Ericsson, MediaTek prep for standalone 5G with Voice over New Radio test

Ericsson says standalone 5G is one step closer following the vendor’s successful Voice over New Radio (VoNR) interoperability test with partner MediaTek.

Early 5G network deployments, including those in the U.S., have been anchored in LTE, based on what’s known as non-standalone architecture. Operators like Verizon have said they plan to start moving to Standalone (SA NR) mode, where it no longer relies on 4G core infrastructure, in 2020. Standalone NR is expected to bring benefits beyond faster data speeds that are often touted today, with more optimized performance and enhanced 5G functions like ultra-low latency.

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While 5G is closely tied to enhanced data-transfer capabilities, voice calling is still “essential” for mobile users, said Hannes Ekström, Head of Product Line 5G RAN at Ericsson, in a statement.

“So, 5G phones are expected to provide all the capabilities of 4G phones in addition to new 5G features and services,” Ekström continued. “Ensuring continued voice services on 5G devices must therefore be addressed properly.”

Paul Carter CEO of Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), speaking to FierceWireless earlier this month, echoed the sentiment about consumers' continued need for voice capabilities. He said among findings from the network testing company’s consumer research survey and focus groups, was that making and receiving voice calls consistently remains the most-used cell phone function. Voice was followed closely by text in second and camera functions in third. Social media ranked eighth.  

He said that while it isn’t necessarily a surprise, it’s a stat GWS continues to comfortably see. “Voice is still the number one choice of service,” Carter said.

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Ericsson and MediaTek’s test, an industry first, was performed earlier this month at the Ericsson Lab in Kista, Sweden. It used an end-to-end solution from Ericsson and MediaTek’s commercial Dimensity 1000 chipset, deployed over a 3.5 GHz TDD band. 

Current commercial 5G smartphones use dual-mode connectivity, meaning voice calls are made over 4G connections, but 5G helps boost data, according to Ericsson. However, in standalone NR, 5G networks will need to support native voice calling on 5G smartphones.

Qualcomm has dominated the initial 5G smartphone chipset market, and earlier this month took the wraps off its Snapdragon 865 Mobile platform, which provides peak speeds of up to 7.5 Gbps, and is expected to be commercially available in the first quarter of 2020. MediaTek and others like Samsung and Huawei are entering the scene though, as MediaTek unveiled its Dimensity 5G chipset family in late November, with plans to power sub-6 GHz 5G smartphones in 2020.

Before ultimately getting to SA NR and tapping 5G for both voice and data, Ericsson said the second step is to rely on 5G for data traffic, while voice calls use 4G with Evolved Packet System (EPS) Fallback.

MediaTek and Ericsson previously partnered to test EPS Fallback in scenarios where SA isn’t available. The pair also teamed up on interoperability trials involving 5G Core and IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), to ensure voice support as networks evolve from 4G to 5G.

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“MediaTek is committed to bringing unrivaled 5G experiences to consumers around the world,” said JS Pan, General Manager of Wireless System Design and Partnership at MediaTek, in a statement. “This technology milestone will let device makers support native voice calling services on 5G networks, providing users with a seamless connectivity experience as SA 5G networks are rolled out in the coming year.”