3GPP RAN agrees to complete NSA 5G radio spec early

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The mobile industry is set to get its first completed 5G standard by this time next year after the 3GPP RAN agreed with a proposal to complete its planned standard for the Non-standalone (NSA) mode of 5G NR for Release 15 before completing the standalone (SA) version.

The 3GPP’s work on the 5G NR for Release 15 currently focuses on two modes: the NSA version – which utilizes the existing LTE radio and evolved packet core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while adding a new 5G radio access carrier to enable certain 5G use cases, namely fixed-wireless broadband – and a standalone version that, as the name implies, can be deployed in greenfield situations without relying on existing LTE.

Standardization of both versions was scheduled to be completed at the same time in September 2018. However, that also meant commercial deployment of Release 15 networks and devices wouldn’t happen until 2020 at the earliest.

In late February, 22 operators and vendors – including AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, Vodafone, Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies, BT, Telstra, KT, Intel, LG Uplus, KDDI, LG Electronics, Telia, Swisscom, TIM, Etisalat Group, Huawei, Sprint, Vivo, ZTE and Deutsche Telekom – urged the 3GPP to introduce an “intermediate milestone” to complete the NSA portion of the specs earlier to give them a standard they can work with.

Some cellcos are moving ahead with pre-standard 5G trials, but many have expressed concern that lack of a standard in the midst of all this trial activity will create fragmentation issues once commercial services are launched.

In a blog post, outgoing 3GPP RAN chairman Dino Flore said the group agreed with the proposal, and that the NSA 5G NR spec will be finalized by March 2018.

Meanwhile, Flore said, 3GPP RAN will stay on schedule to complete the Standalone 5G NR mode spec by September 2018.

Revised 3GPP workplan. (Source: 3GPP RAN)

Meanwhile, the 3GPP has announced that Flore’s replacement in the RAN chair will be Balázs Bertényi of Nokia.

Bertényi was elected as the new RAN chair at a 3GPP meeting last week, along with three new vice-chairmen: Vince Spatafora (AT&T) for the North American partner ATIS, Xu Xiaodong (China Mobile) of CCSA to represent the Asia-Pacific region, and Satoshi Nagata (NTT DoCoMo) of ARIB for the non-regional vice-chair

All of the election results from TSG#75 in Dubrovnik will be formally ratified at the Project Coordination Group (PCG) of 3GPP next month.

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