5G standardization is an open, contribution-based process headed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). According to Lorenzo Casaccia of Qualcomm, the push for standardization and implementation of 5G commenced 2017 at Mobile World Congress (MWC). Since then, major milestones have been attained, including the agreement to accelerate the standardization of 5G NR and work plans for 5G NR Release 15. These commitments delivered the first global 5G standard, setting the stage for compliance trials and commercial deployments.
The push for standardization in 5G and implementation can be broken down into three steps;
1. Stabilization of the 5G NR Release-15
The 3GPP Release-15 5G NR NSA was established and released to offer design insight and lay the foundation for the evolution of 5G NR design in the future. It only supports Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G NR. For mobility management and coverage, the NSA relies on existing LTE radio and core network, with a new 5G radio carrier. After its release in 2017, the 3GPP continued to specify, fix bugs, ‘change requests,’ and so on to stabilize the Release-15.
According to Dr. Stefan Parkvall, the first release of 5G NR specifications include Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) that takes connectivity beyond traditional use cases in 3G and 4G. With very low latency, standardized 5G targets critical industry applications, factory automation, and intelligent transportation systems.
2. Finalization of 3GPP Release-15
The Release-15 supports both the Non-Stand Alone (NSA) and Standalone (SA) variants of the 5G NR. The main difference with the earlier version is that it utilizes the 5G next-generation core (5G NGC) network architecture.
According to Ericsson’s CTO Erik Ekudden, the extension of 5G wireless capabilities beyond previous generations was enabled by NR 5G standardization and the evolution of LTE standard. To meet aggressive performance targets, NR 5G standardization included flexible numerology to provide very low latencies while ensuring harmonious co-existence with LTE and IoT.
Standardization for the SA focused on advancing its security architecture, full user and control plane capability, granular QoS model, and other aspects of the next-gen core network architecture. Additionally, the 5G core standardization for business expansion will include the concept of network slicing to address new business opportunities, argues Ericsson’s CTO Erik Ekudden. Also, the core networks will be decentralized infrastructure for regulatory compliance, network scalability, and resilience.
3. Preparation for work in 3GPP Release-16 and beyond
The 3GPP Release-16 and beyond will focus on expanding the mobile ecosystem to include new services, business models, deployments, and devices. Dr. Parkvall asserts that the expansion will include cloud deployment, security, privacy, and sustainability being part of specifications for 5G cloud-native deployments. For privacy and security, subscriber un-traceability based on asymmetric encryption methods can be used in the 3GPP Release-16 standardization. Another component is ultra-lean design to reduce interference to neighbor sites using self-contained data transmissions. According to Dr. Parkvall, this design can also be used 5G standardization for sustainability because it enables the network to go into deep sleep-mode and stop network transmission when there is no data to transmit.
Other specification for 3GPP Release-16 and beyond includes unlicensed paradigms (5G NR-U), ultra-reliable low-latency communications (5G NR URLLC), new spectrum sharing paradigms (5G NR-SS), vehicle communications for autonomous driving (5G NR C-V2X), 3GPP low power wide area (LPWA) and so on.