Most of the world’s leading carriers have now implemented 5G standalone (SA) networks. 5G SA denotes that operators have upgraded their 4G cores to 5G in addition to running 5G in their radio access networks (RAN).

In a recent blog post, Dell’Oro listed every known 5G SA network, which includes all the main North American carriers as well as significant European operators like Vodafone and Telefonica, as well as a lengthy list of carriers in China, Japan, and India. (Refer to the list at the base of this article.)

However, 2023 is probably going to be a significant year for many smaller operators worldwide to install 5G SA cores.

Recently, Counterpoint Research released a new report, which came up with similar findings as Dell’Oro — that the Asia-Pacific region led the world in 5G SA at the end of 2022, followed by North America and Europe, with the other regions – Middle East and Africa and Latin America – lagging behind.

The analysts said that by the end of 2022, 5G coverage had reached about 1 billion subscribers worldwide. Although most of the 5G deployments in 2022 were in the developed economies of the world, Counterpoint expects the bulk of 5G network rollouts in 2023 will be in emerging markets. This will drive the continuing transition from 5G non-standalone to 5G SA.

According to Counterpoint, 42 operators have deployed 5G SA commercially with many more testing and in trials. “In some markets, operators have adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ approach and are looking for evidence of successful use cases before switching from 5G NSA to SA,” they said.

According to Counterpoint, Ericsson and Nokia are the market leaders for 5G SA internationally and are gaining from some markets’ geopolitical penalties against Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. While the American vendor Mavenir is active in all regions and has a number of deployments scheduled to go live in 2023, including several with Tier-1 operators, the Asian vendors Samsung and NEC are primarily focused on their respective domestic markets but are expanding their reach to Tier-2 operators and emerging markets.

Pekka Lundmark, the CEO of Nokia, was questioned about 5G SA core during a recent Q4 2022 earnings call. “5G standalone is obviously the name of the game right now because you need it to reap the full benefits of 5G,” said Lundmark. There is going to be a lot of investment in 5G core, and operators will be implementing some critical important services like slicing, which require investment in the 5G core.

The core network software for Nokia, according to him, is “very profitable, and we are putting huge sums of money in it.”

Nokia has begun delivering its core network software as a service and is in the process of making it cloud-native.

The list of operators who have used 5G SA cores is provided below by Dell’Oro.

Dell'Oro chart