The Next Frontier for 5G

3GPP approves Release 17

Today’s article concludes our Daily Insight coverage for the year. We hope you’ve enjoyed our regular updates about hot topics in the connected world. Stay tuned for more thought-provoking analysis in January, when we’ll be making changes to this service. From all of us at CCS Insight, a merry Christmas and a prosperous 2020!

It has been a transitional year for 5G, with its symbolic launches in markets around the globe. In 2019, the goal was to achieve progress toward the completion of the 3GPP Release 16 specifications, which will be finalized in early 2020. Release 16 focusses on creating a complete end-to-end 5G system and including important attributes for cellular vehicle-to-everything communication.

Last week, at a meeting in Spain, 3GPP approved a collection of projects, dubbed Release 17, designed to advance 5G networks further in the second half of 2021. 3GPP is the organization responsible for global standardization of cellular technologies, turning the innovations of multiple companies into features that work with various devices and networks. If the 24 new projects being envisioned come to fruition, they’ll collectively expand 5G well beyond its current capabilities.

With Release 17, 3GPP plans to address some basic evergreen demands like greater throughput and improved power efficiency. The specifications will also bring enhanced dynamic spectrum sharing, which supports dual 5G and 4G simultaneous connectivity within the same frequency band, and delivery of service from multiple transmission points. The standard will also increase location accuracy down to centimetres and address support for multiple SIMs for the first time.

Release 17 will deliver fundamental enhancements to improve overall network capacity, coverage, latency, device power and mobility. One of its more notable features is NR-Light, a version of 5G that will work on next-generation wearable and Internet of things (IoT) devices that need access to high cellular bandwidth without the power-drain of full 5G implementations. NR-Light promises download speeds of 100 Mbps and upload speeds of 50 Mbps using just 10 MHz to 20 MHz of bandwidth — small quantities commonly used in low-band 5G networks.

This means that 5G essentially supports three important technologies for IoT:

  • Enhanced mobile broadband and ultrareliable low-latency communication for high-performance devices needing low latency and high throughput. Examples here include industrial robotics and extended reality.
  • 5G NR-Light for lower-complexity devices such as wearables, cameras, trackers, smart meters and more.
  • 5G in IoT using enhanced machine-type communication and NB-IoT. These formed the basis for IoT in LTE and as of Release 16 are supported as part of 5G NR. 3GPP is also working to enable these platforms to support satellite transmissions.

Release 17 is also expected to deploy cellular spectrum in some interesting ways. Until now, most millimetre-wave 5G deployments have been in the range of 24 GHz to 39 GHz, but the new release will enable stronger support for 5G spectrum in the 60 GHz band. It’s also expected to add support for public-safety multicasting and venue-casting, enabling large numbers of users in specific locations to simultaneously receive warnings or other notifications.

The new features being worked on by 3GPP highlight that we’re at the very beginning of 5G, reminding us how limited 4G was a decade ago when it launched. 2020 will be a milestone year for 5G, with more commercial 5G launches, more compatible devices and some real uses. Release 17 is opening a window into what the next generation of the next generation of wireless technology will be able to do. 5G is a journey and this is just the start.