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

Verizon is conspicuously absent from a list of 22 companies, including operators and their technology partners around the world, that want to accelerate the timing of the 5G standard for large-scale trials and deployments.

AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, Vodafone, Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies, British Telecom, Telstra, Korea Telecom, Intel, LG Uplus, KDDI, LG Electronics, Telia Company, Swisscom, TIM, Etisalat Group, Huawei, Sprint, Vivo, ZTE and Deutsche Telekom all signed off on a proposal to support a corresponding work plan for the first phase of the 5G NR specification at the next 3GPP RAN plenary meeting March 6-9 in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

It’s a key development because AT&T had been pushing for the timeline to be moved up while rival Verizon has been opposed to it. T-Mobile is also missing from those supporting the move to accelerate the standard, but it hasn’t been as aggressive as Verizon in leading the 5G charge, saying the early fixed wireless use cases don’t look all that exciting. Samsung and Nokia, two big 5G vendors, are also not on the list. It’s worth noting, however, that Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s parent company, is supporting the effort.

RELATED: Verizon rejects AT&T-led effort to speed up release of parts of 5G standard

The first 3GPP 5G NR specification will be part of Release 15, the global 5G standard that will make use of both sub-6 GHz and millimeter-wave spectrum bands.

Based on the current 3GPP Release 15 timeline, the earliest 5G NR deployments based on standard-compliant 5G NR infrastructure and devices will likely not be possible until 2020. Instead, the new proposal introduces an intermediate milestone to complete specification documents related to a configuration called Non-Standalone 5G NR to enable large-scale trials and deployments starting in 2019.

Non-Standalone 5G NR will use the existing LTE radio and evolved packet core network 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 new proposal and the intermediate milestone also reaffirm and solidify the schedule for the complete standard, including Standalone 5G NR in Release 15.

“We support both the Standalone and Non-Standalone configurations of 5G New Radio,” said Tom Keathley, senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design at AT&T, in a prepared statement. “Our focus is on prioritizing important specifications in the standards to bring 5G to market as quickly as possible. In the process of defining any standard, it is normal to make some decisions earlier than others. These accelerated decisions on key components of 5G New Radio standards will allow an earlier start on the development of the infrastructure and devices of tomorrow’s 5G deployments.”

The supporting companies say they are further committed to make forward compatibility a key design principle for the standardization of the first release of 5G NR, enabling in-band introduction of new capabilities and features in subsequent releases critical to enabling yet-to-be-identified industries and use cases and achieving the 5G vision to connect everything to everything.

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

Verizon told FierceWireless back in October that it, along with other companies, countered the proposal to complete stand-alone and non-stand-alone options simultaneously and said it was important to ensure that both non-stand-alone and stand-alone be completed in a timeline that would avoid two phases of Release 14. At the time, it sounded as if the proposal was dropped, but obviously enough stakeholders believe it’s a big enough deal to resurrect and push forward the idea.

Qualcomm has been all for accelerating the timeline, so it’s not surprising that it’s supporting the effort, although it’s also been a close, longtime partner with Verizon.

The San Diego-based company announced on Feb. 21 its first successful 5G connection based upon the NR work in 3GPP. The connection, which was completed using Qualcomm Technologies’ sub-6 GHz 5G NR prototype system capable of operating at midband spectrum from 3.3 GHz to 5.0 GHz, demonstrated how advanced 5G NR technologies can be used to efficiently achieve multigigabit-per-second data rates at significantly lower latency than today’s 4G LTE networks.