5G mmWave: NSA or SA?

5G mmWave FR2 Bands

According to Chip vendor Qualcomm, all 5G mmWave deployments in the world are currently (March 2021) using 5G non-standalone (NSA) configuration.

What are 5G NSA networks?

5G mmWave using NSA configurations will combine 5G FR2 (Frequency Range 2) with 4G “bearer” operating in traditional lower frequency bands (FR1) which are sub-6GHz

5G mmWave FR2 Bands as used in NSA configuration

Why did operators choose NSA configuration?

Quite simply, because it was an easy upgrade from existing 4G networks. A relatively simple upgrade to the 4G core network, and additional 5G mmWave radios on existing 4G sites

Why will this change?

Many new operators don’t have 4G “anchor band” radio networks. Some of these operators are ISPs and data-centric operators who don’t own 4G spectrum, or operate a 4G network today. They only have the mmWave spectrum to utilise.
Also, an SA network has lower latency and other advantages that an NSA network cannot deliver in the future.

Non-standalone (NSA) 5G:

  • Be first to launch 5G and gain technology and market leadership
  • Introduce new 5G spectrums to boost capacity and increase delivery efficiency
  • Maximizes the use of the installed LTE base
  • LTE anchor required for control plane communication and mobility management
  • 5G Evolved Packet Core
  • Provides early adopter with 5G-enabled devices
  • Enables video streaming, AR/VR, an immersive media experience
  • Opens up opportunities for new use cases such as Critical IoT

Standalone (SA) 5G:

  • Target 5G architecture option 
  • Simplified RAN and device architecture
  • New cloud-native 5G Core
  • Brings ultra-low latency
  • The only option to provide same 5G coverage for low band as legacy system
  • Supports advanced network-slicing functions
  • Facilitates a wider range of use cases for new devices


We can be sure that 5G-SA in mmWave is coming soon, dictated by chipset availability and implementation by equipment vendors and larger operators.

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Economics of 5G mmWave: is it cost effective?

The economics of 5G mmWave need to be considered:

The Deployment costs & Economics of 5G mmWave are considered in a range of scenarios where the short range and high throughput and capacity of mmWave could lead to targeted deployments, and conditions under which these deployments could be cost effective. Three scenarios are modelled in detail:

1. mmWave to provide additional capacity in dense urban areas

2. Providing home broadband through FWA

3. Indoor solutions that can accommodate high traffic demand in an office space.

While commercial mmWave 5G networks have already been successfully launched in some countries, mmWave 5G solutions need to achieve more scale to reduce deployment costs, increase the choice of affordable devices available and facilitate greater adoption. The scale that any technology solution reaches is critical to determining its success and adoption. The momentum for mmWave is building across the three areas that are needed for any 5G band to gain the necessary scale and adoption: spectrum availability, a sufficient choice of consumer devices, and reliable and cost-effective network equipment. This should help inform mobile operators’ considerations of the role that mmWave will play a role in their deployments and when to initiate or accelerate investments in the technology.


mmWave spectrum assignments in the US

5G mmWave in USA


Is gearing up for mmWave, with deployments firmly planned for the 2022 Winter Olympics


Not many mmWave assignments yet, but momentum is building

In other regions, mmWave spectrum licensing conditions are diverse

5G mmWave Globally

5G mmWave CPE devices:

mmWave 5G consumer devices are becoming more widely available.

Some scepticism surrounded the potential use of mmWave in mobile telecommunications until very recently. A number of mobile network operators successfully carried out field trials on mmWave services at the beginning of 2017 and vendors and OEMs started to develop 5G CPEs and network equipment. In October 2018, a leading operator in the US launched a commercial pre-5G FWA internet service in a few cities.
The growth in the number of available mmWave handsets and CPEs in these last few years has been remarkable. A few mmWave handsets and FWA CPEs were launched in 2019, and we expect that more than 30 handsets and 35 CPEs will be available by the end
of 2020.

Consumers can expect more than 100 mmWave handsets and more than 50 FWA CPEs to be available in the market in 2021. With scale comes lower prices for devices. In
general, 5G device costs have already started to fall as scale economies are realised and the range of vendors supplying 5G devices grows. The use of global standardised variants of key smartphone components brings major benefits, as the increased scale in production and the need for fewer design teams outweigh certain higher upfront costs, such as
the need to support multiple spectrum bands. The US market in particular is currently at the forefront in the availability of mmWave devices – with the new mmWave-capable iPhone 12 series a good example of that – giving an additional boost for wider adoption of
the technology.

