Transition to 5G is catching steam and it’s quite clear that smartphone manufacturers do not wish to miss out on the new connectivity standard for their flagships moving forward. In fact, the number of 5G subscribers is expected to increase to 200 million by the end of the year 2020.

The next generation of cellular connectivity, 5G, will bring faster and more reliable internet to our phones, cars and IoT devices, but before that happens we will have to endure a few confusing evolutionary stages. 

If you follow technology, expect terminology like 5G NR, NSA, SA, mmWave and DSS to be thrown about a lot. One term that we are seeing a lot lately is Dual-mode 5G. Vivo talked about an upcoming Dual Mode 5G phone at its joint 5G presser with Samsung, and other companies like Oppo, Realme, and Xioami have dual Mode 5G phones lined-up in the next couple of months. 

Is Dual Mode 5G similar to Dual SIM 5G? No

We noticed that many consumers (and even media) are confusing Dual-mode 5G with Dual SIM 5G or simultaneous 5G support on both SIM cards. 

The confusion probably stems from similar Single and Dual SIM inconsistencies we had with 4G LTE and VoLTE adoption. The first wave of 4G LTE phones had 4G support only on one SIM card. Later we had phones that supported 4G LTE on both SIMs but only on one at a time. This was followed by phones that had 4G on both slots but VoLTE, which is imperative for Jio, only on one SIM. And finally we transitioned to Dual SIM Dual VoLTE phones that could accept and keep active two Jio SIMs or two VoLTE enabled SIM cards simultaneously. 

Dual-mode 5G, however, refers to an entirely different concept. 

It refers to 5G support for two primary types of 5G networks: NSA (Non-Standalone Access) and SA (Standalone Access).

The reason why dual-mode 5G is getting prominence is that the current set of 5G phones with Snapdragon X50 Modem (Galaxy Note 10+, LG V50 Thinq 5G, etc.) have 5G NSA support only. So, having full band support is currently being projected as an advantage. 

What is Dual Mode 5G?

Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit 2019

5G NR (New Radio) is now the globally accepted 5G standard. As mentioned above, Dual Mode in 5G NR refers to the support for two popular 5G NR deployment models – NSA and SA.

Non-Standalone Access or NSA is a 5G type where changes are made to the existing 4G LTE infrastructure to get higher speeds and higher data bandwidth but this approach promises only moderate improvements in latency.

Using NSA, telecom operators can make upgrades to their existing 4G LTE infrastructure and won’t have to rebuild from scratch to deliver and market 5G. 

This will be the popular deployment of 5G worldwide. DSS or Dynamic Spectrum Sharing will be a big enabler of 5G acceleration until the technology evolves to Standalone Access (SA). Using DSS, Telecom operators will be able to push 5G and 4G LTE in the same legacy 4G band based on user demand instead of splitting the band for separate 4G LTE and 5G transmission.

Standalone Access or SA 5G requires infrastructure to be built from the ground up. Expectedly, this model requires more investment but lets users and Telecom operators benefit from the core capabilities of 5G NR. Standalone 5G will facilitate critical 5G applications that require low latency (robotic surgeries, self-driving cars, etc.) and this 5G type is currently meant to cater to enterprises and not consumers. 

NSA or SA – What do we have in India?

Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit 2019

Major Indian operators like Reliance Jio, Vodafone and Airtel will be adopting 5G NSA and focus is expected to be on eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband) specification that focuses on improving broadband capacity. Such 5G will not meet low latency requirements for critical applications but will deliver faster speeds.  

Indian Telecom companies have spent a lot of money, and are still spending, on upgrading their 4G coverage to the latest standards just so they can smoothly transition to 5G NSA when the time is right. The Qualcomm 5G projection map in the image above highlights India as the region for the Sub-6 NSA 5G.

4G is expected to be the dominant technology in India for many more years. In fact, the Government is yet to auction 5G Spectrum in the country. 

Does Dual-mode 5G support mean much for mobile phones?

The only 5G Standalone network that we have heard of is SK Telecom in South Korea. 

Having dual-mode support on your phone would mean assurance of full support for upcoming 5G networks in the future. From a practical standpoint in India or abroad, dual-mode support wouldn’t mean much to end-users for many more years to come since NSA networks will be the only relevant options in most countries.

Phones with Dual-mode 5G support

Dual-mode 5G phones are not yet official, but rumors, leaks, and even official teasers do confirm a few phones with the technology.

  • Realme X50
  • Vivo X30
  • Oppo Reno 3z (rumored)
  • Xiaomi Redmi K30

What chipsets support Dual Mode 5G?

Credit: Qualcomm

As of now, Huawei’s Kirin 990 duo and Samsung Exynos 5100 chips like Exynos 990, Exynos 980 have Dual Mode 5G support. Qualcomm’s X55 modem which will also be integrated on the upcoming Snapdragon 865 has support for both 5G NSA and 5G SA. 

The Recently launched Snapdragon 765 and Snapdragon 765G have integrated X52 modem with dual-mode 5G support.

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