3GPP Release 17 delayed; details set for December

The social distancing required during the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on the work of the industry’s 3GPP specifications body, and it looks like the finalization of Release 17 could slip anywhere from three to six months or more.

The “freeze” or finalization date for Release 17 Stage 3 was set for September 2021, but a decision on a delayed date will be considered in December, according to a September 21 post by 3GPP. That’s when they will decide if Release 17 will be delayed by three, six or more months.

“During today’s TSG SA#89-e meeting the three TSG Chairs (CT, RAN and SA) confirmed that their groups will continue to study the situation, to arrive at the best common decision possible at the next Plenaries (December 7 – 11),” the 3GGP reported.

Features of Release 17 are enhancements to Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB), as well as Phase 2 of network slicing, work on unmanned aerial systems, satellite components in the 5G architecture and enhanced V2X services, to name a few.

Like everyone else, work by 3GPP committees has been hampered by the pandemic, which forced them to hold online and/or telephonic meetings rather than in-person events. The 3GPP members are accustomed to getting their work done most efficiently during in-person meetings, where communications can take place much faster and disagreements can be worked out in hallways or side gatherings between the larger formal meetings.

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According to 3GPP, Nokia's Balazs Bertenyi, TSG RAN chair, expressed the hope that meetings could resume in 2021, to allow the groups to get Release 17 done with a minimum delay. However, if e-meetings are required to carry on beyond June, the delay could be greater than the six months currently being projected by the RAN leadership, he warned.

“We want to give a clear statement in December on how long the Release 17 work will take. This situation is not ideal, but these are not ideal times,” said Georg Mayer, senior standards manager at Huawei and 3GPP SA chair.

The chairs already agreed that the first half of 2021 meetings will be e-meetings, but the hope is the next three months will bring clarity as to whether 3GPP can start to plan for getting back to face-to-face meetings later next year.

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Delays in the standards process aren’t exactly unusual. The process by its very nature requires agreement between hundreds of delegates from all over the world representing carriers and vendors with very different agendas. However, the pandemic exacerbated efforts, with the 3GPP in February canceling all face-to-face meetings starting in the first quarter due to the coronavirus outbreak.