5G mmWave Base Stations

mmWave equipment categories fall into the following:

  • High-capacity macro site active antenna units (AAUs): These active antenna units can provide enough capacity in densely populated areas for a large number of subscribers and are focused on spectrum between 24.25 and 29.5 GHz.
  • Microsites, lamp sites and pole sites: Most of these serve the 26 GHz or the 28 GHz spectrum in a 2T2R 800 MHz or a 4T4R 400 MHz set-up. These compact and energy-efficient small cells help to provide coverage in outdoor hotspots.
  • Indoor 5G small cell solutions: Vendors started to release indoor 5G small cells using mmWave to make sure operators can provide continuous 5G mmWave coverage. These small cells can ensure fibre-like speed in the mmWave spectrum with compact, lightweight equipment. Leveraging existing Ethernet cabling, and weighing less than 4 kg, they can generally be easily installed by one engineer

Fixed wireless access scenarios

Deploying a 5G FWA network using mmWave spectrum can be cost effective. The results
are sensitive to overall traffic demand, mmWave propagation performance and the share of downlink and uplink in total traffic at the peak demand hour. In a rural US town, suburban Europe and urban China, mmWave FWA can be a cost-effective strategy if 5G FWA is able to capture a good percentage of the residential broadband market demand, traffic demand during the busy hour is relatively high and data consumption does not slow down.

Indoor scenario for 5G mmWave

Consider the cost effectiveness of deploying mmWave indoor small cells along with mid-band small cells in a hypothetical office building

When a significant share of data traffic from devices needs to be supported by indoor 5G
services, a mmWave network could generate cost savings of up to 54%. The precise value in the range depends on the share of devices concurrently active and on whether and to what extent there is the need to provide connectivity to next-generation video
communications equipment.
Depending on whether standard or advanced communications equipment is deployed,20 mmWave indoor small cells alongside 3.5 GHz small cells could provide cost savings between 42% and 46%. In the case where standard communications equipment is
deployed, the deployment of mmWave small cells to complement a 3.5 GHz network is cost effective when the share of mobile devices, laptops and security cameras exceeds 10% and the share of laptops and standard communications equipment is above 17%.

Cost savings in an indoor office space scenario – standard communications

The economics of 5G mmWave

Cost per square metre in an indoor office space scenario:

The economics of 5G mmWave


TCO analysis shows, despite its shorter range and higher equipment costs, the high throughput and capacity of mmWave could lead to targeted cost-effective 5G deployments. These have clear implications for mobile operators, device and equipment manufacturers, and governments:

  • Mobile operators should not underestimate the role of mmWave in the short term
  • Governments and regulators should facilitate the timely availability of mmWave
    spectrum bands, in the right conditions
  • Market readiness has been achieved and a greater choice of equipment and devices
    is expected to accelerate adoption

Various content reproduced courtesy GSMA Intelligence

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5G mmWave Deployments Globally (July 2020)

5G mmWave Deployments Globally (July 2020):

Key statistics for mmWave:

Key statistics:

  • ninety-seven operators in 17 countries/territories hold public licences (many of them regional) enabling operation of 5G networks using mmWave spectrum.
  • twenty-two operators are known to be already deploying 5G networks using mmWave spectrum.
  • thirteen countries/territories have announced formal (datespecified) plans for assigning frequencies above 24 GHz between now and end-2021.
  • eighty-four announced 5G devices explicitly support one or more of the 5G spectrum bands above 24 GHz (though note that details of spectrum support are patchy for pre-commercial devices), up from 59 at the end of November 2019. Twenty-seven of those devices are understood to be commercially available.

Deployments today

The mmWave spectrum bands are being explicitly opened up to enable provision of 5G services. The 24.25–29.5 GHz range covering the overlapping bands n257 (26.5–29.5 GHz), n258 (24.25–27.5 GHz) and n261 (27.5–28.35 GHz) has been the most-licensed/deployed 5G mmWave spectrum range to date.

  • One hundred and twenty-three operators in 42 countries/ territories are investing in 5G (in the form of trials, licences, deployments or operational networks) across the 24.25-29.5 GHz spectrum range.
  • Seventy-nine operators are known to have been licensed to deploy 5G in this range.
  • Twenty-one operators are understood to be actively deploying 5G networks using this spectrum.

Band n260, covering 37–40 GHz, is also used, with 33 companies in six countries/territories investing in networks using this spectrum. Of those, 32 hold licences (with the majority of those 32 based in the USA and its territories). Three operators in the USA have launched 5G using band n260.

5g mmWave deployments and networks deployed

Recent 5G suitable spectrum awards and assignments concerning mmWave spectrum (2017 onwards)

5g mmWave deployments and networks deployed

*Note that due to the typically technology-neutral status of licences in the USA, multiple historic auctions are relevant for 5G including 28 GHz (March 1998 and May 1999) and 39 GHz (May 2000) and others. See www.fcc.gov/auctions for full details.

