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Is it right to be a Tortoise or Hare in 5G migration?

Migration strategies for 5G RAN and core 2019-2026

The array of deployment options for 5G is bewildering, and an operator’s timing to adopt new technologies will have a profound effect on its commercial outcome.

The most critical timing decision is when to migrate from 5G Non-Standalone mode (deployed in every live network to date, and using the LTE core) to fully-fledged 5G Standalone with a cloud-native core.

Is it better to be a Tortoise or a Hare when it comes to diving into these key 5G choices? Should an MNO install the most advanced features as soon as they become available, or wait until platforms are more stable and mature? What is the optimal timing to adopt the 5G core, and to move to full cloud operation?

Rethink Technology Research has surveyed 86 service providers about their deployment strategies, covering a combination of converged telcos; mobile-first operators; and alternative deployers with greenfield mobile businesses and no legacy networks to migrate. In each case they have discussed their plans and priorities, and their key business drivers.

The resulting forecast is part of Rethink’s RAN Research service and is entitled, “Is it right to be a Tortoise or Hare in 5G migration? Migration strategies for 5G RAN and core 2019-2026” and is out this week.

The report explains, “Migration to a fully cloud-native, disaggregated, multivendor and 5G environment will take many years and a number of stages, not to mention significant upheaval in internal structures, supply chain, skills and processes. However, while some aspects of the 5G roadmap, such as timelines for a fully converged cellular/wireline/WiFi core, remain very uncertain, in other respects it is clear that operators are starting to set out clear timescales to deploy new elements of the 5G network in line with their particular commercial priorities.”

The report shows what operators’ key priorities are today. They can be largely broken into two camps. The Hares are trying to get to 5G first and claim early advantage; the Tortoises don’t mind conceding a lead, as long as they can remain focused on their own business priorities. But those first mover advantages are far harder to come by in 5G than in 4g, and only highly technical and well-resourced operators can afford to dive into the deep end of full cloud-native 5G.

The report explains how some 5G frontrunners have had to pull back because of technical and business case challenges. In some instances slow and steady will win this race.

In the end the returns for investing in 5G will come deep into the 2020s for the majority of operators, as they start to firm up their plans and business cases and finally begin to deploy the truly disruptive technologies of a cloud-native 5G core, as well as full convergence with edge computing and network slicing.

Key issues the Report discusses include

  • Individuals strategies of the Hares and strategies of later movers post 2022 or the Tortoises
  • The decision to go Non-standalone or Standalone with a 5G core.
  • The adoption of Dual Connectivity supporting 4G and 5G devices simultaneously.
  • Adoption of Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) lets LTE spectrum be used for both 4G and 5G.
  • The emergence of fully cloud-native platforms, deployed as microservices, in containers.
  • When will MNOs use advanced network slicing, for things like ultra-reliable low latency services.
  • Which releases of the 3GPP standards are most appropriate for which services.

Who should read this report and what should they get out of it?

The report “Is it right to be a Tortoise or Hare in 5G migration?

Migration strategies for 5G RAN and core 2019-2026,” is written for anyone who is involved at a senior level in planning an operator transition to 5G, and for vendor personnel advising them.

Essentially anyone in strategy in a network provider, one of their technology partners, among implementers and equipment and software suppliers and investors, at C Suite level down to product marketing and product planning.

The RAN Research arm of Rethink Technology Research is essential

reading for anyone who wants to stay on top of current trends and thinking among MNOs.  It’s like being a fly on the wall in their planning meetings and is based on questions MNOs have answered about their planned and future expenditure.

This report will give you statistical evidence of which technical strategies are being adopted by different types of operators, and illustrates how many MNOs are planning to use Non-Stand Alone mode with a 4G core, or whether they are going straight to a 5G core, or use network slicing for service flexibility and when each of them will embark on full cloud versions.

There is a spreadsheet of who is making what decisions at what time, and what their given reasons are for doing so – it will help you align your deployment using the same approach of other companies which have the same business aims.

