AT&T, Verizon hedge on 5G core timelines

AT&T and Verizon executives this week hedged on committing to full 5G SA cores in 2021. (Getty Images)

This week Verizon and AT&T seemed to walk back their timelines a bit in terms of rolling out their 5G standalone (SA) cores.

In mid-2020, Verizon said it had completed the first data session on its new 5G SA core, and it planned to start shifting mobile traffic over to it later in 2020.

Speaking at a FierceWireless 5G virtual event this week, Verizon’s EVP and CEO of the Consumer Group Ronan Dunne said, “We are still committed to deploying standalone core. In large part it’s a function of the upgrades of the 3GPP standards with Release 16 and 17 and also the availability of the relevant equipment and support for the capabilities that the standalone core enables in devices, etc. So, it’s absolutely on our roadmap. But certainly for 2021, our priority is prepping the network for C-band’s arrival.”

RELATED: Verizon may densify its network for C-band in the mid-term, says Ronan Dunne

In September 2020, AT&T said it was in the process of developing and testing its 5G SA core and that it planned to fully deploy it in 2021.

Speaking at the FierceWireless 5G event this week, AT&T’s VP of Analytics and Automation Mazin Gilbert noted that AT&T has been on a mission to virtualize its core network for several years, and it has reached its goal of virtualizing 75% of the core. The carrier is also working to make its core cloud-native, which means putting applications in containers and implementing other cloud technologies. But now, with 5G, the core will be changing again as AT&T moves it to 5G SA.

“5G is an opportunity, in time, to really invest in and upgrade the network, said Gilbert. “I believe 5G standalone is going to be fully cloud-native from the get-go.”

But when pressed as to the timeline for deploying the 5G SA core, Gilbert said, “We’re doing a lot of testing. We’re deploying some of that already. I think it’s going to be a journey in terms of going fully scalable nationwide. We’ll announce those timelines in due course.”

The top three U.S. carriers all started offering 5G by using the non-standalone (NSA) version of the 3GPP specification, which relies on the LTE core as an anchor. An SA core is strictly a 5G core. 

Only T-Mobile in the U.S. has touted the rollout of its 5G SA core. It worked with its core vendors Nokia and Cisco.

Ericsson 5G core software

On the topic of 5G core technology, Ericsson today launched a new network programmability tool called 5G Core Policy Studio. The tool handles the central management of all core network policies. It is integrated with Ericsson’s dual-mode 4G/5G core technology.

The 5G Core Policy Studio tool is a central provisioning engine that enables access and control of all policies that manage different 5G and 4G services through one graphical user interface (GUI).