As expected, MWC21 Barcelona saw an array of announcements on the leading innovations, developments and partnerships which will shape the future of the industry.
It comes as no surprise, then that as the dust settles post MWC21, most of the announcements and updates from the industry in the last month have focussed more on the day-to-day activities ranging from spectrum, network coverage, M&A and other updates.
From these, we decided to share an update on the latest developments in standalone (SA) 5G networks and consumer gaming.
How long is the SA 5G journey to become mainstream?
Did you know? By mid-August, 15 operators from 12 markets has deployed commercial SA 5G services covering mobile and fixed wireless access (FWA).
And 90 operators from 45 markets, around 38 per cent of operators which have either launched or plan to launch 5G, had also announced plans for SA deployments (conducting trials, and forging infrastructure and solution partnerships) after having initially launched non-standalone (NSA) 5G.
SA networks are expected to be one of the key enablers for myriad 5G use cases across enterprise and consumer markets. This explains why the investment in these networks is a natural step for operators in their 5G journey.
A recent GSMA Intelligence survey found operators foresee the following as top benefits from deploying SA networks (see chart, below, click to enlarge).
The momentum and progress is also reflected in the following announcements from operators sharing updates on their coverage plans, new launches, partnerships, and trials (see table, below, click to enlarge).
So what? The true success of SA 5G will only happen when it becomes more mainstream. How long this will take, therefore becomes one of the key questions to answer.
Any network evolution is a gradual process and can take anywhere from months to years depending on the specific operator circumstances, strategies and investment decisions. However, referencing the lifecycle of existing LTE networks, based on GSMA Intelligence data covering 150 operators, it took an average of two-and-a-half years to upgrade from LTE to LTE-Advanced. This does not suggest a direct correlation for understanding the lifecycle of an SA upgrade from NSA, but it serves as a good analogy.
LTE-Advanced, of course, was a technical advancement on existing LTE networks, whereas a move from NSA to SA will likely be more significant for most operators and might take similar or more time than LTE upgrades. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for SA networks to become mainstream.
Meanwhile, in the near- to medium-term, building on established coverage of LTE, NSA will continue to do the heavy lifting of 5G, but operators still need to incorporate SA network planning in their long term roadmap.
5G SA means business – but also consumer 
5G SA networks are going global, ready to become mainstream 
Operator opportunity in shifting gaming behaviour
Did you know? A GSMA Intelligence consumer survey found 60 per cent of the adult population across 20 developed countries play digital games at least once a week. But what percentage of gamers pay for these?
On average, only a third of gamers pay for games. The recent gaming surge among consumers coupled with this presents monetisation opportunities in the gaming ecosystem.
Not only this, the survey also brought to light shifting consumer behaviour.
A preferential shift to gaming on smartphones (thanks to a multitude of games available on cloud platforms, affordable smartphones, and the increasing availability of 5G networks and devices).
Gaming is now for every age group, however the proportion of people playing varies among different age groups: 72 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds play games at least once a week, while 42 per cent of people aged 65 and over do so.
Undoubtedly, the changing consumer behaviour and surge in gaming creates new monetisation opportunities for operators beyond connectivity or upselling larger data packages, and also creates opportunities for other players in the gaming ecosystem. This is also corroborated in the following recent developments in industry on the gaming front (see table, below, click to enlarge).
So what? It is clear the industry sees an opportunity in gaming and is making progress towards trying to capture it. The question then becomes what are the options available to operators for monetising the opportunities in gaming and what success will look like.
Drawing insights from the same GSMA Intelligence report , there are four routes available for operators to capitalise on the opportunities: two in B2C (selling third party games, developing in-house games); and two in B2B (offer networks services including edge and private networks to gaming and media companies, or develop e-sports products).
Operators will derive their success in the form of new revenue, premium customer base and reduced churn, alongside other benefits highlighted in the report.
Now, which route to take will then depend on some underlying factors such as market profile, operator network assets and their strategies.
Clearly the gaming industry is expected to grow manifold in the coming years and it’s time to capitalise on the opportunities.
For more detailed insights related on consumer gaming behaviour, the options available to operators and the underlying factors please refer to the following GSMAi publications.
Gaming comes into its own: capitalising on shifting consumer behaviours 
Consumer gaming: assessing the new revenue opportunity for operators 
All the above analysis is based on news curated by GSMA Intelligence’s team of analysts and taken from their Industry Updates feed, available here .
– Radhika Gupta – head of data acquisition, GSMA Intelligence
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.