AT&T confirmed its move to a pure 5G network, telling Silverlinings it introduced a standalone (SA) 5G core in late 2022. That means all of the big four U.S. mobile network operators (MNOs) now offer 5G untethered from a 4G control plane, allowing their networks to support advanced services like network slicing and more.

AT&T is the latest carrier to confirm its move to pure 5G.

According to Sikes, AT&T is pursuing a “balanced, thoughtful approach to making technology introductions.” He said, “We do not see standalone as a race. Instead, our road to standalone will be driven by our commitment to provide the right experience for our customers.”

Sikes said that in order to scale 5G SA, AT&T needs a “critical mass of capable devices” as well as a “robust standalone ecosystem.” This pairing is required to deliver the right user experience in the form of “solid download and upload throughput performance, improved latency and improved network efficiencies with capabilities like MU-MIMO,” he explained.

The standalone shuffle

All four major operators in the U.S. – Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Dish – now offer 5G standalone service. Theoretically, this paves the way to improved consumer services like voice-over-5G (also called VoNR), as well as enterprise offerings, such as network slicing and 5G IoT services that can support millions of devices.

T-Mobile led with the launch of 5G SA on its low-band 600MHz network in August 2020. It followed with its 5G SA mid-band (2.4GHz) update in November 2022.

Dish first launched its greenfield 5G SA network in June 2022. It said it covered over 70% of the U.S. population as of mid-June this year.

Verizon said that it started to move customer traffic to a pure 5G core in October 2022. It has now started to trial dynamic network slicing on its Verizon Cloud Platform (VCP).

AT&T merely said it introduced its standalone 5G core in late 2022.

Aside from T-Mobile, this means that U.S. mobile operators delivered 5G SA way later than their Chinese cousins, who driven by government pressure, first switched on 5G SA in 2020. 

Though the big four all have pure 5G networks, none of the operators have dropped any hints as to how many customers are actually using 5G SA. Many Android and iPhone smartphone users probably have not even noticed that you can switch on 5G SA or Vo5G in the their latest operating system updates.

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