Operator Shifts To 5G SA Declined In 2023, Despite Many Operators Investing

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The delay in 5G SA activation suggests a concentration of rollouts starting in the second half of 2024 and continuing into 2025.

In 2023, the number of mobile operators transitioning to a dedicated 5G core decreased to 12. While many operators have conducted 5G stand-alone (SA) core pilots, they have not progressed with the transition, believing the existing architecture meets current network demand. 

The staggered deployment is also due to macroeconomic challenges and limited monetisation opportunities with 5G. Transition activity is expected to remain slow in the first half of 2024 before gaining momentum in the second half and into 2025.

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Cumulative 5G SA Commercial Deployments by Region by 2023
Cumulative 5G SA Commercial Deployments by Region by 2023

Approximately 30 countries have at least one operator with a commercial 5G SA network, according to Counterpoint Research. The Asia-Pacific region leads in deployments, followed by Europe, with North America, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America trailing.

55 operators have commercially implemented 5G SA, with many more in testing and trial stages. The deployment rate increased slightly in the second half of 2023, with some Tier-1 operators in developed nations transitioning to 5G SA.

Ericsson leads in 5G SA deployments, followed by Nokia. Both have significant vendor deals with operators yet to commercialise. Samsung and NEC focus on domestic markets but are expanding to Tier-2 operators, while Parallel Wireless and Mavenir collaborate with operators in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Most operators are deploying 5G at mid-band frequencies (n78) for higher speeds and better coverage, with some offering services in mmWave bands (n258). FWA and eMBB are common use cases, with edge services and network slicing gaining traction.

Operators seek monetization strategies for 5G services to improve return on investment (ROI). Fixed wireless access (FWA) is a promising application for 5G SA monetization, but operators can explore other use cases like network slicing, live broadcasting, extended reality (XR) applications, and private networks to increase ROI.

The delay in 5G SA activation suggests a concentration of rollouts starting in the second half of 2024 and continuing into 2025, rather than steady deployments over the next three to four years. 5G SA penetration into Tier-2 operators and smaller nations has begun as MNOs aim to enhance user experience.

The transition is expected to accelerate with the introduction of 5G Advanced in 2025, offering new features to improve device and network capabilities, reduce operating expenses, and introduce new use cases. Operators need to prioritise deploying 5G SA cores to fully leverage 5G Advanced’s potential.

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