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3GPP charts the next chapter of 5G standards

Qualcomm 3GPP Standards Lead reports back from the 3GPP RAN Plenary from Sitges, Spain.

Dec 13, 2019

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2019 has been an extraordinary year for 5G. Not only did we see remarkably strong commercialization momentum globally, but we have also made tremendous progress toward the completion of the 3GPP Release 16 specifications, which will be finalized in early 2020.

And, just this week, 3GPP reached another key milestone on the path to delivering on the 5G vision. At the quarterly 3GPP RAN Plenary meeting that took place in the beautiful coastal city of Sitges, Spain, months-long discussions on 3GPP Release-17 (Rel-17) — the next phase of 5G standards — came to a conclusion, resulting in the approved package of 24 new projects that are expected to complete in the second half of 2021.

As expected, these new projects will continue to enhance the 5G NR technology foundation and further expand 5G’s reach in terms of enabling new services, deployments, and spectrum bands. Official work on Rel-17 will begin shortly after the new year. Here is a short overview of some of those projects.

Figure 1: Another 3GPP RAN Plenary meeting in the books - a huge turnout as usual
Figure 1: Another 3GPP RAN Plenary meeting in the books - a huge turnout as usual

Mobile broadband and beyond

As with every new 3GPP release, Rel-17 is bringing foundational enhancements to improve overall network capacity, coverage, latency, device power, and mobility. One focus area is to further advance 5G NR massive MIMO technologies, so that the 5G system can deliver even better performance and efficiency (e.g., higher spectral efficiency). In Rel-17, there will be a focus on beam management for mmWave bands, multi-transmission-point operations, higher mobility, and other improvements.

Another project will look at techniques to improve coverage for both lower bands (FR1) and mmWave bands (FR2). Related to coverage expansion is the evolution of Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB), which is a first step toward more dynamic mesh-network topologies. Rel-17 will also look at more mechanisms to improve device power savings, as well as to enhance NR+LTE and NR+NR dual connectivity combinations, including a separate project on Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) improvements. It is also worth noting that 3GPP will undertake multi-SIM, a popular trend that the standard is going to address for the very first time. To enable new use cases and further improve network efficiency, Rel-17 will introduce multicast for public safety and venue-casting, which is in addition to the LTE-based 5G terrestrial broadcast currently being completed right now.

Additionally, Rel-17 will expand the supported spectrum range beyond 52.6 GHz. The priority will be to define 5G NR for the newly extended 60 GHz band, just identified by the World Radio Conference as an IMT band for some regions. Thanks to 5G NR’s scalable OFDM numerology, existing mmWave waveforms used in Rel-15/16 can be scaled to support the higher frequencies, but this will be validated and documented as part of this Rel-17 project.

Figure 2: Continuted enhancements to 5G NR broadband
Figure 2: Continuted enhancements to 5G NR broadband

Expanded support for Internet of Things (IoT)

Our vision for 5G is to connect virtually everything around us, and Rel-16 opened the door to many 5G IoT services, including high-performance (e.g., industrial IoT) and low-complexity IoT (i.e., in-band eMTC/NB-IoT) – both part of Rel-16 specifications.

To broaden and optimize 5G’s support for IoT, Rel-17 introduces NR-Light — a new class of devices that is more capable than eMTC/NB-IoT but supports different features and smaller bandwidth than 5G NR eMBB/URLLC. For example, NR-Light can occupy just 10 or 20 MHz of bandwidth and deliver 100 Mbps of downlink and 50 Mbps of uplink throughput, making it a suitable technology for use cases such as high-end wearables or industrial IoT cameras and sensors.

Figure 3: 5G NR-Light will expand the reach of 5G for IoT use cases
Figure 3: 5G NR-Light will expand the reach of 5G for IoT use cases

In parallel, 3GPP will continue to evolve eMTC/NB-IoT, also defined as “5G Massive IOT” per the definition of the ITU. Part of that evolution will be about improving the spectral efficiency and data rates for NB-IoT, and another will be about studying how the existing NB-IoT and eMTC (LTE-M) platforms can be adapted, with minimal changes, to support satellite transmissions. This is a relatively new segment for 3GPP but will surely increase the total addressable market of NB-IoT and 3GPP solutions for IoT use cases.