5G mmWave Global Availability

5G mmWave is starting to be deployed globally. A large increase in numbers of network deployments and user count is expected.

5g mmWave Planned deployments:

Thirteen countries/territories have announced formal (date-specified) plans for assigning 5G-suitable mmWave frequencies between now and end-2021 (including technology-neutral licences or licences for mobile broadband services). Many countries/territories are still deciding whether and when to hold auctions/assignments for mmWave spectrum. Announced events are shown here:

5g mmWave deployments and networks deployed


mmWave spectrum is becoming increasingly important for mobile
telecoms and a number of trends will underpin the continued
emergence of a 5G market that uses mmWave spectrum:

  • increasing numbers of operators with spectrum assignments in mmWave bands suitable for 5G deployments.
  • further auctions of mmWave spectrum in the coming years.
  • increasing investment in networks using these spectrum bands
  • by operators.
  • commitments to launch compatible devices by device vendors.

Data and graphs from and (C) the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association)

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5G NR mmWave FR2 Frequency Bands

5G mmWave FR2 Bands

Frequency bands for 5G NR FR2 are being separated into two different frequency ranges:

Frequency Range 1 (FR1)

Frequency Range 1 (FR1) includes sub-6GHz frequency bands, some of which are bands traditionally used by previous standards, but has been extended to cover potential new spectrum offerings from 410 MHz to 7125 MHz.

Frequency Range 2 (FR2)

Frequency Range 2 (FR2) includes frequency bands from 24.25 GHz to 52.6 GHz. Bands in this millimeter wave range have shorter range but higher available bandwidth than bands in the FR1.

Band definitions include n257, n258, n259, n260, n261

Frequency bands and channel bandwidths

From the latest published version of the 3GPP TS 38.101, the following tables list the specified frequency bands and the channel bandwidths of the 5G NR standard.

Note that the NR bands are defined with prefix of “n”. When the NR band is overlapping with the 4G LTE band, they share the same band number.

Frequency Range 2 (mmWave)

Bandƒ (GHz)Common nameSubset of bandUplink / Downlink (GHz)Channel bandwidths (MHz)
n25728LMDS26.50 – 29.5050, 100, 200, 400
n25826K-band24.25 – 27.5050, 100, 200, 400
n25941V-band39.50 – 43.5050, 100, 200, 400
n26039Ka-band37.00 – 40.0050, 100, 200, 400
n26128Ka-bandn25727.50 – 28.3550, 100, 200, 400
5G mmWave FR2 Frequency Bands

5G mmWave FR2 bands:

5G mmWave FR2 Frequency Bands

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Introducing 5G mmWave

What is mmWave 5G Wireless?

The emergence of new 5G New Radio (5G NR or just 5G) standards for mobile cellular networks offer huge increases in capacity and performance. 5G has the potential to deliver a complete transformation of wireless communications. The spectrum for 5G services not only covers bands below 6 GHz, including bands currently used for 4G LTE networks, but also extends into much higher frequency bands not previously considered for mobile communications. It is the use of frequency bands in the 24 GHz to 100 GHz range, known as millimeter wave (mmWave), that provide new challenges and benefits for 5G networks.

The emergence of mmWave wireless is a key part of the 5G revolution, with available spectrum for mmWave, the supported bandwidths, and how antenna technologies work together to deliver multiple Gigabit data rates to end users. Deployment scenarios are considered where 5G mmWave networks will start to make an impact on everyday wireless communications.

The 5G mmWave Spectrum

The incredible demand for wireless data bandwidth shows no sign of slowing down now or in the near future. As a result, the mobile data experience for users continues to expand and develop, putting an increasing strain on network use of available wireless spectrum. To meet this projected growth, the cellular industry looked to other frequency bands that could possibly be utilized in the development of new 5G wireless technologies. The high-frequency bands in the spectrum above 24 GHz were considered as having the potential to support large bandwidths and high data rates, ideal for increasing the capacity of wireless networks. These high-frequency bands are often referred to as “mmWave” due to the short wavelengths that can be measured in millimeters. Although the mmWave bands extend all the way up 300 GHz, it is the bands from 24 GHz up to 100 GHz that are expected to be used for 5G. The mmWave bands up to 100 GHz are capable of supporting bandwidths up to 2 GHz, without the need to aggregate bands together for higher data throughput.

The available mmWave bands in the United States provides a good example of the spectrum that can be utilized for 5G networks. The FCC have made more spectrum available for 5G and have signaled that more licensed bands will be opened up for use.

The Challenges of 5G mmWave Deployment

Previouslythe use of frequency bands much above 6 GHz was considered unsuitable for mobile communications due to the high propagation losses and the ease with which signals are blocked by not only building materials and foliage, but also by the human body. Although these challenges place limitations on mmWave deployments, new antenna technologies together with a better understanding of channel characteristics and signal propagation enable a number of deployment scenarios to be considered.

