3GPP 5G standards are officially done and dusted … now what?

"YOU'RE WELCOME!": The 3GPP freezes Release 15 for your pleasure. Image credit: Samsung

ITEM: Okay, now the 5G NR standards are finished. The 3GPP announced on Thursday that the standalone (SA) standards for 5G NR under Release 15 have been frozen following the organization’s latest plenary meeting in Busan at the end of last month. In other words, 5G NR is now a complete and solid standard that vendors can use for commercial 5G gear.

Quick recap: Pressured by mobile players to finish 5G standards sooner, the 3GPP last year agreed to split it standards work in two rather than complete everything in one go. The non-standalone (NSA) version of 5G NR – under which 5G equipment must be deployed with an existing LTE network – was completed in December 2017, and has been the basis for commercial 5G vendor announcements since then.

The SA version – under which 5G equipment can be deployed independent of was initially scheduled to be completed in September this year, but the 3GPP later readjusted its schedule to complete the standard this month.

Which it has.

The press release is, as you’d expect, enthusiastic and lyrical:

The completion of SA specifications which complements the NSA specifications, not only gives 5G NR the ability of independent deployment, but also brings a brand new end-to-end network architecture, making 5G a facilitator and an accelerator during the intelligent information and communications technology improvement process of enterprise customers and vertical industries. New business models will be enabled and a new era where everything is interconnected will be opened up for both mobile operators and industrial partners.


To celebrate the completion of SA 5G – as well as make the point that the mobile sector is already working overtime to commercialize it – Ericsson, Intel, China Mobile Research Institute and China Mobile Jiangsu announced the same day that they have successfully demonstrated the first 3GPP-compliant, multi-vendor SA 5G NR call in a live interoperability development test at the Ericsson Lab in Beijing. The test utilized 100 MHz on the 3.5-GHz band using Ericsson’s 5G NR base stations and Intel’s 5G NR UE prototypes.

Steady as she goes

As for what the completion of Release 15  means for the prospect of 5G rollouts, the answer is: not much.

Which is to say, for the past year the mobile ecosystem has collectively been making their 5G plans around the notion that NSA standards would arrive first, followed by SA 5G this month.

So this week’s announcement is mainly a case of keeping the industry on schedule – with the caveat that different markets and different operators have widely different schedules and priorities. Some will launch 5G by the end of this year (three in the Middle East have launched 5G already), others aim to launch 5G by 2020, but the majority of cellcos will only launch 5G after that. And in most cases, those launches will be geographically limited and highly selective, depending on whether they’re targeting consumers or industrial customers, and depending on the initial service (which in most cases is going to be fixed wireless or really, really, really fast mobile broadband).

And of course, all of this is dependent on actual 5G devices hitting the street. The first fixed-wireless access devices have been announced. The first 5G smartphones and tablets aren’t expected to see daylight until at least CES 2019.

As for the business model … well, I’m sure they’ll think of something by then.

In fact, according to Telecoms.com, at this week’s 5G World conference in London, the CTOs of Swisscom and Three UK stated that there’s no point in waiting around for a business model to get started on 5G because (paraphrased) it’s not like you’re not going to eventually roll out 5G, so just get on with it.

Also, capex schmapex.

The key thing – as pointed out by Northstream analyst Jewgeni Sadowski in this blog post – will be making sure that whatever it is, it’s something that customers actually want and are willing to pay for.

Easy, right?

BONUS MATERIAL: China Mobile, Anritsu, Asia Pacific Telecom, AT&T, BT, CAICT , CATT, China Telecom, China Unicom, Chunghwa Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Dish Network, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, Intel, InterDigital, Keysight Technologies, KDDI, KT, Kyocera, Lenovo, LG Electronics, LG Uplus, MediaTek, Microelectronics Technology, Mitsubishi Electric, NEC, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Oppo, Orange, Panasonic, Qualcomm Technologies, Rohde-Schwarz, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, SK Telecom, SoftBank, Sony Mobile Communications, Spirent Communications, StarPoint, Sumitomo Electric Industries, TIM, Unisoc, Verizon, VIAVI, Vivo, Vodafone, Xiaomi and ZTE all had a hand in developing the SA 5G standard. Click here and scroll down to read exciting color quotes from each and every one of them.

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