Dec 10, 2021
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The year 2021 has been an exciting one for 5G. Not only did we see an impressive number of 5G commercial launches around the world, but 3GPP also continued its charge toward completing 5G NR Release 17. On the personal front, this has also been a year of progress and changes, as I recently took on the new challenge of leading the overall 3GPP standardization effort at Qualcomm Technologies — a critically important role that overlooks the future direction of cellular technologies. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my friend and colleague, Lorenzo Casaccia (Qualcomm Europe, Inc.), for his great leadership for the past 12 years as the 3GPP standards lead. Looking forward, I am excited to be working alongside him in his expanded role to usher in the next chapter of 5G and beyond.
Just this week at the quarterly 3GPP RAN Plenary meeting, 3GPP reached a key milestone on the path to realize the 5G vision. After a successful 5G Advanced workshop in June and multiple rounds of lively e-mail discussions with a large set of participating 3GPP companies, we now finally have an approved Release 18 (Rel-18) package. This is a new set of exciting projects that aims to deliver a balanced 5G Advanced evolution (see figure below), which will address the short and longer terms needs of enhanced mobile broadband and expanded vertical use cases across the end-to-end 5G system.
A diverse set of projects for 5G Advanced Rel-18
5G Advanced starts the second phase of the 5G decade, bringing a new wave of wireless technology innovations. It is envisioned to push technology boundaries in two broad directions: to strengthen the 5G system foundation that further improves speed, coverage, mobility, power efficiency and more, as well as to proliferate 5G to virtually all devices, deployments, and use cases. Rel-18 is the inaugural standard release of 5G Advanced, and below are the key projects and the scope they entail.
Strengthen the end-to-end 5G system foundation
- Advanced downlink/uplink MIMO: enhancing 5G massive MIMO performance and efficiency by delivering improved throughput, coverage, power consumption, reliability, and support for more device antennas for a wide range of use cases.
- Enhanced mobility: improving mobility for devices operating in sub-7 GHz and mmWave by supporting lower handover latency and improved robustness through lower layer mechanisms (i.e., layer 1 and 2 based inter-cell mobility), and more seamless carrier aggregation and dual connectivity operations.
- Mobile integrated access/backhaul (IAB) and smart repeaters: expanding capability for IAB on cars/trains to extend 5G coverage in sub-7 GHz and mmWave deployments for users inside and outside the vehicle, as well as supporting repeaters with traffic awareness and beamforming capability via side control information in TDD spectrum for cost-effective deployments at high bands.
- Evolved duplexing: identifying applicable and relevant deployment scenarios and use cases on the path to full duplex operations, focusing on non-overlapping subband full duplex that can improve network efficiency, latency, and coverage in TDD deployments.
- AI/ML data-driven designs: expanding wireless ML framework to optimize network energy saving, load balancing and mobility with enhanced data collection and signaling support, as well as to examine how AI/ML techniques can enable improved support of air interface functions, such as CSI feedback, beam management, and positioning.
- Green networks: defining base station energy consumption model, evaluation methodology, KPIs, and power consumption reduction techniques with and without user device assistance targeting system-level studies with various scenarios, which include sub-7 GHz urban/rural macro, urban micro, mmWave beam-based, and dual connectivity deployments.
Proliferate 5G to virtually all devices and use cases
- Boundless extended reality (XR): following the Rel-17 study characterizing XR traffic models and evaluating how 5G NR supports XR applications aiming now at defining the KPIs and QoS requirements, as well as supporting application awareness and power and capacity enhancements tailored specifically for improved support of XR experiences over 5G.
- NR-Light (RedCap) evolution: expanding the NR-Light platform for reduced capability devices to further scale bandwidth possibly down to 5 MHz and enhance low-power modes, while maintaining coexistence with Rel-17 NR-Light and other 5G NR devices.
- Expanded sidelink: building upon the C-V2X and Rel-17 foundation to expand into new spectrum types and bands (i.e., unlicensed and mmWave), as well as sidelink relays that can further extend 5G coverage in challenging scenarios.
- Expanded positioning: providing enhanced performance (i.e., accuracy) for positioning/ranging, including assessing techniques such as bandwidth aggregation and carrier phase measurement, as well as defining performance requirements for NR-Light positioning.
- Drones and enhanced satellites: defining drone communications with 5G NR, leveraging the LTE Rel-14 drone study, defining measurement reporting and signaling design; extending 5G NR satellite support into new bands (e.g., 10+ GHz), improving coverage and mobility targeting voice support over satellite for regular smartphone form factor.
- Multicast enhancements: driving enhancements for 5G mixed-mode multicast, such as supporting multicast reception in inactive/idle mode and better system efficiency for multicast reception in RAN sharing scenarios.
There are several other Rel-18 projects beyond the ones above that bring additional improvements to the 5G system, including enhancements to dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), multi-SIM, in-device coexistence, small data transmission, quality of experience, carrier aggregation, self-organizing network/minimization of drive test (SON/MDT), and more.
A start of a wonderful journey toward the next generation of wireless
Nominal work for Rel-18 will officially begin after the completion of Rel-17, which is expected in the first half of next year. Today, we are already working on some very exciting technologies that will define the future of 5G Advanced and beyond. With our longer-term wireless research, we are paving the path to 6G, which is expected to become the next platform of innovations starting at the end of this decade. For now, I will leave you with my excitement of this important milestone, and I look forward to providing another update on our progress shortly after the new year, so stay tuned!