Vodafone powers up 5G Standalone network trial

5G technology and computer network with internet of thing icon over Top view of Chicago Cityscape

Vodafone claims to be the first UK mobile operator to switch on a 5G SA network, available to a select few customers as part of a trial.

Selected Vodafone customers in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Bath, Glasgow, and Birmingham who also have an Oppo Find X3/X5 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S21/S22 handset on Unlimited Max plans will be contacted by SMS to take part in the 5G SA trial. They will not be charged for taking part in the trial, Vodafone points out, which you wouldn’t expect them to be.

5G SA is often referred to as ‘real’ 5G, since current deployments are still using the 4G core technology. In this case Vodafone is pitching the benefits of it as improved battery life for phones, lower latency, enhanced coverage, better 5G coverage indoors thanks to lower frequency radio waves, better performance in busy areas, and improved security due to more advanced end-to-end encryption.

Vodafone will also trial ‘network steering’, a technology that allows the network to direct a device automatically towards the ‘right’ connectivity (4G, 5G non-standalone or 5G Standalone), depending on what services are being used. Presumably this means only tasks that require the extra juice – perhaps HD video streaming – will be plugged into the 5G SA network, while if you are sending a text you can put up with 4G or 5G non-standalone. The point of this is to improve the efficiency of Vodafone’s network, we are told.

“All of this is only the beginning,” said Vodafone. “5G Standalone’s low latency will enable even more immersive and interactive experiences, such as augmented and virtual reality, as well as use cases that rely on near-live data processing or reactions, such as self-driving vehicles or remote medical consultations and surgery.”

Having set the scene of what a great thing 5G SA will be in general, Vodafone goes on to include a plea to government and regulators that they need to step in to help make it happen in the UK: “To enable the roll-out of 5G Standalone to communities across the UK, not just the big cities, support is needed from the Government and the regulators. Ofcom and the Government have helped to create a pro-investment environment for full fibre broadband networks, leading to the speed at which they are being made available today.

The same efforts should be replicated for mobile networks as they can act as a catalyst for economic growth across the UK – as much as £150bn worth of economic potential can be unlocked using 5G Standalone.”

5G SA is going to be discussed increasingly as it comes online, but there is a slight incongruity in the messaging in that most of the benefits being used to explain why it is needed are the same that were used in the initial hype for 5G, which we already have.

If it is indeed the case that this extra step is required in order that a noticeably better service can be provided, and things like self-driving cars and lofty VR applications can materialise, then that is probably a fault of the firms that have been marketing or otherwise talking up 5G for the past few years, and boasted about its arrival on their networks. Any pleas to government for help in rolling out 5G SA (in whatever form that takes, Vodafone is very vague about it here) may be met by questions around this apparent duplication in promised benefits to the economy.


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