5G standards process: ITU and 3GPP lay groundwork
5G: The next generation of mobile
The goal is for next generation mobile standards related to “5G” technology to be ready by 2020. That’s the deadline for when the International Telecommunications Union is expected to set standards many claim will enable a seamlessly connected society, one where every “thing” is part of a larger system of internet-enabled devices. The impending standards are expected to help realize what is, to many, only a vague phrase with unlimited possibility: the “internet of things.” Variations of this technology will use physical sensors and actuators to create a worldwide spiderweb of information being sent to the ever-growing cloud whose shade continues to expand.
The new set of standards are expected to take mobile data speeds to new limits, improving even past what the impressive LTE standard brought us in late 2008. Perhaps even more importantly, the new standard will allow for an increase in network efficiency by providing better network performance at lower costs.
But before all of that can happen, before the headache is taken out of 4K video streaming and machines quietly engage in constant conversation with each other, a set of requirements must be set. Dozens of organizations around the world have been formed to help establish research requirements and set the way for the creation of the next generation of mobile.
Here are two of the biggest organizations expected to help write 5G standards.
International Telecommunications Union
“IMT for 2020 and beyond” is the phrase organizations are getting behind to help provide a schedule for the 5G standardization process. The term, International Mobile Telecommunications, was used with the release of 4G standards (IMT-Advanced). It’s an initiative created and spearheaded by the ITU for the 2020 development deadline of what will be marketed as 5G.
What this means for the dozens of organizations engaged in testing standards is that 2020 is the deadline to submit suggestions.
From the perspective of IMT 2020, the key constraints are given by the following two submission deadlines:
- Initial technology submission by ITU-R WP5D meeting No. 32, June 2019.
- Detailed specification submission by ITU-R WP5D meeting No. 36, October 2020.
ITU-R, ITU’s radio-communication sector & Working Party 5D, expect to work with administrations, network operators, equipment manufacturers, and national and regional standardization organizations to include today’s 5G research and development activities in the IMT-2020 global standard for mobile broadband communications.
The ITU-R Working Party 5D, charged with developing future standards for 5G, met in February 2016 in Beijing. One aspect of the group’s task is to identify and harmonize 5G spectrum in frequency bands below 6 GHz.
“Following additional spectrum allocations for mobile during the World Radiocommunication Conference in late 2015, ITU is continuing to work in close collaboration with governments and the global mobile industry to make rapid progress in bringing the vision of IMT-2020 to fruition,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU secretary general. “Future steps in 5G mobile technology are aimed at a new paradigm of connectivity among people and things in a smart, networked environment encompassing big data, applications, transport systems and urban centers.”
In a paper titled “IMT Vision – Framework and overall objectives of the future development of IMT for 2020 and beyond,” ITU-R included a figure showing eight parameters considered to be key capabilities of IMT-2020:
In that same document, ITU outlined three use cases for IMT-2020, as well as applications and industries that could benefit from the new network:
- Enhanced mobile broadband: Mobile broadband addresses the human-centric use cases for access to multimedia content, services and data. The demand for mobile broadband will continue to increase, leading to enhanced mobile broadband. The enhanced mobile broadband usage scenario will come with new application areas and requirements in addition to existing mobile broadband applications for improved performance and an increasingly seamless user experience. This scenario covers a range of cases, including wide-area coverage and hot spots, which have different requirements. For areas with high user density, very high capacity is needed, while the requirement for mobility is low and user data rate is higher than that of wide area coverage. For the wide area coverage case, seamless coverage and medium to high mobility are desired, with much improved user data rate compared to existing data rates.
- Ultra-reliable and low-latency communications: Requirements for capabilities such as throughput, latency and availability use cases include wireless control of industrial manufacturing or production processes, remote medical surgery, distribution automation in a smart grid, transportation safety, etc.
- Massive machine-type communications: Very large number of connected devices typically transmitting a relatively low volume of non-delay sensitive data. Devices are required to be low cost and have a long battery life.
3rd Generation Partnership Project
The 3rd Generation Partnership Project is a collective of seven global telecommunications standards organizations. This collaboration has worked to create and organize the standards for a number of mobile communication systems including 2G, 3G, HSPA and LTE. They are now engaged in research and development for 5G standardization.
In March 2015, 3GPP endorsed a timeline for the standardization of 5G, which was founded around the ITU’s IMT 2020 deadline.
It calls for 3GPP to submit the final specifications at the ITU-R WP5D meeting in February 2020, based on functionally frozen specs available in December 2019. The early submission is expected to allow enough time for the transposition of the specifications by the organizational partners of 3GPP prior to their own submissions into the IMT 2020 process before October 2020.
3GPP started its work on 5G in 2015, and is said to be working to push out specifications for upgrading the LTE network and forthcoming 5G in future releases. Release-15 will be the first release featuring 5G specifications with a target “new radio” scope of:
- Standalone and non-standalone NR operation (with work for both starting in conjunction and running together).
- Non-standalone NR in this context implies using LTE as control plane anchor. Standalone NR implies full control plane capability for NR.
- Some potential architecture configuration options are shown in RP-161266for information and will be analyzed further during the study.
- Target use cases: Enhanced mobile broadband, as well as low latency and high reliability to enable some ultra-reliable and low latency communications use cases.
- Frequency ranges above and below 6 GHz.
In 2015, 3GPP began working on four technical reports outlining the new services and markets technology enablers, which looks at potential 5G requirements. Those reports were completed in June 2016, and each highlight four major categories 5G will touch on:
The studies will be used as input for the organization’s 15th release, which is set to standardize the first phase of 5G requirements by June 2017.
In the fourth quarter of 2015, the organization approved a 5G study titled “Study on Architecture for Next Generation Systems,” part of Release 14. Highlights include:
- Designing a system architecture for the next-generation mobile networks.
- Supporting at least the new RAT(s), the evolved LTE, non-3GPP access and minimize access dependencies.
- Considering an evolution of the current architecture or a “clean slate” approach.
- Considering scenarios of migration to the new architecture.
- Collection, analysis and further investigation of potential security threats and requirements for the next generation systems, based on the work of 3GPP Working Groups.
- Study and identify the basic structure and operation of realization of radio access network functions and to what extent it is feasible to standardize RAN NFs and interfaces.
- Study and identify specification impacts of enabling the realization of network slicing.
- Provide performance evaluation of the technologies identified, identify relevant RF parameters used to be used for sharing and co-existence studies and identify technical solutions that enable support for wireless relay.
What we can expect between now and 2020
According to the ITU, the medium-term (up to about the year 2020) outlook of mobile network development revolves around enhancements for IMT-2000 (3G) and IMT-Advanced (4G) in addressing user needs with technical developments. The phase is set to be dominated by the growth in traffic within the existing IMT spectrum, and the development of IMT-2000 and IMT-Advanced during this time will be distinguished by incremental or evolutionary changes to the existing IMT-2000 and IMT-Advanced radio interface specifications
According to 3GPP, for currently available bands, LTE is very close to reaching the technologically possible efficiency limits, “hence, it is expected that LTE will remain as the baseline technology for wide area broadband coverage also in the 5G era.” 3GPP will continue working on enhancing LTE not only from the radio perspective, but also from service delivery perspective which would make it more suitable for machine to machine communication. Working with LTE will remain to be a critical factor.
The long-term outlook (beginning around the year 2020) is associated with the potential introduction of IMT-2020, which could be deployed around the year 2020 in some countries. It is thought IMT-2020 will add enhanced capabilities that may need additional frequency bands in which to operate.