AT&T to Begin Standalone 5G Rollout Next Year

Dan Jones
10/9/2019

AT&T is planning to start initial standalone 5G deployments in 2020, a milestone for delivering 5G benefits to enterprises.

Standalone 5G doesn't use 4G LTE for any control functions of 5G, unlike non-standalone (NSA) 5G. Carriers have only rolled out NSA 5G services so far in the US and worldwide.

"We'll start deploying standalone in 2020," an AT&T spokesperson tells Light Reading.

In the US, Verizon has said that it will deploy "a standalone core" in the 2020-2021 time frame. T-Mobile expects to deploy a virtualized standalone core next year. Sprint says it is sticking with its non-standalone 5G.

Consumers using standalone 5G will need a new device to work with the latest 5G tech. "The initial devices use silicon that doesn't support standalone and will continue to be supported by our non-standalone Core," the AT&T spokesperson said.

This shouldn’t be a problem for US consumers using 5G, as non-standalone services should be perfectly suitable for downloading videos over-the-air. There really haven't been very many 5G-capable devices sold yet anyway: In August, BayStreet Research reported that US carriers sold 29,000 5G devices by the end of 2019.

The major advantages of standalone 5G will be in the enterprise arena anyway. "It's easy to get lower latencies, and you can do network slicing," says Daryl Schoolar, practice leader of next-generation architecture at Ovum. Network slicing allows the virtualized 5G standalone core to create self-contained, partitioned virtual segments on the physical network that can be used for tasks such as mission-critical IoT.

AT&T is planning to rollout nationwide lowband 600MHz 5G in the US next year. It has millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G networks running in parts of 21 US cities now.

AT&T says it will use all of its 5G spectrum for standalone 5G. "We'll use all of our spectrum for Standalone," the AT&T spokesperson tells us. "The radio network can simultaneously be used for non-standalone, standalone and LTE," the spokesperson adds.

The evolution to standalone 5G will be high on the agenda at 5G Transport & the Edge on Thursday, October 10, in New York City. Speakers from Verizon and Sprint, among others, will look at the current state and future of 5G at the event.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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