Smartphones

Phone cos prep upgrades to standalone 5G as rollout approaches

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NEW DELHI Smartphone brands are preparing upgrades for existing 5G smartphones to support standalone (SA) 5G networks amid plans by Reliance Jio to roll out a SA network.
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani said last month that most telcos are deploying non-standalone 5G (NSA) in the rush to launch first. Jio, on the other hand, will launch SA 5G.

In NSA mode, only the RAN (radio access network) is upgraded to 5G, while the core network remains on the existing 4G infrastructure. On the other hand, both RAN and core networks are being upgraded to 5G for SA mode. A 5G core includes virtualized, software-based network functions, enabling telcos to meet diverse network needs that are not possible in the NSA version of 5G. Jio is expected to launch SA 5G services from Diwali by the end of October, while Airtel plans to roll out its 5G services in NSA mode the same month.

According to experts, most 5G phones in India will support NSA 5G networks, but consumers will be able to connect to SA 5G once the updates begin. The upgrades will roll out like any other over-the-air (OTA) update to core software on smartphones. Among the top five smartphone sellers, Xiaomi, Oppo and Realme are among the brands working on the SA 5G update. Samsung and Vivo declined to comment.

“All of the 5G devices we launched in the past year support the 2100MHz, 1800MHz, 900MHz and 3300-3800MHz bands in NSA mode. SA mode will require an over-the-air update, which we are working on and expected to roll out by the time networks start to roll out,” said Muralikrishnan B, president of Xiaomi India.

Tasleem Arif, vice president and head of R&D at Oppo India, said the company is “upgrading” current 5G devices to the SA network in conjunction with telcos. “We have been working with these players to build a comprehensive 5G experience for the users and become one of the leading players in DSS, VONR, SA network slicing and other technologies,” he said. A Realme spokesperson confirmed that the company has tested 5G devices with telcos and will release updates gradually.

“SA networks are helping to realize the true potential of 5G networks. With 5G core, SA networks enable low-latency, high-speed communications,” said Sachin Kalantri, senior director of product marketing at chipmaker Qualcomm, which also supplies modems to smartphone makers. According to a February 2021 report from analytics firm OpenSignal, based on analysis of Telco T-Mobile’s SA 5G rollout in the US saw users’ time connected to 5G surge after upgrading to SA mode, it said SA 5G networks showed a 23.8% improvement in latency in urban areas compared to NSA networks.

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