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5G SA, 5G NSA Explained: Which One Is Coming To India?
As we inch closer to the launch of the 5G network in India, many of you might be coming across terms like 5G SA (standalone 5G) and 5G NSA (non-standalone 5G). These terms are also seen on the SoC specifications page and on the retail package of the smartphone. But what are they, and what do they signify?
While these terms might sound a bit complicated, they are actually self-explanatory. 5G SA or the 5G standalone technology is a type of 5G network that works on its own and offers true-5G services such as low-network latency and improved data transfer speed.
Similarly, 5G NSA or non-standalone 5G technology is something that still offers 5G NR features but is built on the already existing 4G LTE hardware, hence, it is not as capable and energy-efficient as the 5G SA technology.
Before we dig deep into these technologies, let us understand the basics of the 5G technology. 5G technology, just like 4G, is known as 5G NR (New Radio) and offers improved bandwidth, lower latency, and also offers VoNR or voice-over new radio for a high-fidelity calling experience.
Globally, 5G standards are set by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), and various mobile network operators have already deployed 5G NSA and 5G SA technologies across the world and will soon be available in India by operators like Jio and Airtel.
How Does 5G SA Work?
5G SA or the standalone 5G network is a true 5G solution based on 5G core, 5G NR, which will then connect to a smartphone, tablet, or laptop with 5G SA support. Again, 5G SA offers the true advertised 10-20Gbps of download speed with lower latency and better audio quality using VoNR technology.
It's imperative to understand that a mobile network operator has to shell out a lot of money to fully upgrade the network infrastructure to deliver a true 5G network. This consumes a lot of time and it is also very expensive to procure and deploy 5G core and 5G NR antennas.
How Does 5G NSA Work?
Unlike 5G SA, the 5G NSA technology is much simpler to deploy and it is also very cost-effective. In this case, a mobile network operator will make use of the existing 4G hardware also known as Evolved Packet Core (EPC), and then use a 5G NR antenna to offer a hybrid 5G network with some benefits over 4G LTE network.
Hence, most mobile network operators first convert their 4G LTE network to a 5G NR network using NSA technology. This helps the operators to quickly deploy the 5G network and help to deliver the latest technology by spending the least amount of time and money.
Advantages Of 5G SA
- 5G SA technology is a much superior technology when compared to 5G NSA technology. Here are some of the prominent advantages of the 5G SA technology.
- Lower latency: When compared to 4G LTE and 5G NSA, 5G SA will have lower latency, hence, it will improve the online gaming experience and other tasks that require lower latency.
- Better speeds: 5G SA offers better download and upload speeds. This will enable activities like buffer-free 8K streaming, faster upload, download, and more.
- Energy efficiency: 5G SA consumes less power, hence, a phone should last longer when it is connected to a 5G SA technology when compared to 5G NSA or 4G LTE.
Advantages Of 5G NSA
- 5G NSA is a technology that is predominately lucrative for mobile network operators when compared to end-users.
- Easy and cheap to deploy: operators can upgrade the modem to 5G NR and start offering a 5G network on the already existing 4G network (EPC) hardware.
- Improved data transmission rate: 5G NSA technology will deliver better download and upload speeds than the 4G LTE.
Disadvantages Of 5G SA
- Expensive to deploy: a mobile network operator has to spend a lot of money to complete upgrade the networking equipment to 5G core and it takes a lot of time and money.
- Needs educated engineers: companies also need to train engineers to help understand and deploy 5G SA technology.
Disadvantages Of 5G NSA
- Not true 5G: As it is based on EPC technology, it cannot deliver the true 5G capabilities.
- Not energy efficient: With 5G NSA, a device has to be connected to both 4G LTE and 5G NSA technology simultaneously, which consumes more power.
Is There An Alternative Technology?
vEPC or EPC virtualization is a technology that enables network operators to upgrade the software of the EPC base station. In fact, Airtel and Jio are expected to use the EPC virtualization technique to deploy the 5G network in India soon.
While vEPC technology might allow mobile network operators to advertise their network as a 5G SA technology, it might still lack in some aspects due to the sheer hardware limitation. During the initial rollout, Airtel and Jio are likely to deploy 5G NSA technology in India.