Controversial plan to accelerate 5G NR timeline gets OK in 3GPP

A proposal to accelerate the non-stand-alone (NSA) implementation of 5G New Radio (NR) made it through the 3GPP, paving the way for enabling large-scale trials and deployments based on the specification starting in 2019 instead of 2020.

The accelerated timeline moves the completion of the NSA option to December 2017, with the completion of the Release 15 specification remaining unchanged, or June 2018, according to Michael Thelander, founder of Signals Research Group, who’s attending the 3GPP RAN Plenary meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia, this week.

Thelander, who’s been following the debate since at least June when Vodafone proposed the accelerated timeline at an earlier RAN Plenary in South Korea, noted in a Signals Flash report that there was a fair amount of interest in the press and analyst community regarding the companies that did and didn’t publicly endorse the accelerated schedule—Verizon and Samsung being among the opponents while AT&T, SK Telecom, Qualcomm, Intel, Ericsson, Huawei, Sprint and Deutsche Telekom were among those that supported it.

“Ultimately, the ‘real list’ of endorsing companies—per the 3GPP submission—also includes Apple, Broadcom, Cisco, Nokia, Samsung, and Verizon,” Thelander wrote in his report. “Two of those names—Samsung and Verizon—are especially noteworthy since they were staunch opponents of the accelerated schedule. ZTE’s name was included in the press release, but it was also against the accelerated schedule until now.”

RELATED: AT&T, Sprint join 20 other companies in bid to accelerate 5G NR schedule, but Verizon is MIA

Among the reasons for opposing an accelerated timeline was a desire to complete stand-alone and NSA options simultaneously to ensure that both versions would be completed in a timeline that would avoid two phases of Release 14. 

But proponents, who signaled their desire by issuing a press release on the eve of Mobile World Congress 2017, said it’s important to address the increasing global demands for enhanced mobile broadband service with 5G NR in 2019 while continuing to address the broader vision for 5G NR in 2020 and beyond.

It’s not entirely clear why Verizon ended up supporting the current timeline but in a statement, Adam Koeppe, VP of Network Technology Planning at Verizon, indicated it's now something the carrier can get behind.

"Verizon (and over 45 operators and vendors) supported adoption of a 3GPP agreement that aligns the Industry Standards direction to enable early 5G product development, Core network evolution, and accelerates the realization of 5G,” Koeppe said. “In the standards process, the detailed timelines and work scoping are critical to success. We wanted to ensure the process supported our objectives and was realistic. With the updated and now current framework we feel it does.”

RELATED: Verizon has deployed fixed 5G gear in 10+ U.S. cities—but it may not adhere to 3GPP standards

The NSA 5G NR will use the existing LTE radio and evolved packet core as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while adding a new 5G radio access carrier to enable certain 5G use cases starting in 2019.

The 3GPP also made headway on 5G terminology. Although 3GPP has been working on 5G for quite some time, the organization had not formally assigned a name to its work until now.

According to Signals Research, 3GPP will now use—surprise—the term “5G” on all Release 15 and beyond specifications. 3GPP also endorsed the term “NG-RAN” to refer to a radio access network that connects to a 5G core network, and the radio access network could be either eLTE (LTE Release 15 and beyond) or based on the new 5G/NR air interface.

Article updated March 8 with additional comment from Verizon.