Orange-Spain deploys 5G SA network (“5G+”) in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville
Orange-Spain has deployed a commercial 5G SA network in several cities, with more to follow this year. The network will be available in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. The network operator claims it is the first network operator to deploy a commercial 5G SA network in Spain which is called 5G+. 90% coverage is promised in these cities, and more locations are going to be plugged in over the course of 2023.
There will be no extra charge for Orange users to use 5G+, but initially at least they’ll need either a Samsung S22, Xiaomi 12, Xiaomi 12T, S22+, S22 Ultra or Xioami 12 Pro series handset to connect to it.
Orange says it has spent €531 million buying up 5G frequencies in all bands throughout the various auctions from 2016 to the most recent one in December 2022, and we’re told it is the operator with the most spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band.
Orange already deployed 5G services in 1,529 towns and cities in 52 provinces across Spain, surpassing its initial target for the full year. The telco has chosen the following 5G SA vendors:
- Ericsson’s 5G SA core network for Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Poland
- Nokia’s 5G SA core network for France and Slovakia, and Nokia’s Subscriber Data Management for all countries
- Oracle Communications for 5G core signaling and routing in all countries
Orange-Spain refers to its 5G SA network as 5G+, implying an enhanced form of 5G which it is not! It is true 5G because you don’t get any 5G features/functions with 5G NSA. The Orange press release describes 5G SA as a ‘standard that completes the deployment of 5G technology’ – which is only partially true, because there is no standard for 5G SA.
5G+ is also good news for business customers, as per the press release:
“In addition, for enterprises, 5G+ meets the need for flexible, scalable, reliable and secure connectivity for real-time applications. Through its network slicing capability, Orange’s network will be able to offer virtual networks that will be responsible for allocating the necessary network resources to guarantee the provision of critical services or meet specific customer needs, offering different levels of quality, availability, privacy and security.”
Orange Spain is currently offering 5G services through frequencies in the 3.5 GHz and 700 MHz bands. Last year, when Orange announced its deployment of 5G in the 700 MHz band, it said it would offer this technology progressively over the course of 2022 in more than 1,100 towns and cities, 820 of them having between 1,000 and 50,000 citizens.
In the last spectrum auction, Orange secured 2×10 megahertz in the 700 MHz band, which adds to the 110 megahertz in the 3.5 GHz band already owned by Orange. The company invested a total of 523 million euros (currently $559 million) in the acquisition of these frequencies.
Why have 5G SA rollouts been so slow?
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. For these reasons, the marketing around 5G SA and also mmWave is going to be tricky for wireless network operators who are not familiar with the inner workings of the industry and the particulars of how this roll out was executed, and who may simply assume they already bought 5G years ago.
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Lightreading: Orange dips its toes into 5G SA
It remains to be seen whether or not 2023 will be the year when the march to the standalone (SA) version of 5G technology really gains momentum.
Indeed, operators from BT through to Vodafone UK have been admitting that the deployment of 5G SA is not for the faint-hearted, with a number of challenges to be overcome. Not least among these challenges is the move to an entirely new core network, often developed by a new supplier.
Many operators are carrying on regardless because, as they see it, they have no choice if they want, someday, to reap the oft-repeated rewards that 5G SA networks can offer.
Orange Group has become the latest operator to throw its hat into the standalone ring, although not in its core French market. Instead, Spain has been selected as the first Orange market to get a spanking new 5G core network. The operator is certainly proceeding with caution: only Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Valencia will be cranked up to SA, although more cities are expected to be added over the course of 2023.
Ericsson is building Orange’s 5G SA network in Spain, as well as in Belgium, Luxembourg and Poland, while the operator has chosen Nokia’s equivalent offering in France and Slovakia. Nokia’s subscriber data management software is also being used for all European countries covered, as is Oracle’s 5G core signaling and routing technology.
Although Orange claimed bragging rights as the first operator in Spain to launch 5G SA, it is keeping fairly tight lipped about its plans for its other markets, including France. Indeed, France has yet to see a 5G SA launch, although operators have been making noises about their future rollout plans.
Orange said only that it is “currently testing the 5G SA technical elements” in France. “The 5G SA commercial launch will be defined according to local market conditions and will be announced in due course,” the operator added.
France’s Bouygues Telecom announced last year that Ericsson will be supplying the kit for its 5G SA core network and signaled plans to launch the network in 2023. More recently, Altice France-owned SFR unveiled Nokia as its 5G core network partner, as well as its chosen vendor for private 5G network deployments and network slicing.
Orange’s Spanish launch certainly illustrates that more operators are making the leap into standalone, with signs that others will soon follow suit.
As described by the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), some of the anticipated benefits of introducing 5G SA technologies include lower latency, support for massive numbers of devices, programmable systems enabling faster and more-agile creation of services and network slices, and the advent of voice over New Radio (VoNR) technology.
Moreover, the introduction of 5G SA is expected to facilitate simplification of architectures, improve security and reduce costs, the GSA adds.
At the same time, 5G SA progress to date has been described as somewhat disappointing. Only recently, Dell’Oro analyst Dave Bola said there were hopes early last year “that many more [SA networks] would be launched in 2022, but the hopes were lowered as the year progressed.”
Latest figures from the GSA also, somewhat alarmingly, seem to indicate that the market is actually going backwards, although it’s probably more a reflection that network launch numbers have previously been over estimated.
In its November 2022 update, the GSA indicated that at least 36 operators in 21 countries and territories had launched public 5G SA networks, compared to 20 operators at the end of 2021. In its January 2023 update, the association appears to have revised that figure downwards to 32 launches, of which two are soft launches. No clarification for the change in figures was provided.
Meanwhile, Dell’Oro reported in January that 39 operators have deployed 5G SA thus far.
It should be noted that there is no work on 5G SA standardization being done by any SDO, e.g. ITU-T, ETSI, ATIS, etc. All the work to date has been done in 3GPP which has produced 5G SA core network architecture specs where implementation choices are left to the network provider and its vendors. Years ago, ITU-T said they would standardize the non-radio aspects of 5G but that never happened. In fact, 3GPP does not submit their 5G SA core network specs to ITU-T. However, they submit their 5G radio specs (5G RIT/SRIT) to ITU-R WP5D through ATIS contributions.