Vodafone has announced the launch of standalone 5G services in Germany and is keen to tell the world how it has cast aside the ‘training wheels’ of LTE to offer super-fast mobile speeds.
“Our 5G network in the 3.5 gigahertz range is now completely independent of LTE technology,” said Vodafone Germany’s chief technology officer Gerhard Mack, in a German language statement. “Latency times of 10 to 15 milliseconds are possible – that’s as fast as the human nervous system.”
Vodafone said it has upgraded around 1,000 base stations at 3.5 GHz to 5G standalone – that is, with 5G at the core, rather than LTE – in 300 locations in Germany, connecting them to an independent 5G core network, with data being processed at its first 5G data centre at Frankfurt am Main. The telco worked with equipment makers Nokia and Ericsson to make the switch.
It claims to be the first operator in Europe to launch a live 5G standalone network for consumers and business customers.
“We are the first network operator to put the LTE training wheels aside with 5G and launch a 5G core network – not for internal tests, but in the live network,” said Vodafone Germany CEO Hannes Ametsreiter.
So, customers can access 5G standalone right now?
Not quite. Vodafone customers with compatible smartphones on a postpaid 5G tariff plan will be able to upgrade to 5G standalone next week, at no extra cost.
As is often the case in this industry, it’s device availability that will govern take-up. As it stands, Vodafone is offering just one smartphone capable of running on 5G standalone, the OPPO Find X3 Pro, which comes at a cost of €40 per month with the telco’s RED M tariff. Users will have to wait for a firmware update later this month though. As OPPO itself put it, the update will come “in the coming weeks, ideally within April.”
Alternatively, customers could wait until May, when Vodafone expects to be able to offer Samsung Galaxy S21 5G smartphones, also with a required firmware update.
So, while Vodafone is not charging extra for standalone 5G, it is hardly a cheap option. Little wonder then that the telco is going all out to convince would-be users of its benefits. It is hyping up the possibility of augmented and virtual reality in sports and low latency in gaming as key benefits for consumers, while also detailing successful network slicing trials with Sky for live sports reporting and a new 5G project with Sony for real-time data to an electric car prototype.
“We can provide customized networks for special applications. Time-limited and optimised for the use of individual applications,” said Ametsreiter.
At launch the low latency will be evident in Frankfurt and the surrounding area as that is where the first 5G core is located, Vodafone said. However, it plans to bring a second 5G data centre online in Berlin and a third in Munich later this year, and aims to be operating 10 in total by 2023, making low latency and data transfer in near-real-time available across Germany.
As it stands, standalone 5G is available in the major cities of Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and Düsseldorf, as well as in some smaller urban areas. By the end of the year Vodafone aims to have quadrupled the number of live standalone 5G antennas in Germany to around 4,000, adding in other frequency bands.
The live availability of standalone 5G is something of a coup for Vodafone, when you consider that Deutsche Telekom proudly announced the successful completion of a standalone video call just a month ago. Beating the incumbent to market is unlikely to have a huge impact on the development of Vodafone’s 5G business in the long run, but there are certain bragging rights to be had.
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