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Vodafone launches 5G standalone commercial pilots in UK cities

Operator launches commercial pilot of 5G standalone service in London, Manchester and Cardiff as it continues development of cutting-edge mobile technologies

Vodafone has announced the first live deployment to test 5G standalone networks at scale in the UK with the launch of commercial pilots supporting 5G standalone services in London, Manchester and Cardiff.

5G standalone is the next phase in the evolution of mobile network infrastructure. 5G non-standalone, which is commonly deployed today, overlays 5G equipment on underlying 4G infrastructure.

With 5G standalone, all elements of the network have been designed for the 5G era, offering benefits such as: end-to-end network slicing, enabling bespoke services and features to be developed for specific customers or industries; the delivery of ultra-low-latency capabilities, essential for the future of applications such as smart motorways and the increased use of connectivity in vehicles; and a fully virtualised, cloud-native architecture, which will allow Vodafone to develop and introduce new services for customers more quickly.

Vodafone was the first UK network to test 5G standalone in a trial with Coventry University. The trial began in September 2020 to coincide with the return of students to universities and colleges. Lecturers at the university aimed to beat Covid-19 restrictions affecting learning by conducting seminars using virtual reality (VR) powered by 5G standalone, giving students access to interactive remote learning for the first time.

The latest commercial pilot will focus on testing new capabilities being introduced as part of 5G standalone technologies, such as network slicing. It will also enable partners to test new standalone-enabled devices on a live network. As part of the trial, a dedicated slice has already been configured for Coventry University to provide low-latency services to enable more VR distance learning.

Vodafone says the commercial pilot has been made possible by the deployment of a cloud-native dual-mode 5G core in partnership with Ericsson, a critical milestone for Vodafone to deliver 5G standalone connectivity services across the UK. Under the deal, Ericsson will support Vodafone’s entire cloud-native 5G core standalone for packet core applications.

The operator believes that with these advantages, as well as parallel investments in multi-access edge computing (MEC) and the internet of things (IoT), it can work with business customers and developers to create new services for nascent use cases such as smart cities, connected healthcare and Industry 4.0. These new technologies are designed to empower business customers and developers to develop novel services that would not be possible otherwise.

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Vodafone said the lessons learned from these early deployments of 5G standalone will inform strategy moving forward. It regards the commercial pilot as a chance for partners to test new and existing devices, components and services on the live network.

“Delivering 5G standalone for the UK is an important step forward for our customers and our partners,” said Vodafone UK chief network officer Andrea Dona. “The new features this delivers, such as new levels of reliability, latency and flexibility, are a game-changer for customers and developers looking to create new applications.  

“This leadership position greatly complements our investments in MEC capabilities, the IoT, mobile private networks and Open RAN. When we bring all these technologies together, we open up entirely new possibilities for customers, and move beyond being a core connectivity provider to being a true digital champion.”

In a parallel development, Vodafone Spain has deployed its own 5G standalone core pre-commercial network, provided by Ericsson and accessible via smartphones manufactured by Samsung. Through this initiative, Vodafone Spain will rely on both partners to continue with the development of 5G use cases that improve multiple sectors of economic activity.

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