Orange, a French telecom company, recently announced that Spain would be its first market to switch to a 5G standalone (SA) core.
The operator has already begun offering non-standalone (NSA) 5G in each of its seven European nations. NSA uses 4G technology in its core network but 5G technology in its radio access network.
Orange chose Ericsson in Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Poland as its 5G SA core vendor. Nokia was chosen for Slovakia and France. Last week at MWC in Barcelona, Bernard Despres, VP for Core Network, Automation, and Security at Orange, spoke with Fierce Wireless. Despres claimed that choosing Ericsson as the 5G SA core vendor in Spain went more smoothly. The 4G core in France is based on Cisco and Ericsson equipment. But for 5G, Orange will use Nokia in France. It won’t be using Cisco at all for 5G SA core in any market.
When asked why Orange selected Spain for its first 5G SA core, Despres said, “It’s really a local market decision. It was an occasion in Spain to be the first in the market.”
The main operator in Spain with its headquarters in Madrid, Telefonica, was actually beaten by Orange in terms of 5G SA deployment. Not yet, according to Telefonica, is 5G SA. In terms of 5G SA rollouts, European operators generally lag behind. The head of technology and strategy at Business Area Networks for Ericsson, Freddie Södergren, stated: “We have a number of operators that are having trouble making money from 5G. They operate in highly competitive markets where raising ARPU is a real challenge. The business case is therefore challenging. A chicken-and-egg issue exists.
Operators in Europe, he said, “need to understand a little bit what the consequences of falling behind on 5G are.
In the case of Orange and its roadmap for rolling out 5G SA in the rest of its markets, Despres said, “My role is to have the technical chain ready. When once ready, it’s a local business decision.” He indicated Orange is likely to announce more 5G SA markets this year and in 2024. He said the rollout in Spain was “hard work” and provided a good learning curve for the rest of the company’s markets.
Orange is the leading fiber operator in Europe with 46 million FTTH passings as of the end of 2022. Because more of their populations have fibre installed, operators like Orange in Europe view the digital divide slightly differently than they do in the United States. Fixed wireless access (FWA), which is being used by Verizon and T-Mobile to bridge the digital divide in the United States, is less common in Europe, according to Ericsson’s Södergren. The dynamics are a little different if fixed and mobile are converged, according to Södergren. “Using wireless wouldn’t interfere with fixed.”
Despres claimed Orange uses its 4G network for some FWA. Additionally, it provides satellite broadband in more remote areas thanks to a collaboration with Eutelsat.
“We have this strategy to progressively offer, by fiber mainly, then 4G/5G then last resort satellite,” he said.
At MWC, Orange also revealed that a 5G SA private wireless network trial was in the works. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amdocs, Arista, Casa Systems, Dell Technologies, HPE, Mavenir, and Xiaomi are among the partners in the Pikeo trial network.
According to Orange, the test network spans two locations in France and is currently used by Orange staff members. A third site in Spain will soon be added to the Pikeo trial for internal use.
The multi-cloud Pikeo 5G SA private network is installed and using a hybrid architecture with AWS, the Orange Telco Cloud, on-premises at Orange Telco Cloud infrastructure, or online. The core network is fully or optionally partially deployed in an AWS Region at Orange locations.
“The successful implementation and operation of this greenfield network for more than one year have provided Orange with invaluable experience and knowledge on the automation of cloud-native 5G SA networks,” stated Orange in its announcement.