5G Standalone: A Telco Revolution, or Just a Means to an End?

Learn 3 ways European telcos can transform and enable new use cases—with or without 5G-SA

Brenden Rawle
Klaas Mertens
5G Standalone: A Telco Revolution, or Just a Means to an End?

The rollout of 5G standalone (5G-SA) networks could help telco operators enable new services and better position themselves for future success. Industry analysts are predicting that 5G-SA will finally deliver the game-changing capabilities that proponents of 5G have been promising for years now.[1]

Providers are making admirable progress on 5G-SA rollout throughout Europe. For example:

  • In Germany, Vodafone says that its 5G-SA network serves 45% of the country’s population. The company has previously said that it aims to achieve nationwide coverage by 2025.[2]
  • In the U.K., BT recently announced a new trial of 5G-SA network slicing capabilities in partnership with Ericsson and Qualcomm.[3]
  • In Spain, Orange activated its 5G-SA network in 2023. It already claims 90% coverage in the country’s four largest cities (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla).[4]

Despite these bright spots, there’s growing concern that Europe is falling behind on 5G-SA. According to Ericsson executive Freddie Södergren, European telcos face a chicken-and-egg problem: They operate in extremely competitive markets, so it’s challenging for them to monetize 5G as it is. This makes it harder to justify the business case for investing further in 5G-SA.[5]

What’s next for 5G-SA in Europe?

European telcos can’t be content to continue falling behind on 5G-SA—and it’s safe to assume they’ll invest significant resources as they work to catch up. Fortunately, the success of European telcos is not directly tied to 5G-SA rollout, for two reasons:

  • 5G-SA is not a magic bullet. While it does enable network slicing and other enterprise-grade use cases, it’s up to developers to turn the possibilities of 5G-SA into real business value.
  • 5G-SA is just a means to an end. Telcos and their customers can start exploring next-gen applications and services immediately, without waiting several years for full 5G-SA coverage across all markets they operate in.

The responsibility falls on developers to make the most of the networks available to them—standalone or otherwise. They can achieve this by working with the right partners to start modernizing their infrastructure and capturing the full value of advanced use cases. Below, we’ll summarize three transformative opportunities European telcos can start pursuing today.

1.    Virtual points of presence (vPoPs)

Deploying virtual points of presence (vPoPs) can help service providers bypass the limitations of current 5G non-standalone (5G-NSA) networks and transform their network technology at the same time. Using a combination of colocation, bare metal and virtual network functions, telcos and other service providers can take an infrastructure-as-code approach, making their digital edge programmable and repeatable. They can define their vPoP infrastructure once and then deploy it across multiple locations with cloud-like flexibility—including the required integration into their existing legacy infrastructure.

Equinix worked with Orange to deploy a telco cloud vPoP using Equinix Metal®, our Bare Metal as a Service (BMaaS) solution. The company can now deploy its services in new markets quickly, using our self-service web portal, APIs and developer integrations.

Also, Equinix partner Travelping helped a large German automaker provide wireless connectivity for cars sold in 40+ countries. Deploying vPoPs helped keep connected car data local; otherwise, it would have been routed all the way to an IP network in Germany and back. Avoiding this long backhaul allowed the automaker to ensure low latency and prevent data residency/sovereignty issues.

Telcos should be developing their vPoP strategies today, to ensure they’re ready to deploy wherever and whenever needed. Their strategies should include architecture and automation templates.

2.    Automated interconnection

If we had to summarize the most impactful shift in the telco space during the last several years, it would be the growth of inter-carrier connections. Providers have long since recognized that they can’t single-handedly offer the global reach and breadth of services that customers demand. The next-best thing is to meet that demand by integrating partner services. This approach also helped to form the global internet infrastructure.

It’s a simple idea, but often surprisingly difficult to execute. For one thing, the networking between partners needs to be seamless. If a customer needs a particular service in a specific location, today’s telcos can’t waste time identifying which partner could best provide that service and then determining how best to connect to that partner. It needs to happen automatically, with cloud-like flexibility. This means the telco needs an interconnection platform that allows them to create or alter all types of connections on demand.

With Equinix Fabric®, our software-defined interconnection solution, telcos can implement the automated interconnection capabilities they need to get the most value from their partner ecosystems. For instance, Equinix interconnection services are the foundation of the MEF Flat Hammer showcase, a new accelerator for enterprise cloud network automation. These services integrate multiple telco players to enable seamless global enterprise connectivity with full automation.

3.    Telco marketplaces

Connectivity between many different partners is still just a means to an end: The exchange of data between various parties. To enable this, telcos have traditionally relied on point-to-point connections with individual partners. This method leaves a lot to be desired: The connections are time-consuming to identify, set up and manage, and providers don’t have any insights on the value of the data their customers are sharing.

But telcos might have a better option: New telco marketplaces enable partners to buy, sell or share connectivity and data with one another on a neutral platform. This platform offers agreed-upon guidelines to ensure service discoverability, data privacy and integrity across all the partners. Participating in marketplaces can help telcos serve end users better and unlock new sources of revenue. Data marketplaces in particular will play an essential role in enabling emerging AI use cases. By joining these marketplaces, telcos can establish themselves as an essential part of the AI ecosystem going forward.

While true data marketplaces are still in their infancy, the globally distributed, high-bandwidth digital infrastructure needed to support them already exists. This means that telcos need to be ready to take advantage of marketplaces as they become more common. They can do this by deploying in proximity to new data sources (possibly using vPoPs), connecting new data sources to existing infrastructure (possibly using automated interconnection), and becoming ‘”marketplace ready” by describing and offering their services based on common automation standards.

Equinix enables next-gen telco

With our global colocation platform and on-demand digital infrastructure services, Equinix offers the distributed, interconnected digital infrastructure that European telcos need to capitalize on and further develop these and other transformative opportunities.

To learn more about how Equinix digital infrastructure is helping service providers prepare to thrive in a new digital era, read our white paper Create a digital advantage at software speed.

And if you have particular use cases, ideas or new developments you’d like to discuss, contact us today so that we can work to develop the Next Generation of Telcos together!

 

[1] Paul Lipscombe, Will the real 5G please stand up?, Data Center Dynamics, January 25, 2024.

[2] Juan Pedro Tomás, Vodafone said its 5G SA network currently serves nearly 45% of the German population, RCR Wireless News, January 2, 2024.

[3] Ryan Daws, Ericsson, Qualcomm and BT conduct 5G SA network slicing trial, Telecoms Tech New, February 8, 2024.

[4] Paul Lipscombe, Orange activates 5G Standalone network in Spain, Data Center Dynamics, February 14, 2023.

[5] Linda Hardesty, Orange launches 5G SA in Spain, but Europe lags on 5G SA, Fierce Wireless, March 6, 2023.

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Brenden Rawle Senior Director Business Development, EMEA
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Klaas Mertens Global Solutions Architect
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