Explained: How Airtel's 5G service differs from Reliance Jio's standalone 5G
Airtel calls its 5G service as ‘5G Plus’ and promises to ‘redefine the way people communicate, live, work, connect and play for years to come.’ While Jio asserts its 5G being‘True-5G network’ and it runs on the Standalone network.
5G services have been launched in India. While Telecom Major Airtel has launched its services in 8 cities, its competitor – Jio is testing its 5G services in 4 cities. Although both the companies are claiming to bring revolutionary change from the existing 4th generation technology, 5G of each varies a lot based on the infrastructure through which it is delivered.
Airtel’s non standalone (NSA) 5G network
Airtel calls its 5G service as ‘5G Plus’ and promises to ‘redefine the way people communicate, live, work, connect and play for years to come.’ It will work on the NSA 5G network.
What is a non- standalone 5G network?
The mobile network components can be broadly categorised into three parts. It carries a Radio Access Network (RAN) which connects user devices, like a smartphone, tablet device, router etc., to the cloud. Then there is the Core Network, which provides management between different parts of the access network and also provides connectivity to the internet. The core and the network are tied with a third layer called the Transport Network.
As the name itself suggests, NSA 5G can't stand on its own and requires 4G infrastructure. Only the radio access network (RAN) in the NSA is upgraded to 5G, and the core network continues to operate on 4G.
Jio’s standalone 5G (SA) network
Jio asserts its 5G being‘True-5G network’ and it runs on the Standalone network. On Monday, it roped in Telecom gear maker Ericsson for a long-term strategic 5G contract to roll out a 5G standalone (SA) network in the country.
What is a standalone 5G network?
Both the RAN and core are upgraded for 5G in the Standalone configuration. The virtualized, software-based network components that make up a 5G core enable operators to satisfy a variety of network requirements that are not workable with the NSA version of 5G. Thus, SA 5G has no dependencies on the 4G network.
Standalone vs Non Standalone 5G services
RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani stated at the company’s 45th annual general meeting (AGM) that most operators are installing a Non-Standalone version of 5G in their haste to be the first to introduce 5G services in India. Installing new infrastructure altogether requires time and is expensive.
He emphasised that Jio will introduce Standalone 5G that will enable it to offer all of its advantages, including ultra-low latency connection, 5G voice, network slicing (which enables new business models and use cases), and extensive machine-to-machine communication.
On the other hand, Airtel’s Managing director (MD) and chief executive office (CEO) Gopal Vittal played down the need for a standalone network. He added that compared to standalone 5G networks, non-standalone (NSA) 5G networks, which are supported by 4G core infrastructure, have additional advantages because of their greater coverage and greater number of devices that can connect to the network.
Airtel has not bought a premium spectrum in the 700 megahertz band. But Vittal mentioned that as Airtel has a large mid-band spectrum, it did not require an expensive 700 MHz spectrum.
Airtel claims that its 5G is more environment friendly. “And once we had bought it (700 MHz) we would have had to deploy large power guzzling radios on this band. Not only would the cost have been higher, but it would also have led to more carbon emissions,” he added.
It all boils down to if there is a requirement of expensive standalone 5G or the one supported over 4G is robust enough to power the 5th generation technology shift for the time being.