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10 April 2019

Orange Spain and ZTE make voice and data calls over 5G NR Standalone

Orange Spain says it has reached a “major milestone” in its 5G plan, having made the first voice and data call in Spain using 5G New Radio Standalone (NR SA) technology.

Just about every MNO in the world is first deploying 5G using New Radio Non-Standalone (NSA), which works with an existing LTE core and so enables a relatively quick first roll-out, because there is no need to implement the cloud-native 5G core until the business case fully demands it. Even China Mobile, the only major operator which had planned to go straight to Standalone mode, is actually using NSA for its earliest markets.

When and how to transition to the full 5G core, and which combinations of 4G and 5G RANs and cores to support at various stages, are among the many headaches for operator CTOs as they look to plan their next generation networks. In a survey of 76 MNOs worldwide by Rethink Technology Research, it emerged that over half of operators do not expect to deploy full SA technology until 2023 or later. However, some will move more quickly, and many are starting to carry out tests and trials.

In Orange’s demonstration, equipment from ZTE was used. Even though the Chinese company is not a current supplier to this telco, and its ability to sell 5G networks in Europe is in some doubt because of the ongoing security reviews, it has very advanced technology in several key areas, notably the 5G core, so the work with Orange will be an important endorsement.

Mónica Sala, network director at Orange Spain, said: “The knowhow of ZTE is evident in this milestone.” Spanish media reports have indicated that Orange and Vodafone Spain plan to use Huawei and ZTE equipment in 5G pilots, as part of projects submitted for potential government subsidies. Orange Spain is reported to have submitted three projects, one based on Huawei kit (in Malaga and Seville), one on ZTE, in Valencia, and one on Nokia systems in Vigo.

ZTE provided the SA base station, the 5G core and the test terminals for Orange. The platform achieved data download rates of 876Mbps with one user terminal and 3.2Gbps with 12 terminals working simultaneously in the same cell, said Orange.

Orange and Vodafone are said to be close to finalizing a deal to share 5G network infrastructure in Spain to reduce costs. According to newspaper El Economista, the operators would need approval from the telecom regulator to share active equipment. The report also said that Telefónica may be interested in sharing “non-critical” 5G sites with rivals, while the fourth MNO, MásMóvil, is said to be seeking similar deals.

Vodafone is carrying out 5G pilots in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Malaga, Bilbao and Valencia and has so far deployed more than 85 5G sites in the six cities.