Release 16 for 5G will address integrated access backhaul

While the 3GPP Release 15 focused on the capabilities of the New Radio and the next-generation core network for 5G, Release 16 will go beyond mobile broadband capabilities. It will bring industrial IoT support and integrated access and backhaul (IAB).

Release 16 is expected to be completed in June. “But we won’t see Release 16 capable networks until 2022,” said Peter Rysavy, principle of Rysavy Research, in a call yesterday with Wells Fargo.

“Release 16 is important as it introduces a new level of 5G standards that are more focused on the enterprise side of the 5G model,” wrote Wells Fargo Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche. Release 16 will massively expand the number of use cases that 5G can support; including cellular-vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communication.

The new release will also address standards for IAB, which Rysavy described as using “part of your 5G radio for backhaul.” He said with IAB, “not every small cell necessarily has to have fiber going to it. You can take part of your radio spectrum, especially mmWave, take a portion and have a radio connection to another site that has fiber, or hop to another site. The result is you could deploy 5G in an area where one-fourth or one-tenth of the sites have fiber going to them.”

RELATED: Traditional mobile backhaul won’t suffice for 5G

But Rysavy, like others before him, pointed out that IAB will take away from valuable spectrum in order to provide backhaul. So, there’s a tradeoff between dipping into one’s spectrum assets and saving on the cost of fiber.

“I don’t think it’s completely clear whether IAB will be used as a major component or just be used in specific use cases,” said Rysavy.

Macros vs. small cells

Asked how the macro network would be transformed by 5G, Rysavy said, “We’ve been growing macros at 4% annualized rates. I don’t really see much change. They’re crucial for 5G coverage.” Small cells are a different matter, however, especially small cells for mmWave spectrum.

“My forecast is: we’re working toward 1 million small cells in the United States by the 2027-2028 time frame. Today, there are 150,000 small cells," he said. When using mmWave frequencies, it’s necessary to have a fairly dense network with the inter-site distance being 100-300 meters on average. That would play out to be four small cells for every macro.

But he noted that it’s still difficult to deploy small cells. Although the FCC's two orders that were issued in August and September of 2018 attempt to expedite the process at local governments, it’s still very time-consuming. “That’s why the mid-band is so important in the short term. It gets us to significantly increased performance without requiring those hundreds of thousands of small cells for mmWave,” he said.

RELATED: Mayors who are suing the FCC call its small cell rules a ‘land-grab’

For an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know analysis of 5G, see 5G Americas’ September 2019 white paper “Global 5G: Implications of a Transformational Technology,” which was prepared in conjunction with Rysavy Research.