Seems like we see news about 5G rollouts every week, with networks being “lit up” left and right. But on August 4, there was a really big announcement from T-Mobile about their launch of the world’s first nationwide standalone (SA) 5G network. So, why all the hype with this one?

Simple. T-Mobile’s 5G SA is pure 5G throughout the network, providing the high bandwidth, blazing speeds, and low latency that is the transformational promise of 5G. And the numbers speak for themselves. This new network expands its 5G coverage by nearly 30%, covering almost 250 million people in more than 7,500 cities and towns across 1.3 million square miles. T-Mobile’s deployment of 5G SA is truly orders of magnitude larger than any other. According to Ookla’s latest report, T-Mobile has the largest 5G footprint in the U.S., with 14 times more 5G sites than AT&T and 140 times more than Verizon. Those are some pretty impressive statistics. 5G SA is the future and Cisco is proud to partner with T-Mobile to deliver this next-gen connectivity to the entire nation.

What’s the difference between 5G Standalone and 5G Non-Standalone?

Any consumer considering their next mobile purchase or upgrade options should be asking this question. And, so should businesses looking for a mobile operator to partner with on their own 5G digital transformation. Simply put, with 5G Standalone, the whole network is 5G – the radio, the core, all of the speeds and benefits. 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) uses 5G radio over the existing 4G network. And while 5G NSA can provide improved speeds, it’s generally accepted that 5G SA is where the real transformation happens.

It’s not just a big deal for T-Mobile. For Cisco, being one of the key partners in this new network is huge. We’re proud to be supplying the critical core cloud-native functions that differentiate between a 5G bridge (NSA) and pure 5G (SA). Let’s take a closer look at the technology Cisco is providing in the world’s first nationwide 5G SA network.

•  User Plane Function (UPF): Positioned between the radio network and the core, this is arguably the most strategic control point (in-line service control) in the 5G SA network. UPF is responsible for packet routing and forwarding, packet inspection, QoS handling, and external PDU session for interconnecting Data Network (DN) in the 5G architecture. UPF also opens the GTP encapsulation exposing the IP packets so that your mobile traffic can be properly routed and your quality expectations (QoS) understood and met. UPF is essential in MEC and peering in the mobile network.
•  Session Management Function (SMF): This function provides the mobile core gateways. All mobile data sessions – like video calls and streaming – are managed via the SMF. If the mobile core is the heart of the 5G network, then the SMF is the heart of the mobile core. Both the 5G UPF and SMF are deployed as an evolution of the control/user plane separation (CUPS) capability that Cisco has made available to our customers since 2016.
•  Policy Control Function (PCF): As the name suggests, PCF is the network policy control point. This function supports the unified policy framework, governing network behavior. It provides policy rules to control and enforce plane functions.

Why Cisco for 5G SA?

The list is long…

•  Cisco is a leading technology driver for 5G. We’ve committed $5 billion in 5G funding to help service providers evolve to this next generation of mobility.
•  We’re active in all of the key mobile standards development and recommendations.
•  We introduced the first cloud-to-client software-defined 5G architecture.
•  We’re opening the last proprietary segment of the mobile network with Open vRAN.
•  Our 5G mobility products are cloud-native and designed to monetize 5G service, reduce costs, and mitigate risks.
•  Our mobile core products leverage Vector Packet Processing (VPP) technology, which delivers the fastest processing of traffic and network functions without requiring 3rd party plug-ins or add-ons.

Another key reason to choose Cisco is that we continuously improve our software to increase performance and drive value. This means we can move mobile traffic between client and services as efficiently as possible. Whether it’s video conferencing (like WebEx), transmitting vehicular analytics, video streaming, or voice, it’s all data plane traffic. This is the traffic that Cisco’s 5G cloud-native packet core will provision and deliver across the T-Mobile 5G SA network. Our focus here ensures that we build best-in-class products and solutions that deliver on efficiency, customer support, and scale.

Building a 5G SA network is a major undertaking and investment. Service providers can feel confident that Cisco’s cloud-native 5G architecture drives the greatest value from the major investment that operators must make in spectrum and radio. With Cisco’s 5G architecture, the network is defined by the applications and services, not by the access technology.

Cisco solutions are designed to meet your customers’ needs and create new revenue, and we work hand in hand with you and your customers to make sure you get the greatest return on your investment. At the end of the day, that’s really the ultimate outcome – maximizing return, profitability, and value from your 5G investment. We join T-Mobile in celebrating the world’s first nationwide SA 5G network and look forward to seeing the impact it’s sure to make on millions of people.


Kishen Mangat

Leads the Policy Management Product Line

Service Provider Mobility Business