Senior BT Group network chiefs conceded it would unlikely be the first player in the UK to launch commercial standalone (SA) 5G, with the operator targeting a launch in early 2023 when it believes the technology will provide a tangible improvement for users.

During a media roundtable, executive director for mobile networks Dave Salam and MD of converged service platforms Greg McCall (pictured) pointed to a number of current issues with the technology, including a lack of compatible devices on the market.

BT is currently constructing its SA 5G network, comprising an upgraded radio network and a new core, which is still in the pilot phase.

The operator expects to launch the service to consumers before the end of Q1 2023, by which time it expects at least one rival to be actively selling the service. BT’s mobile unit EE has previously heavily promoted its first-to-market status with non-standalone (NSA) 5G and, under its previous owners, 4G.

“We don’t expect to be the first to UK operator to market,” Salam said. “It’s key to us that we don’t rush standalone, what’s key to us is we deliver the best 5G experience when we get there.”

The expert highlighted BT needed to finesse the customer experience for what he described as a complex network technology, while also waiting for an increase in available compatible devices in the UK market and developments in the services ecosystem for the network technology.

McCall added: “Rather than rushing something out that we’re not sure our customers will get immediate benefit from, all of our focus is to ensure we get that quality as good as we possibly can, and make sure that experience is a step-change and it’s better that our non-standalone network.”

At the event both were extremely optimistic on the prospects of the new network technology when it arrives, with McCall noting it would be “worth the wait”, citing new use cases in consumer and enterprise alongside the opportunity to make its network “even more reliable”.

“We see standalone as the prevalent service our customers will migrate to in the coming years.”

Salam provided an overview of the green credentials of standalone, citing an ability to optimise power usage, despite the expected boom in the number of devices expected to be supported by it.