Companies mentioned in this report:

Accelleran, Affirmed, Altiostar, Amazon, AT&T, AWS, BT, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Dish, Etisalat, HPE, Huawei, Mavenir, Microsoft Azure, NEC, Nokia, NTT Docomo, Open RAN Alliance, Orange, Parallel Wireless, Rakuten Mobile,, Samsung, SingTel, SK Telecom, Small Cell Forum, Spidercloud, Telecom Infra Project, Telefonica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Turkcell, Vodafone, YouTube, ZTE

For more information contact:

John Constant

Business Specialist Director

[email protected]

Office phone: +44 (0)1794 521411

Download the Executive Summary:

Executive Summary Download

Annual subscription to RAN Research:

Single user  License for a year (6 Reports) $6,000

Corporate License $for a year (6 reports) 10,000

Subscribing to RAN Research includes 6 more forecasts a year, covering Small cells, the structure of 5G, Optimization and SON, Macro Layer RAN, Cloud RAN and Mobile Edge Computing.

Contents 2

Table of Figures  3

Introduction the road to 5G   5

The 5G migration path   6

The 5G phony war   8

Commercial drivers for 5G deployment – multiple phases  10

For most operators, migration to full 5G platforms will be a multi-stage process   15

Changing network vendors remains challenging  16

True 5G requires a 5G core   16

Capex investment will be restrained until cloud-native kicks in   17

New suppliers rise to the challenge   19

In the RAN, there is a chance for smaller vendors   20

Will open industry alliances accelerate the pace of migration?  22

Vendors and technologies will migrate from the cloud world   23

Case study: Japan   25

For most operators, the progression to a fully open vRAN will be a succession of steps over a decade 27

The typical progression to full 5G RAN     28

Timing challenges for the migration to SA   30

New 5G deployment will overtake 4G in 2023  32

Critical choices in dual connectivity and DSS      34

Dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS)    36

Small cells can drive the migration to disaggregated vRAN     38

Migration to 5G NR SA   39

Coexistence of 5G core and EPC  40

The challenges of the cloud-native 5G core   41

Operators work towards multivendor 5G core 43

Conclusion     45

The Rethink RAN Research process summarized     46

RAN Research: Forecasting disruption in wireless     47

About Rethink Technology Research    49


Figure 1. Key phases of deployment of 5G RAN and core   6

Figure 2. Operators’ top commercial drivers to deploy 5G RAN before 2024  13

Figure 3. Operators’ top commercial drivers to deploy 5G Standalone with 5G Core in 2024-2026 14

Figure 4. Total mobile capex spending by mobile and converged operators,
including new entrants, in 2019 to 2026, with the percentage allocated to 5G 18

Figure 5. Capex spending allocated to 5G RAN, core and spectrum by
region 2019 to 2026 19

Figure 6. Percentage of operators planning to support TIP/ORAN and ONF/CORD
platforms commercially before 2024 and in 2024-2026 23

Figure 7. 5G/multimode macro site deployments and upgrade, by MIMO configuration 29

Figure 8. Functional split options in a disaggregated RAN. Source: NGMN 31

Figure 9. Deployment of macro and micro base stations by radio technology
2019 to 2026 (numbers refer to radio units) 32

Figure 10. Deployment and upgrade of macro and micro base stations for 4G
expansion by region 2019 to 2026 33

Figure 11. Deployment of greenfield 5G macro and micro sites by region 2019 to 2026 33

Figure 12. Main options for deployment of 5G NR and coexistence with LTE 34

Figure 13. Plans for EN-DC option if deploying before 2024 35

Figure 14. Of those planning to deploy 5G by 2026, the first year to start
supporting their chosen technologies 36

Figure 15. Dynamic spectrum sharing 37

Figure 16. Percentage of operators planning to deploy new RAN architectures
in the small cell layer, by initial time period for commercial roll-out 38

Figure 17. Percentage of operators planning to deploy new RAN architectures
in the macro and micro cell layer, by initial time period for commercial roll-out 39

Figure 18. Strategy to migrate from 4G EPC to 5G core, for those deploying 5G before 2024 40

Figure 19. Expectations to deploy Intermediate SA Option 7 versus Option 4,
or a direct migration to Option 2 (5G-only) 40

Figure 20. KT’s three-step migration plan to full 5G 41

Figure 21. Timescales to deploy key technologies within the 5G era core network platform 45