Ericsson secured a 5G core network deal with Vodafone in the U.K, as the mobile operator looks to launch standalone across its European markets.
It builds on 5G core work with the Swedish vendor in Germany, where Ericsson supported Vodafone with Europe’s largest standalone (SA) 5G deployment in April. The announcement also comes right on the heels of Vodafone’s pick for a handful of vendors to help deploy open radio access network (RAN) sites in the U.K., which notably included Samsung.
The operator plans to utilize Ericsson’s cloud-native dual-mode 5G core in the U.K. in a shift towards standalone – or a fully 5G network that no longer relies on 4G LTE in the core for control (which is seen in non-standalone 5G deployments). SA 5G is a needed step towards capabilities like network slicing and implementing services-based architecture.
Deployment with Ericsson in the U.K. will happen over a five-year period and Ericsson said it’s an end-to-end 5G partner for Vodafone. “As key partners in Vodafone’s digital journey, we have deployed 5G across Europe after years of joint innovation. Now, expanding on our existing Radio Access Network, our core network portfolio has been entrusted to bring 5G to the next level in Germany and the UK,” said Arun Bansal, president of Europe and Latin America at Ericsson in a statement.
Talking about benefits of SA 5G during a Vodafone June investor day video presentation, Scott Petty, Digital & IT Director for Vodafone Technology, said that “standalone will further boost performance, support low latency for augmented and virtual reality applications and key new features such as network slicing.”
He noted the initial SA launch in Germany and stated plans to launch in every European Vodafone market in the next year.
“5G SA will go live in all of our European markets in the coming year,” Petty said. He pointed to early SA 5G use cases like digital learning at Coventry University in the U.K. using virtual reality to support training for student nurses and healthcare workers. Ericsson was part of that SA 5G deployment last summer.
“5G SA means we can use network slicing, which allows us to uniquely configure the network, and improve performance using multi-access edge computing” Petty continued. Together they help fuel better experience like high-quality VR, he added.
5G core market starts strong in Q1
For 5G deal revenues the RAN typically accounts for a bigger piece of the network pie for vendors. Still, the mobile core network market started off strong in 2021, up 16% year over year, according to Dell’Oro Group. And 5G is gaining ground, accounting for more than 20% of revenue share for the core market in Q1, at what the firm pegged as a record high.
“This growth rate has been fueled from buildouts from five commercially deployed nationwide mobile 5G Standalone (5G SA) networks, three in China, one in the US, and one in Western Europe,” stated David Bolan, research director at Dell’Oro Group. T-Mobile had the first large-scale SA 5G launch in 2020 in the U.S.
“The MCN market is poised for higher growth as more 5G SA networks are readying to come on-line,” Bolan continued, pointing to Japan as an example.
Operators like Vodafone, and Dish in the U.S., among others, who are looking to implement open RAN architecture have pointed to more options with newer and smaller players that can focus on certain components, compared to the traditional few options in end-to-end providers. And in the mobile core network market, Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia were still the leading vendors in Q1, Dell’Oro reports, followed by ZTE and Mavenir.
In the investor presentation, Petty said the “vast majority” of Vodafone’s future growth and data in Europe will come from 5G although not immediately, as consumers take time to migrate and adopt 5G smartphones.
“Once you look out a few years however, you will see the handset cycle start to benefit,” Petty said. “5G will grow from small volumes today to being more than half of data traffic by 2025.”
Vodafone is first targeting 5G deployments in areas with high demand, such as cities, travel hubs, ports, industrial zones, and for private 5G networks.