Hey cellcos, 3GPP got you a Christmas present: new 5G NR specs!

"You're welcome!" The 3GPP TSG RAN Plenary Meeting in Lisbon gets it done. Image credit: 3GPP

The wait for real 5G standards is over – at least partially. The 3GPP announced on Thursday that it has successfully completed the first implementable specification for Non-Standalone 5G NR, several months ahead of schedule.

The Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G NR spec – which was finalized at the 3GPP TSG RAN Plenary Meeting in Lisbon – is part of 3GPP Release 15, which enables 5G NR equipment to be deployed with existing LTE networks.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress in February, operators called on the 3GPP to accelerate development of 5G NR standards by focusing on the NSA 5G spec first, then completing the Standalone (SA) version later. In March, the 3GPP agreed to their demand, and issued a new timetable under which NSA 5G NR would be finished in March 2018, and SA 5G NR in September 2018.

The completion of NSA 5G NR this week beat that deadline by three months. As we went to press, the 3GPP hadn’t yet said whether the early finish means the SA 5G NR standard could also be completed earlier than planned. However, Zhengmao Li, EVP of China Mobile Group, said in a statement that the SA 5G NR spec “could be completed by June of 2018”.

In any case, the 3GPP said that 5G NR’s lower-layer specs have been designed so that they can support both NSA and SA 5G NR as a unified system.

The 3GPP also announced that it has also defined specs for the 5G system architecture under Release 15, detailing features, functionality and services including dynamic behavior defined by information flows.

A long list of operators and vendors – including AT&T, BT, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, Intel, KT Corporation, LG Electronics, LG Uplus, MediaTek, NEC, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Qualcomm Technologies, Samsung Electronics, SK Telecom, Sony Mobile Communications, Sprint, TIM, Telefonica, Telia, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, Vodafone, and ZTE – issued a joint statement hailing the news, saying it will enable cellcos to begin full-scale development of 5G NR for large-scale trials next year and commercial deployments as early as in 2019.

Meanwhile, a shorter list of cellcos, along with Ericsson and Qualcomm, also announced Thursday that they had put the new specs to the test – literally – via 3GPP-compliant 5G NR multi-vendor interoperability tests demonstrated simultaneously in both the Ericsson Lab in Kista, Sweden and the Qualcomm Research lab in New Jersey.

AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, T-Mobile US, Verizon, and Vodafone participated in the demos, which tested over-the-air interoperability for lower-layer data connections operating at both the 3.5-GHz and 28-GHz bands.

From the press release:

[The test] complies with the following key characteristics of the 3GPP 5G NR specifications:

  • Waveform: flexible OFDM, Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, waveform numerologies supporting low-band, as well as mid-band and high-band spectrum allocations for wideband operation and low latency services.

  • Dynamic, slot-based frame structure: enables future-proof and ultra-lean design as well as self-contained subframe structure that allows for data transmissions that efficiently support diverse use cases with requirements that include low latency, high peak-rate, and high reliability.

  • Massive MIMO: control and data channel support for Massive MIMO features based on beam-centric design that improve spectral efficiency and achieve higher data rates, boosting performance for consumers.

  • Mobile mmWave: control and data channel support for adaptive beamforming and beam-tracking techniques to enable use of high-band mmWave spectrum that deliver extreme data rates and capacity in a mobile environment.

  • Channel codecs: channel coding schemes based on latest technology in advanced low-density parity-check (LDPC) codes to support large data blocks and extreme peak rates, and Polar codes for reliable control channels.

Ericsson said its 5G NR pre-commercial base stations and Qualcomm’s 5G NR UE prototypes will enable operators to conduct live tests in their own networks.

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