It appears everyone is talking about the impending launch and availability of 5G networks and devices. Operators, OEMs and chip manufacturers alike have been very excited to talk about their 5G offerings and what they are planning to do as well as what they are doing today. As industry analysts, we, of course, have jumped into the fray and wrote a paper on the full infrastructure impact of 5G on IT industry hardware spending. However, as my colleague, Anshel Sag, so clearly stated in his post-MWC Blog, we still have quite a ways to go and a lot still needs to happen before we have 5G networks and devices in the complete way that people are expecting. I wanted to drill more into that.
The current deployment of the global specification of 5G NR is on Release 15 which is what names the stepping stone spec of non-standalone 5G NR which is enabling many of these earlier 2019 networks and device launches that will help to lead to standalone 5G NR. However, as the wireless industry usually works, the 3GPP committees are already hard at work on Release 16 which is where many believe the full scale and benefits of 5G will be realized.
The 3GPP industry standard group
developed 5G NR as part of Release 15
with many of the components to establish a framework upon which 5G can grow. This includes establishing early standards that can be improved upon and built on top of with subsequent releases of the standard, much like we saw with 3G and 4G. Release 15 was finalized and at the end of 2017 and will power many of the early deployments of 5G that we will see in 2019 and 2020. However, by then, work on Release 16
will be finished (est. December 19) and represent the evolutionary vision for 5G NR as even the 3GPP refers to Release 16 as ‘5G phase 2’
With Release 15 and 16, 5G NR will become the true connectivity "fabric" that will interconnect the IoT of the future. Right now, Release 15 is primarily being deployed to build enhanced mobile broadband solutions which are mostly what you are going to be seeing from operators in 2019 and 2020. These solutions are a major upgrade of today’s 4G LTE networks, but only scratch the surface of what’s possible with 5G NR and Release 15 and 16. Based on some economic models Qualcomm commissioned from the 5G Economy report, the company expects that adding 5G NR to today’s existing LTE networks will have an economic impact of roughly $4.4 trillion, but this is only a small part of the total
Because the 3GPP Release 15
was always supposed to be a stepping stone to Release 16, it is primarily focused on setting the base standards for 5G NR and enabling non-standalone 5G NR for enhanced mobile broadband use cases as well as the standalone standard. That is why so many early deployments of 5G NR in 2019 and 2020 are expected to be non-standalone deployments. This is also why work on Release 16 of the 3GPP specification began before the Release 15 spec had been fully ratified and adopted. These releases are traditionally worked on in this manner because the industry moves so quickly and needs to address new challenges quickly. Release 16 is expected to enable many of the use cases that will bring the complete vision of 5G to reality which includes all the new capabilities that operators will have with their networks.Spectrum sharing
One of the areas where 5G NR is expected to expand in capability with Release 16 is with spectrum sharing. Spectrum sharing takes the unlicensed spectrum models of 4G LTE with LAA and other spectrum sharing like CBRS and expands upon them to increase performance and user experience. Part of this spectrum sharing is to also incorporate MulteFire technology as well as other spectral efficiency gains through 5G NR improvements to the use of unlicensed and shared spectrum. Technology like MulteFire that utilizes unlicensed spectrum with a licensed anchor opens the standard to new types of deployment models In addition to spectrum sharing, the deployment of private 5G NR networks has much promise for 5G in industrial IoT applications like manufacturing automation. Deploying 5G NR URLLC would allow for ultra-reliably-low-latency communications over a secure network that can monitor and control factory equipment at the same performance level as ethernet without having to lay any cable. This allows for a more dynamic and flexible factory or warehouse deployment that isn’t dependent on wired communications which can limit flexibility and increase cost.
C-V2X for automotive
While spectrum sharing is expected to help boost overall user speeds and experience and private 5G NR networks are expected to boost Industrial IoT, there is still one more item that is expected to make a major difference in 5G’s capabilities. That is the inclusion or integration of the C-V2X standard into the 5G NR specification, which was originally integrated into 3GPP Release 14 but was not initially designed for 5G NR. The main reason for integrating C-V2X is because 5G brings many new possibilities to C-V2X beyond vehicles being aware of one another’s position. Bringing C-V2X into 5G NR will add ultra-low latency communications as well as high bandwidth to the standard which means faster communications between vehicles and infrastructure or each other or even pedestrians. This can translate to cars sharing sensor data with each other in almost real time which can translate to better and more accurate map data for autonomous vehicles and improved emergency vehicle response times. The auto industry is very excited for C-V2X, especially when it makes the transition to 5G and adds all the new capabilities. Autonomous vehicles will be much smarter and more capable once they can freely communicate with one another and with the environment around them. The automotive industry is enormous and excited for the opportunity to make meaningful changes with updating C-V2X to 5G NR in 3GPP Release 16.
There are even considerations to include satellite communications
into 5G, which would truly turn 5G into the global standard for wireless communications of virtually any type. What makes this interesting is that there are increasingly more and faster satellite constellations going up that can be supplemented or improved by 5G NR. It could also help to fill coverage gaps that might exist between mmWave deployments rather than trying to deploy cell towers in more rural areas. Right now, most cellular operators rely on low-band 700 and 800 MHz spectrum for coverage while T-Mobile is rolling out 600 MHz. Having the added coverage of satellite could really translate to 100% connectivity all the time with great speeds most of the time.
In addition to this work, there are also plans about using 5G NR mmWave for backhaul as part of the standard. Some companies like Intel have already shown off their backhaul plans for 5G and how they plan to use 5G NR to power backhaul through infrastructures like lamp posts and other fixed infrastructure to provide backhaul for other devices and services.
As you can see, 5G is well on its way to becoming a real technology that we can use every day. However, this is only the first phase of the technology’s deployment as part of the 5G NR specification. Once we start to see smartphones and other devices using 5G NR enhanced mobile broadband, we will start to see people realize the possibilities for other markets and technologies which the upcoming Release 16 will hopefully help to address. While Release 15 still gives 5G NR quite a bit of leg room for growth and improvement, it still primarily limits 5G to what some people think it is, just a faster update to LTE, which it is not. Release 16 will help to broaden 5G’s application and help people understand the true broad scope of 5G NR and the companies’ goals in helping push it forward.