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Providers drive into the core network fast lane as 5G race accelerates

Study finds that in the next-generation network arena, 5G standalone core dominates key service provider activity, with an enduring need for agility and responsiveness

Into the second half of 2021, 5G trends are continuing to accelerate, with 5G standalone (SA) core evaluation, testing and launch activities growing significantly across all geographic regions, and considerable demand for managed and anything-as-a-service (XaaS) solutions, according to research from network test, assurance and analytics systems provider Spirent Communications.

In an addendum to its 5G 2021: Market drivers, insights & consideration, Spirent took analysis and takeaways from more than 1,400 global 5G engagements, including over 400 new engagements during the first half of 2021. The report drew on Spirent’s work with worldwide service providers, network equipment manufacturers, governments and device makers, providing an update to developments in the journey to global 5G.

The study found that all major regions – North America, Europe and Asia – were aggressively pursuing 5G SA core testing and deployments. North America was driving demand for customer experience and service assurance solutions, while Asia Pacific continued its focus on, and investment in, transport infrastructure toward the goal of supporting industrial use cases, and Europe was starting to accelerate activities after Covid and high-risk supplier delays.

New services and differentiation were found to be driving 5G standalone as 5G SA core evaluation, testing and launch continue to grow significantly across all geographical regions. Large service providers were also seen to be looking to use multiple supppliers, while smaller telcos looked for one key partner. A number of key challenges emerged, including supporting high release volumes and managing multi-vendor performance.

Within the growing domain of 5G telco edge cloud, Spirent discovered that partnerships, early trials and deployments between hyperscalers and service providers have been expanding. Providers were still working to benchmark edge performance and integrate assurance for consistent, deterministic latency, and Spirent noted that latency looks set to become a key battleground for the hearts and minds of industry and enterprises.

Open RAN was also a very active sector. The study tracked 45 ongoing Open RAN trials and early deployments across 27 countries. The leading 5G service providers were targeting larger-scale Open RAN non-dense urban roll-outs during 2022. Spirent predicted that early deployments are likely to focus on rural, indoor and private coverage. Interoperability, performance, robustness and system integrator overheads require service providers to continue to test and validate every deployment phase.

Looking beyond 5G, the study noted that there was already a vision for 6G. It said the 6G industry was beginning to coalesce around some key themes, including THz frequencies, use of intelligent reconfigurable surfaces and metamaterials, open networking and network of networks such as terrestrial cellular, NTN, subsea, and Wi-Fi convergence.

“At the halfway point in 2021, the dominant 5G trends that were present at the start of the year continue to gather pace, with the need for agility and responsiveness enduring,” said Steve Douglas, head of market strategy at Spirent. “With end-user adoption increasing at a blistering pace, service providers in all major regions are focused on accelerating time to market, improving coverage and optimising costs.

“It is clear that the global 5G race is back on. With adoption of 5G accelerating across both commercial and government segments, and in all global regions, state-of-the-art test automation is proving to be a key enabler, along with adoption of CI/CD methodologies.”

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