AT&T: We are definitely interested in both NSA and SA

5G (Pixabay)
U.S. operators are expected to take interim steps before they embrace the Standalone (SA) version of the 5G standard. (Pixabay)

While it’s unclear exactly when U.S. operators will deploy the Standalone (SA) version of the 5G standard that the 3GPP officially finalized this week, AT&T, for one, is interested in both the Non-Standalone (NSA) version that most operators are expected to deploy initially, as well as the SA version.

“We are definitely interested in both NSA and SA,” Hank Kafka, VP Architecture and Standards, told FierceWirelessTech.

“AT&T’s announced deployments will use the NSA architecture and standards to enable tight integration and smooth interworking between LTE and NR. As the capabilities of 5G devices and the 5G-Next Generation Core (5G-NGC) become more advanced, we will continue to evaluate NSA and SA configurations and deploy those that best support the enhanced mobile and fixed wireless broadband experience for our customers,” he said.

“We’re committed to deploying 5G technologies to transform the wireless experience for our customers,” he added. “The initial NSA option 3 defined as part of this week’s Release 15 completion uses LTE and the EPC, and provides the fastest way for us to deploy NR and provide enhanced mobile broadband services to our customers.”

Of course, this being AT&T, virtualization comes into play. “Further NSA options to be completed this December will continue using LTE and introduce the 5G-NGC,” Kafka said. “Over time, virtualization enables deploying a network that can support multiple options. We are looking at NSA and SA options for our network to use additional capabilities and use cases offered by NR and the 5G-NGC.”

RELATED: 3GPP puts finishing touch on Standalone version of 5G standard

In the U.S., nationwide operators are in various stages of rolling out their versions of 5G. Since the NSA standard uses the legacy LTE core network along with the LTE air interface to augment the 5G radio channel, it was the first to be completed in the standards process and the first to get rolled out.

Verizon declined to comment on its future plans for SA. T-Mobile also wasn’t sharing details about its SA plans.

Sprint said it will launch its mobile 5G network using its 2.5 GHz spectrum (n41) and the NSA 5G NR specification. “SA 5G NR is part of the company’s long-term roadmap, and Sprint is working with its suppliers for end-to-end availability of SA 5G NR,” the company said.

As for SA deployments in the nearer term, Michael Thelander, president and founder of SRG Research and Consulting Services, said China Mobile is the only operator he’s aware of that has expressed interest in SA for its initial 5G deployments. U.S. operators will take interim steps before they make the leap to SA, he said.

Intel’s Asha Keddy, vice president of Mobile and Communications Group and general manager, Standards and Advanced Technology, said Intel expects SA precommercial technical trials to be active globally by the fourth quarter of 2018 and to continue into 2019 with increasing maturity.

“And while we expect much of the industry will commence commercial operations with NSA deployments, interest in SA will remain significant including with Chinese operators. Ultimately we expect many operators to migrate to this configuration,” she said.