The next mobile carrier technology battleground will be standalone 5G, as a T-Mobile announcement today illustrates. The carrier claims several standalone 5G “firsts” involving voice and video over 5G new radio (VoNR and ViNR).

What are these “firsts”? What is voice over 5G new radio (VoNR)? What is video over 5G new radio (ViNR)?

The “firsts” that T-Mobile touts include:

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  • the first low-band standalone (SA) 5G voice call using evolved packet system (EPS) fallback to VoLTE
  • the first low-band VoNR call on a production network
  • the first video over new radio (ViNR) call on a production network
  • the first VoNR and ViNR calls with a commercial smartphone on a production network
  • the first 5G call with EPS fallback with a commercial smartphone on a production network
  • the first SA 5G data session between commercial modems from two suppliers on a production network
  • the first low-band SA 5G data session with a commercial smartphone on a production network

What is VoNR? What is ViNR?
The first essential requirement to all these “firsts” is 5G NR, the latest version of the 5G standard that allows operation in a wide range of frequency bands. The previous standard emphasized high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum bands, rather than lower-frequency bands such as what T-Mobile used for its near-nationwide 5G launch.

The 5G NR standard supports standalone as well as non-standalone deployments. In a non-standalone deployment, such as what all U.S. carriers deployed initially, the 5G network is underpinned by a 4G LTE core network known as the evolved packet core (EPC) and that core network supports voice calls.

Standalone 5G networks have their own core network known as the 5G packet core and do not require an underlying LTE network. They use a cloud-native approach and are designed to support network slicing and to provide lower latency in comparison with the non-standalone approach.

VoNR and ViNR calls run over the 5G packet core. An important advantage of ViNR is that it runs natively, rather than as an over-the-top data service. “In other words – no app needed!” T-Mobile notes in its press release.

The carrier may not envision jumping full-scale into VoNR, however, as another one of the “firsts” highlighted in today’s announcement is low-band SA 5G voice using EPS fallback to VoLTE.

Today’s press release highlights several vendors that worked with T-Mobile on the various achievements highlighted, including Cisco, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, OnePlus and Qualcomm.

T-Mobile indicates that it will launch standalone 5G later this year. Other major U.S. carriers also have indicated standalone 5G plans for this year or next.

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