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.