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5G Standalone trial network switched on by Vodafone

Vodafone has become the first UK mobile operator to switch on its 5G Standalone (5G SA) network, with select customers now able to trial its many benefits.

Eligible customers who opt into the trial will benefit from even better reliability, improved battery life and improved coverage.

Who can take part in the Vodafone 5G SA trial?

Selected customers in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Bath, Glasgow, and Birmingham – and who have Oppo Find X3/X5 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21/S22 handsets on Unlimited Max plans – will be contacted by SMS to take part in the trial.

illustrative photo of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra in burgundy

The trial comes at no extra cost to participating customers and they can opt out whenever they wish.

How is 5G SA different from the 5G we already have?

The 5G non-standalone network available today uses 5G radios, with the Core network continuing to use 4G-era technology. 5G Standalone, on the other hand, uses upgraded technology from top-to-bottom so it can offer even more in addition to the increased speeds that 5G non-standalone has already brought.

What are the benefits of 5G SA?

The increased reliability and responsiveness of the 5G Standalone network will bring:

  • Improved smartphone battery life.
  • Smoother online gaming and video streaming experiences with minimised lag and buffering due to 5G Standalone’s low latency.
  • Enhanced coverage – the 5G Standalone trial goes further than what is being delivered by 5G networks today; the increase is the equivalent to the area over a million customers live in.
  • Significantly better 5G coverage indoors, thanks to the use of lower frequency radio waves.
  • Greater responsiveness and reliability in busy areas, as 5G Standalone is built to connect significantly more devices simultaneously.
  • Improved security due to more advanced end-to-end encryption and next-generation security software.

Vodafone will also trial network steering, a technology that allows the network to direct a device automatically towards the right connectivity (4G, 5G non-standalone or 5G Standalone), depending on what services are being used. Network steering will improve the efficiency of Vodafone’s network, providing a better experience for all customers.

What is in the future for 5G SA?

All of this is only the beginning. 5G Standalone’s low latency will enable even more immersive and interactive experiences, such as augmented and virtual reality, as well as use cases that rely on near-live data processing or reactions, such as self-driving vehicles or remote medical consultations and surgery.

Network slicing: Everything you need to know

Network slicing, a new way of delivering customised connectivity experiences, will be made possible by the introduction of 5G Standalone (5G SA). But what is it and why do we need it?

One of the key benefits of 5G Standalone is a capability called ‘network slicing’. Vodafone can use it to create distinct, discrete parts of the network, customised for different customers depending on their connectivity requirements.

For example, one slice could be reserved for the emergency services, prioritising reliability over everything else. In March 2022, Vodafone and Ericsson completed lab trials for network slicing.

When will 5G SA roll out across the UK?

To enable the roll-out of 5G Standalone to communities across the UK, not just the big cities, support is needed from the Government and the regulators.

Ofcom and the Government have helped to create a pro-investment environment for full fibre broadband networks, leading to the speed at which they are being made available today.

The same efforts should be replicated for mobile networks as they can act as a catalyst for economic growth across the UK – as much as £150bn worth of economic potential can be unlocked using 5G Standalone.

Andrea Dona, Vodafone’s UK Chief Network Officer, explains the thinking behind Vodafone’s 5G Standalone trial – testing a new technology that promises much higher speeds, lower latency, with better reliability and security.

Vodafone has begun inviting customers to join a trial network for 5G Standalone (5G SA), the first time in the UK customers will be able to experience “full” 5G.  

The trial is a limited, controlled experience enabling us to test and demonstrate the full potential of 5G to selected customers across the country – triallists must have either a Samsung Galaxy S21/S22 or OPPO Find X3/X5 Pro smartphone.

This is a very important step forward on the way to creating a digital platform for innovation across every sector of the UK.

How is 5G SA different?

5G Standalone is a totally separate network, independent of the 4G network that the current 5G is built on. So, in future, users will benefit from much higher speeds, lower latency (buffering), and increased reliability and security. 

It will enable many more “things” – anything from autonomous vehicles to building monitoring sensors, from smartphones to smart traffic lights – to be connected simultaneously. And because it is ‘cloud-native’, it can be updated and managed much more easily.

Ultimately, 5G SA, when it comes at scale, will enable us to do things that are not possible on the 4G network – it will fast-track the digitisation of business and society. 

But why is this important?

5G SA should be viewed as a vehicle for innovation and greater prosperity across the UK. If digital is to be a platform for economic success and levelling up the country and society, we have to make sure that new technology is rolled out as quickly and as widely as possible. 

For example, 5G SA could support an intelligent transport system where congestion is all but eliminated; a futuristic, digitalised healthcare system which is more joined-up and focused on prevention; artificial intelligence that augments human skills and really adds value to our economy. 

This trial is a stepping-stone towards this digitally connected ecosystem which will enable businesses and public sector organisations to thrive, innovate and improve the lives of people across the UK. 

So why isn’t 5G Standalone everywhere?

From a technical perspective, we have been working with our partner Ericsson over the last year to build a 5G core network. This is one of the final steps, but we also have to upgrade equipment on each mast site, as 5G makes use of different spectrum frequencies than 4G.

But making these upgrades to deliver this network is very expensive. So we need to figure out how we are going to invest in 5G SA in a sustainable and commercially viable way. And most importantly, how we are going to ensure it is accessible to everyone, not just the major towns and cities.

The roll-out is a significant financial commitment for the telecoms industry, and we cannot do it alone. We need support from the Government and regulators. 

This could take the form of providing low-interest loans; reforming regulation around net neutrality; encouraging public procurement of 5G services; or reducing barriers to roll-out. Industry consolidation also has an important role to play in providing the scale necessary to invest.   

A flavour of what is to come

The 5G SA trial is certainly very exciting and gives customers a taste of what tomorrow’s telecoms networks could be like. 

But it is only a trial in a number of cities with a handful of eligible devices. It shows what will be possible. But to deliver on the full potential of 5G SA – and to create that brighter digital future for all – we’ll need help creating the right investment and regulatory environment.

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