The status of 5G standalone (SA) rollouts in the U.S. seems to depend on who you ask. A couple of U.S. mobile network operators (MNOs) have forged ahead with 5G SA deployments, but all three of the major operators in the China have already moved to 5G SA, and Reliance Jio in India is on track to deliver the largest 5G SA network in the world sometime in 2023.

But analyst firms like Dell’Oro list U.S. operators AT&T and Verizon as having commercial 5G SA deployments. Just not ones you could find any evidence of on a map.

So, what is the number one U.S. operator Verizon doing around updating its network to 5G SA? Let’s try and find out!

A little history

We know that T-Mobile was the first operator in the world to launch a 5G SA network with its nationwide 600 MHz low-band 5G network, which was switched on in August 2020. It launched a 5G SA update for its mid-band 2.4 GHz network in November 2022, which offers faster download speeds than the low-band network.   

Dish launched its cloud-native 5G greenfield network in mid-June 2022. The network covered 20% of the U.S. population (as per Federal Communications Commission requirements) with its new build last year, that will very soon be increased to coverage of 70% of the population. The operator was also the first to host its 5G core on the AWS public cloud.

The Big V’s 5G story

Verizon started its 5G journey by rolling out millimeter wave (mmWave) to support fixed wireless access (FWA) and early mobile 5G networks in 2019. It moved to introduce low-band 5G in 2020 using DSS (dynamic spectrum sharing) with its 4G LTE networks. This gave 5G far more reach than the frankly pathetic coverage of mmWave networks but offered download speeds barely faster than 4G. 

In any case, neither of these options were pure 5G, they used a 4G core to create and manage 5G calls. This meant that many of the features promised by 5G, from voice calls over 5G (called VoNR) to network slicing and ultra-low latency could not be delivered by these sorta 5G networks. You need a 5G core to support a 5G radio access network (RAN).

So, we asked Verizon where the operator is at with its 5G stand alone  deployment. The largest MNO in the U.S., it turns out, is still a little reticent about talking to the press on its cloud-native 5G SA network, however, it has previously noted that it “began moving customer traffic onto the new cloud-native, containerized design [5G] core” in October 2022.

What kind of traffic it started to move, namely, consumer, enterprise or both? The carrier isn’t giving any details yet. 

The MNO did offer a few more details on its 5G SA core in April 2023.

“Verizon’s 5G core—and thus its 5G SA technology—is built on a cloud-based platform that Verizon created specifically for telecommunications workloads,” Verizon wrote in a post on the cloudified core. “No other telecommunications company has taken this step (others are using cloud systems from outside providers). Because it’s built specifically for telecommunications workloads, it can support the advanced technologies and services that provide the reliability and performance customers expect.”

The operator calls the program the Verizon Cloud Platform (VCP) — original!

Verizon notes that the VCP distributed platform supports edge computing, private cloud services and web applications. It also runs applications like mapping and spatial analysis tools, orchestration and service assurance tools, as well as auto remediation, which Verizon said allows the network to repair itself.

“We will have some announcements coming up,” Verizon spokesperson Karen Shulz told Silverlinings in email, while noting that Verizon doesn’t presently have any new information it hasn’t already released. So stay tuned!

Research director at the Dell’Oro Group Dave Bolan characterized Verizon’s 5G SA deployment so far as methodical “[It’s] based on addressing markets as needed,” he noted in an email.

Basically, it appears that Verizon has done the groundwork of laying out its cloud platform for the 5G SA network. We may see an announcement around specific enterprise launches, or a wider commercial launch, later this year. A commercial float may depend on how many users are deploying iOS or Android standalone updates on their smartphones.

Whatever happens, we’ll update this run-down of the status of 5G SA networks in the U.S. more, when we get further data from AT&T, Dish and T-Mobile.

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