How does 5G NR standardization work?
What has enabled mobile technology to scale faster than any technology in history? The answer is standardization. And this is as important for 5G as it was for 3G or 4G.
People will not start using connected services in their cars – or trusting autonomous cars – unless they are easy to use. Industries will not embrace communications technology as a driver of efficiency and digital transformation unless they see that it can be done easily. Cities will not adopt intelligent technology unless it is easy for both the city and its citizens to build and use the services.
And this depends on 5G being easy to use, adopt and scale, so it can be applied by everyone, for everyone. And that requires an intense level of cooperation – one which we have been deeply involved in for years.
The first release of 5G NR specifications
The capabilities of 5G wireless access extend far beyond previous generations of mobile communication and will be realized by the New Radio (NR) as well as the evolution of the existing LTE standard. Mobile broadband will continue to be an important service and continue to drive the need for higher capacity and higher data rates. However, the aim of 5G is much wider and will take connectivity beyond traditional use cases in previous generations, including Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC), which will provide data delivery with unprecedented reliability in combination with very low latency, for example targeting critical industry applications, factory automation, and intelligent transportation systems.
Standardization of NR, the new 5G radio access technology, is just being finalized and the complete specifications for the first release will be approved in June. Compared to the intermediate release in December last year, known as Non-Standalone (NSA) NR and intended to meet early commercial deployments already this year, the June Standalone (SA) version can operate without relying on LTE for mobility and initial access.
Like the generations that have come before, 5G standardization is spearheaded by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (or 3GPP, as it’s more commonly known). Release 15 of the 3GPP specifications started in March 2017, ends in June 2018, and contains the first complete specification of 5G NR. Let me share with you some insights into how the standardization works in practice.
The 3GPP standardization is an open and contribution-driven process, bringing together (telecommunications) companies from all over the world in order to establish an international standard for 5G. Anyone can join 3GPP to contribute to the 5G standard and the specifications are publicly available, even to non-members. In 2012, Ericsson prepared the first draft of an initial 5G standard, detailing its rationale, goals, requirements and scope. These basic 5G principles were aligned with the major cellular players, and are now taken for granted when mentioning a 5G system.
The standardization process is a highly innovative and complex one. To illustrate its scale, the amount of documents sent in to just one of these working groups, during one meeting, is around two and a half times what Shakespeare wrote in his entire life. The effort of individuals within the process is something that should not be overlooked also. Just as an example, in the last 15 years I have been involved in more than 80 RAN1 meetings, each lasting 5 days.
Needless to say, an intense amount of work has been spent on defining 5G NR, but thanks to the openness of the process, companies can cross-check each other’s contributions and proposals, ensuring a well-functioning standard. Ericsson is one of, if not the, most significant contributors in this process.
Decisions in 3GPP are in principle taken by consensus. Given the size of 3GPP, this is a challenge in itself, but it has worked well over the years. It also anchors the standard among all the members and ensures commitment, resulting in a widely accepted international standard and thereby enabling a large mass market of devices and equipment.
Working in an open and international environment such as of 3GPP is interesting and rewarding, not only from a technical perspective. At the core of the discussions are of course different technical solutions, but given the international background of the delegates one also has to bridge the cultural differences. Mutual respect and cooperation are important keywords in such an environment.
With this I hope I have shed some light on the work in 3GPP. Time to travel to the next 3GPP RAN1 meeting!
Learn more about 5G standardization