The high penetration losses and blocking mean that mmWave deployments will cover outdoor or indoor environments, but not provide outdoor to indoor connectivity. The mmWave cell sizes will, therefore, be smaller and higher in density. Also, it can be expected that mmWave will coexist in a tight integration with 5G deployments below 6 GHz as well as 4G LTE. Fast adaptation to changing channel conditions will enable switching within and across cells to maintain performance and coverage. In addition, there will almost certainly be a key role for Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) in how networks operate and provide seamless connectivity for users.

At the core of basic 5G mmWave technology is a new air interface based on time-division duplexing and robust orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) methods similar to those as used in LTE and Wi-Fi networks. With peak throughput speeds of 10 Gbps or more and the ability to support a huge number of devices, 5G mmWave has performance targets that will deliver a transformation in how wireless communications are utilized.

 challenges of 5G mmWave deployment

5G mmWave uses Massive MIMO Antennas

Smaller cell sizes of 5G mmWave not only provides high throughput, but also allows for efficient use of spectrum as frequencies can be reused over relatively small distances. It is projected that outdoor cell sizes will be typically 100m to 200m and indoor high-density deployments might be as small as 10m. An important part of 5G mmWave performance is therefore dependent on line-of-sight (LOS) and non-line-of-sight (NLOS) propagation of signals and antenna design.

Great advancements made in RF silicon allow a large number RF chains to be supported in large antenna arrays. The computational and switching capacity available enables “massive multiple-input-multiple-output (massive MIMO)” antennas to create highly directional beams that focus transmitted energy in ways that can overcome path losses and NLOS conditions. A fundamental characteristic of mmWave, the short wavelengths, means that even massive MIMO antennas can be relatively compact and small effective antennas can be easily integrated into user devices. Whereas MIMO antennas for under 6 GHz wireless may support eight elements, at mmWave frequencies the number of massive MIMO elements might be 128, 256, or higher. These “phased arrays” perform the beam-forming, beam-steering, and beam-tracking techniques that enable a 5G mmWave network to deliver such high capacity and efficiency.

massive mimo antennas for 5g

Likely 5G Millimeter Wave Deployment Scenarios

When outlining the requirements for 5G services, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) identified three main categories for the 5G NR architecture; Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) for greater mobile capacity, Ultra-reliable and Low-latency Communications (uRLLC) for mission-critical services, and Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) for vast numbers of low-cost, low-energy devices (Internet of Things). These broad areas provide plenty of early deployment possibilities for 5G mmWave, such as the following:

  • Fixed wireless Internet access. The Gigabit data rates of 5G mmWave could completely replace a number of Internet access technologies with hybrid fiber and wireless networks connecting subscriber homes. Although not truly a mobile system, it could provide competition to existing Wi-Fi systems that provide this type of fixed wireless access.
  • Outdoor urban/suburban small cells. An expected deployment scenario for 5G mmWave would be to provide increased capacity in high-demand public spaces and venues. With cell sizes around 100m, small 5G mmWave access points can be placed on poles or buildings to provide the required coverage.
  • Mission-critical control applications. Autonomous vehicles, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, drone communications, and other latency-sensitive, high-reliability applications provide other possible deployment scenarios for 5G mmWave with a projected network latency of less than a millisecond.
  • Indoor hotspot cells. Shopping malls, offices, and other indoor areas require a high-density of 5G mmWave micro cells. These small cells will potentially support download speeds of up to 20 Gbps, providing seamless access to cloud data and the ability to support multiple applications, as well as various forms of entertainment and multimedia.
  • Internet of Things. The general connectivity of objects, sensors, appliances and other devices for data collection, control, and analysis. Potentially could cover smart home applications, security, energy management, logistics and tracking, healthcare, and a multitude of other industrial operations.

The 5G mmWave Revolution

Implementation of new 5G mobile standards and the use of mmWave spectrum is expected to make major changes to the cellular industry. These mmWave bands being made available for mobile networks will provide increased performance, better coverage, and a closer integration across multiple wireless technologies from 4G LTE to Wi-Fi, to sub-6GHz 5G, as well as extending to the higher frequency 5G mmWave bands. Bringing all networks together will be an SDN architecture overlay that will provide seamless connectivity for an increasing number of users and networked devices.

5G mmWave is now being deployed in low-cost, small cell networks using massive MIMO antennas to deliver as much as 20 Gbps download rates to users, bringing the huge promise of 5G to fruit. When widely deployed, most expect a great increase in the number of applications and deployment scenarios that exploit the new mmWave 5G technology.

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