Higher accuracy device positioning and industrial IoT

Accurate device positioning is a key enabler for many vertical applications. The benefit of cellular-based positioning, which complements existing GNSS systems, is that it works well for both outdoor and indoor locations. With the market pushing for better device positioning capabilities, 5G initially added positioning support in Rel-16, which defined the key techniques such as roundtrip time (RTT), angle of arrival/departure (AoA/AoD), and time difference of arrival (TDOA). Rel-17 will further enhance positioning accuracy, latency, capacity, and down to cm-level. This is going to be especially important for industrial IoT use cases.

In Rel-16, a lot of work has been done to enable industrial IoT applications, and we have recently shown great progress with industrial ecosystem leaders such as Siemens and Bosch Rexroth. In this context, Rel-17 will look at incremental improvements, including an assessment of the usage of unlicensed spectrum for this type of use cases.

Figure 4: Enhancing 5G positioning capabilities and efficiencies
Figure 4: Enhancing 5G positioning capabilities and efficiencies

Studies on boundless extended reality (XR)

With 5G enabling high-speed and low-latency links between XR devices and the network, there is an opportunity to re-architect how mobile XR services can be delivered. Utilizing edge cloud servers to augment on-device processing and bring low-latency photo-realistic graphics and visuals in a more power efficient way, industrial design of XR devices can be unbounded from the traditional thermal, power, and form factor constraints. We call this boundless XR, and to pave the way for next-generation XR experiences, 3GPP Rel-17 will start a study to characterize the performance of 5G networks for various uses cases belonging to this broader category (i.e., VR, AR, etc.).

Figure 5: Optimizing 5G network for boundless extended reality
Figure 5: Optimizing 5G network for boundless extended reality

Bringing sidelink capabilities from automotive to smartphones and public safety

In Rel-16, cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) is one of the major projects that addresses the needs for high-performance automotive use cases. As expected, C-V2X communication involves more than just traditional vehicles like cars and trucks, but also other road users such as pedestrians, bicyclists, and micro-mobility vehicles. To extend the same C-V2X paradigm to those users, sidelink needs to be supported by new device types such as smartphones. To better support sidelink in battery-powered devices, Rel-17 will work on sidelink power and spectral efficiency optimizations. Release 17 will also work on improvements of the Rel-16 NR V2X operations in terms of efficiency. Additionally, Rel-17 will study how the Rel-16 sidelink can provide relay capabilities. It is worth noting that this area is also interesting for the public safety community, one of the many segments to benefit from the evolution of cellular and 5G.

Other project areas

In addition to the projects outlined above, Rel-17 will continue to build on Rel-15/16 on other 5G fronts, including satellite communication, RAN slicing, and the evolution of self‑organizing “intelligent network” concepts that are especially relevant with the ongoing trends of RAN disaggregation.

Looking forward to 2020 and beyond

As we wrap up this monumental year for 5G, it is important to be reminded that we are only at the beginning of the 5G era, and we are excited about all the possibilities that 5G will unlock in the next decade. 2020 will be another milestone year for the mobile ecosystem, with even more global commercial 5G launches, the completion of Rel-16, and the beginning of Rel-17 projects that will continue to reshape how the world connects, computes, and communicates.

To learn more about the expansion of 5G into new verticals and the scope of the upcoming 3GPP Release 17 projects, attend the Fierce Wireless webinar and visit our 5G technology webpage. Also, be sure to sign up for our wireless technologies newsletter to stay up to date as we accelerate into our 5G future.


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Fierce Wireless Webinar: A First Look at 3GPP Rel-17 and Beyond

Dec 18, 2019 | 58:54


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Lorenzo Casaccia

Vice President of Technical Standards, Qualcomm Europe, Inc.