 5G birthday celebrations, Vodafone UK decided to focus on preparations for the next stage of 5G network development – although it's hard to imagine that discussions about non-standalone (NSA) versus standalone (SA) 5G New Radio (NR) technology are likely to interest the average mobile consumer.

However, the move towards a standalone 5G network with a separate 5G core is certainly an important one, allowing 5G networks to break free from the 4G mothership and benefit from new features such as the oft-cited network slicing, edge computing and ultra-low latency. Some operators are already lining up to move from 5G NR NSA to NR SA in 2020 and 2021.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

Vodafone UK said it is working with Ericsson, MediaTek, Oppo and Qualcomm on the development of its standalone 5G network, although it's not entirely clear when the network will be available. No mention was made of Huawei, which supplies about a third of the equipment for its radio access network (RAN).

As things stand, the standalone technology is being showcased at Coventry University, where a network has been built as part of preparations for a 5G campus. The operator said it has also installed the Ericsson 5G Radio Dot system at the university.

According to Vodafone's website, it now offers 5G in 44 locations across the UK and 70 locations in Germany, Spain, Italy and Ireland. In its recent annual report, Vodafone Group said it has launched 5G in 11 of its markets, including eight in Europe.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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