5G+: Orange launches 5G standalone in Spain


Orange is the first operator in Spain to launch 5G standalone (SA) in Spain, a move it hopes will give it a competitive edge over rivals

Today, Orange has announced the launch of its commercial 5G SA network in Spain, dubbing the new service 5G+.

Orange’s 5G+ service (not to be confused with AT&T’s 5G service of the same name, which is not 5G SA) will initially be available only in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville, with further locations expected to be added later this year.

In these initial four cities, coverage exceeds 90%.

Customers will not face any additional charges for using the 5G+ service but will require a compatible device.

According to Orange, 5G+ will come with numerous benefits for customers, including improved indoor coverage (due to the use of native 5G bands), lower latency, longer device battery life, and improved security.

In addition, the technology will also enable network slicing capabilities for the first time, allowing the operator to create virtual ‘slices’ of spectrum for customers, which can be modified to meet their needs.

Despite the enormous hype generated by the mobile industry around the advent of 5G, the technology has thus far proved difficult to monetise for telcos.

This has been largely related to the type of network being deployed, with initial 5G deployments being deployed over non-standalone (NSA) architecture, coupling 5G RAN equipment with an LTE core. While this offers a considerable increase in speed and capacity compared to existing 4G services, it lacks the ability to deliver the ultra-low latency and high-capacity connectivity needed for some of 5G’s most highly anticipated use cases, like extended reality (XR) and autonomous driving.

Without these exciting new capabilities, consumers have proven reluctant to pay a premium for a 5G service they largely view as little more than a speed boost.

5G SA, on the other hand, replaces the LTE core with a 5G core (in Orange’s case, using technology from Ericsson, Nokia, and Oracle Communications), delivering the major improvements to latency and capacity required to unlock some of these more exciting use cases.

As such, 5G SA has been marketed by some in the industry as ‘real 5G’, finally delivering on the promised hype. Indeed, in its press release, Orange itself suggests that its 5G+ network will allow for the ‘full exploitation of all 5G capabilities’.

The operator hopes that these more advanced capabilities will naturally allow for novel 5G monetisation opportunities in both the consumer and enterprise segments, helping to enable everything from industrial XR to cloud gaming.

But despite the hopes pinned upon 5G SA to deliver ‘real 5G’, the wider telecoms industry has been slow to make the switch to the new technology. While many operators hoped to have the transition completed in 2022, recent research from Dell’Oro Group showed that only 39 operators worldwide have so far deployed 5G SA.

So why the delay?

The answer is both technical and economic in nature. The move from NSA to SA 5G architecture is incredibly complex – seemingly more so than initially anticipated by operators around the world. In the UK, for example, BT’s CTO Howard Watson described the shift as a “sea change in the underlying architecture” late last year, telling journalists the company would take their time to ensure a smooth transition.

Meanwhile, the global economic situation is making network rollouts more expensive and reducing customer spending, leaving operators unsure if they will be able to get a quick return on investment.

As a result, we are left with a mobile industry in no major hurry to upgrade to 5G SA, but is instead happy to bide its time and wait to learn lessons from early adopters ­– including Orange.

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