3GPP Releases Give Glimpse of 5G’s Future Features

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Even though some may be looking ahead to 6G, Reiner Stuhlfauth Technology Manager Wireless, Rohde & Schwarz, reminded a webinar audience that there are still more features to come and improvements to existing functions in the 5G standard in 3GPP’s Releases 16 through 18. He spoke on November 1 during the webinar, “The Ongoing Evolution of 5G New Radio Beyond Release 15.”

Stuhlfauth said the Release 16 of the standard covers non-public networks (NPN), industrial IoT (IIoT), 5G broadcast, 5G positioning, 5G unlicensed, 5G V2X, and integrated access backhaul (IAB). The features included in Release 17 will include non-terrestrial networks (NTN) industrial internet of things, sidelink enhancements + relay, reduced capability (RedCap) and positioning enhancements, he said. Stuhlfauth also touched on Release 18 and what may come beyond.

Every 3GPP release addresses enhancements to existing features and operational enhancements, as well as new applications, according to Stuhlfauth. Release 16 focuses on new applications and use cases in the automotive industry, positioning and non-terrestrial networks, which offer new business cases. Continue Reading

“Some use cases for industrial IoT include isolated non-public networks deployed on the organization’s defined premises, such as a campus or a factory, which offer high reliability and operation flexibility,” Stuhlfauth said. “On the other end, using network slicing, the operator can provide a factory with a private network as a service.” There are some shared RAN options, as well, he added.

Release 16 addresses how 5G will be integrated into the Ethernet environment using time sensitive networks to compensate for any lag time. “As a result, 5G can be considered as an IEEE 802.1AS “time aware system,” to reduce latency and router time,” Stuhlfauth said.

Releases 14 to 17 follow a 5G broadcast technology evolution. Release 16 allows broadcasters to engage in LTE-based 5G terrestrial broadcasts, while Release 17 will introduce multicast and broadcast for cellular carriers.

“One will not try to replace the other [broadcast versus cellular]. It is more likely a convergence,” Stuhlfauth said. “Traditional wireless communications networks can outsource traffic and have a much wider coverage area, and the broadcasters can combine the broadcast signal with wireless connectivity, which gives them an uplink for interactive television.”

Release 16 extends NR to provide native positioning support by introducing RAT-dependent positioning schemes, Stuhlfauth said, which support regulatory and commercial use cases with more stringent requirements on latency and accuracy of positioning. The result is enhanced location capabilities.

“When I try to explain 5G, I use the term flexibility. Positioning is another example of the tremendous flexibility of the 5G NR protocol,” he said. “With Release 16, we introduced a new type of reference signals, the so-called positioning reference signals.” 5G supports positioning signals from 4G, satellite and other protocols, he added.

5G NR supports operations in unlicensed spectrum, known as NR-U, specifically in the 5 GHz ISM band and the 6 GHz unlicensed band. Flexible deployment scenarios include: LTE licensed + NR-U, 5G NR licensed + NR-U, NR-U uplink optional and Standalone NR-U.

“One advantage compared to LTE unlicensed would be that 5G NR, by default, offers a much wider bandwidth, and 5G is more flexible in terms of deployment rates,” Stuhlfauth said. 5G employs listen before talk protocols in the unlicensed spectrum.

Release 16 supports integrated access backhaul, which is a mechanism to allow faster deployment of additional cells. In IAB, the radio is used both for the uplink (or backhaul to the base station) and for the downlink (or communication with the user equipment).

Release 16 includes several enhancements to massive MIMO, improving performance and efficiency. Multi-user MIMO was enhanced to support higher ranks, multiple transmission and reception points, and better multi-beam management.

“Beamforming is a wonderful technology,” Stuhlfauth said. Release 16 allows you to do better beamforming. It allows you to adjust the beams in an optimized way.”

Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communications were first introduced in Release 8 and used the LTE protocol at that time. With Release 16, V2X was enhanced to use 5G NR in both cellular network communications and independent communications, improving traffic safety and paving the way to the autonomous vehicle. The radio interface is known as a side link.

“I joke that the next smartphone is going to be on wheels,” Stuhlfauth said. “The seven pillars of 5G NR C-V2X are CP-OFDM with multiple numerologies; greater flexibility and higher throughput; a low-latency slot structure (self-contained); broadcast, multicast and unicast; QoS management policy; beamforming support; and seven-channel structure: reliability and flexibility.”

There are two major drivers of the 3GPP Release 16 enhancements of non-terrestrial network communications. One is human (NR) and the other is machines (IoT), according to Stuhlfauth. The 5G NR air interface works with GEO, LEO and HAPS for air-to-ground communications with fixed or moving terrestrial cells.

“We want to provide internet access for people everywhere, including remote areas. If we have a disaster, we need to recover communication as soon as possible, provisioning internet data access into temporary hotspots,” Stuhlfauth said. “And the other motivation of NTN communications is IoT, providing coverage for Internet of Things in industrial operations on a ubiquitous global basis.

By J. Sharpe Smith Inside Towers Technology Editor

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