More than one-third (37%) of mobile operators will start deploying 5G standalone (SA) within the next two years, an Enea report found. Another 27% of operators said they will deploy 5G SA within 12 to 18 months, and 10% said they would in the next 24 months, and nearly half (49%) confirmed they’d have 5G SA in the next four years.

SEE: 5G: What it means for IoT (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Enea’s Worldwide Mobile Operator Survey on 5G explored how operators are handling 5G architecture, edge development, and a network data layer. While respondents had different strategies, all appear to be moving in the direction of digital transformation.

How mobile operators are handling 5G

With the 3GPP Release 16 freeze in March 2020, many operators are focusing on developing the current standard of 5G, the report found.

One of the biggest features of Release 16, which is said to be unveiled in June 2020, will involve the industrial internet of things (IoT). With the promise of greater 5G efficiency and lower latency, the manufacturing industry and supply chain will be able to implement more IoT sensors and gain more business insights than ever before.

Until then, operators will focus on making their current 5G connectivity stronger and more robust. When Release 16 does come out, companies will most likely shift their sights to those advanced 5G capabilities, the report found.

“The survey indicates that several operators have figured out how to deploy SA in the next couple of years. This could be as `islands’ of 5G radio access with a 5G SA core for special services, starting late 2021,” Sue Rudd, director of networks and service platforms at Strategy Analytics, said in a press release.

Edge deployment and network data layer

The report also mentioned operators’ interest in edge deployments and network data layer.

The majority (85%) of mobile operators said they plan to have edge deployments at some point, more than half surveyed said they have no clear strategy.

Some 32% of respondents said they are only using edge technology for specific use cases such as smart factories, smart cities, or retail. Many said they are waiting until more business cases for edge deployment are explored and viable.

As for network data layer—a single point of storage for data associated with subscriptions, network services, devices, and connections in the 5G network—more than 50% of operators said they plan to move to a common network data layer across their network functions as they deploy 5G.

Only 2% of respondents said they would keep vendor specific data storage, which shows that it’s time to make architectural choices, according to the report.

“Operators are beginning to firm up plans for how they will implement flexible, multi-vendor service architectures that enable them to deploy and monetize their 5G networks and differentiate their services,” Rudd said in the release.

Respondents cited the three most important factors for choosing a network data layer, which included gaining a unified view of customer data, the ability to deploy in slices or at the edge, and the ability to monetize subscriber data.

“We’ve now entered a phase where operators plan to deploy a 5G SA core as the next step after introducing 5G radio access running on existing 4G core,” Jan Häglund, president and CEO at Enea, said in the release.

“It is interesting to see that most operators have identified the benefits of a common 5G data management layer that serves as the backend for all their network applications,” Häglund added.

For more, check out Biggest trends for 5G as infrastructure to hit $4.2 billion on TechRepublic.

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