In late 2020, equipment and devices will start to come to market supporting Release 16 standards for 5G, which should be finalized early in the year. These will be important in moving the platform forward from mobile broadband and ‘4G-plus’ to genuinely new capabilities, including low latency, massive device density and shared spectrum support.
But 5G will be a long journey, and the 3GPP is already working on Release 17, due to be finalized in the second half of 2021. Last week, at the latest quarterly 3GPP RAN group plenary meeting in Spain, the key elements of R17 were agreed. A package of 24 projects have been approved and work will start early in the new year.
Release 17 will boost overall network capacity, coverage, latency, device power efficiency and mobility, like its predecessors. A specific focus is on further advances in Massive MIMO antennas to improve spectral efficiency, and there will be work on beam management for high frequency millimeter wave bands, multi-transmission-point operations and higher mobility
Another project will look at techniques to improve coverage for both low and mmWave bands. One way to improve coverage will be to evolve Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB), to help enable dynamic mesh network topologies.
Other highlights include:
- Mechanisms to improve device power savings.
- Mechanisms to enhance NR+LTE and NR+NR dual connectivity combinations.
- Dynamic Spectrum Sharing improvements.
- Multi-SIM will be addressed in standards for the first time.
- Multicast for public safety and venue-casting, in addition to the LTE-based 5G terrestrial broadcast standards currently being completed.
- Accurate device positioning for industrial and IoT applications.
- ‘Boundless XR’, which uses edge cloud to improve XR experiences, will be part of Release 17 work to characterize the performance of 5G networks for AR/VR/XR use cases.
- Sidelink capabilities from automotive to smartphones and public safety, including sidelink support in battery-powered devices.
- Using Release 16 sidelink for relay.
- Enhancements of Release 16 work in satellite communication, RAN slicing and self-organizing networks.
Release 17 will expand the supported spectrum range beyond 52.6 GHz, initially into the newly extended 60 GHz band, recently identified by the World Radio Conference as an IMT band for some regions. Existing mmWave waveforms used in Releases 15 and 16, for bands such as 28 GHz, can be scaled to support the higher frequencies, but this will be validated and documented in Release 17.
Enhanced support for IoT applications will be encouraged with several projects, including:
- NR-Light, a new class of devices that will be more capable than LTE-M or NB-IoT but will support different features and lower bandwidth than 5G NR eMBB/URLLC. NR-Light will occupy just 10 or 20 MHz of bandwidth and deliver 100Mbps of downlink and 50Mbps of uplink throughput, targeting it at use cases such as wearables, and industrial IoT cameras.
- In parallel, 3GPP will continue to evolve LTE-M/NB-IoT to support ‘5G Massive IOT’. That will involve improving spectral efficiency and data rates for NB-IoT, and studying how the existing NB-IoT and LTE-M platforms can be adapted, with minimal changes, to support satellite transmissions.