What are Jio True 5G and Airtel 5G Plus ! What are 5G Stand Alone (5G SA) and 5G Non-Standalone (5G NSA)! : A Tech Analysis

Our Prime minister launched 5G Services in India on 1st October 2022 from India Mobile Congress 2022 (IMC 2022) held in Delhi. Subsequently, Airtel and Jio have announced the availability of 5G services in metros and a few more cities. The availability of 5G devices in the market has increased. Many existing 5G devices in the market have been upgraded by manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, etc to support 5G on Airtel and Jio Network.

The question which comes to our mind is “what are the differences in the 5G network being rolled out by Airtel and Jio? Why Jio has branded its 5G services as True 5G and Airtel as 5G Plus!

Jio has claimed that it has launched 5G Stand Alone (5G SA) network.  Although Airtel has not revealed, it is understood that it has launched 5G Non-Standalone (5G NSA) network.  So, what is the difference between 5G SA and NSA? Which one is better! In order to understand it , we will look at various versions of 5G standards and their availability in the market.

5G network being deployed worldwide is being standardized by 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). 3GPP has been standardizing 5G from their Release 15 onwards and evolving it to better and more features in subsequent releases. Below infographic will give a better understanding.

As you can see, three releases of 5G standards have been released by 3GPP. After a release is finalized by 3GPP with a certain set of capabilities and features, it takes about 1 to 2 years to make commercial grade 5G equipment of that version. Initially, the Release 15 version of 5G equipment became available and now the release 16 version of 5G equipment has become available. As release 17 has come on June 22, the commercial equipment compliant to this version may become available by end of the year 2023 and beyond.

Non Stand Alone 5G

Let us first understand and have a look at 4G network. 4G network consists of 4G RAN – Radio Access Network (Towers we see and equipment installed there) and 4G Core (Equipment deployed at a central location ). 4G Core equipment is then connected to packet Data Networks such as the internet and other services. 4G RAN is connected to 4G Core on optical fiber lines.

In the initial release of 5G (Release 15), the focus was to launch 5G quickly with the minimum basic minimum feature. In order to expedite the standard, release 15 (the First 5G release) had a provision that 5G Radio Access Network (Tower) can be connected to 4G Core Network itself, and 5G service was launched with a minimum set of features. This kind of setup is known as Non-Standalone 5G and a 5G Radio Access Network is not standalone by connecting to an existing 4G Core Network.

Worldwide operators launched 5G using NSA architecture of 5G initially. Now they will slowly be migrating their network to 5G standalone architecture. This Architecture is also called option 3 deployments of 5G. We will talk about various options later in this article.

Stand Alone 5G

The standalone 5G is different from 5G NSA as it has its own core network and not dependent on 4G core. That means it will have its own RAN and Core Network.

Usage Scenarios of 5G and which its Support in SA and NSA Architecture

There are three usage scenarios defined by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for 5G as depicted below.

The NSA mode of deployment can only support enhanced broadband usage scenarios type services whereas SA mode of 5G can support all three scenarios as depicted in the above picture.

Deployment Options of 5G

The 3GPP study paper has discussed many deployment options and its migration ultimately to 5G SA architecture. These options are duplicated below

In the above pure 5G network (5G SA)  is option 2 which JIO has launched and Airtel has launched Option 3 which is 5G NSA. Ultimately Airtel will also migrate to option 2 ie. 5G SA Network.

One important thing to note is that 4G and 5G will co-exist for a very long time in a similar way 2G, 3G, and 4G networks are co existing today……

Author : Ashok Kumar, Director (Wireless Access), NTIPRIT, Ghaziabad

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