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The recent adjustment to the standard-setting timeline for a new 5G radio interface, known as New Radio and usually shortened to 5G-NR, is expected to have a significant impact on operators’ plans and to hasten early deployments of the new technology.

Announced during the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and ratified at a 3GPP RAN Group plenary in March, the so-called non-stand-alone option for 5G-NR is supported by a large group of operators and vendors and is based on an industry consensus that supporters say has been painstakingly built over the course of a year. The change will enable operators to introduce large-scale 5G trials and even commercial deployments based on 5G-NR anchored by their existing LTE core infrastructure, as early as 2019.

The move will help create a level playing field between operators pursuing a stand-alone approach to 5G (albeit in some cases not a fully standardized one) and those electing to build on their existing 4G infrastructure, and supporters point to the surge in demand for new data capacity and the emergence of highly intensive new applications as justification for the change. In addition, they say it will bring forward the opportunity for innovation and the exploration of new use cases.

On the face of it, the move appears to be a triumph for the greater good over specific commercial interests. However, don’t expect that any development of this kind will escape scrutiny of its likely commercial implications. There will be those, particularly in the vendor community, who question whether in a challenging market, this adjustment might serve to shift the balance either toward or away from the strengths and capabilities of specific market players.

Regardless of the arguments, however, the acceleration of the standard-setting process for non-stand-alone 5G-NR will be significant in the early days of 5G network deployment. Five years down the line, when 5G networks are becoming more widely commercialized, this small shift in the timeline will have been subsumed by the wide-scale implementation of the 5G network model and might seem to be of little importance.

But as 5G commercialization approaches, it will speed up the availability of 5G technology and provide new impetus in an otherwise stagnant equipment-supply market. Right now Ovum is interested in hearing from operators as to how, if at all, they expect the standards acceleration of non-stand-alone 5G to impact their 5G rollout plans, and over the next few weeks we will be asking for their opinion. We will be reporting the results of our survey ahead of the 5G World event, which takes place in London in June.

For further details and to participate in our survey, please contact me at julian.bright@ovum.com.

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