3GPP decides to delay Release 16 by 3 months

In what could be construed as a “surprise, no surprise,” 3GPP has decided to delay Release 16 by three months, so it’s now due for a freeze in March 2020 rather than December 2019.

It’s a surprise—one commentator described as a “mini-bombshell”—because, well, it’s unexpected. But it’s also not surprising given the amount of work that has been going on in 3GPP with Release 15 and the sheer volume of change requests (CRs) falling on vendors’ doorsteps.

3GPP held its Plenary #82 meeting in Sorrento, Italy, this past week and toward the end of the meeting, Nokia’s Balazs Berternyi made the announcement that the Release 15 “functional freeze” will be delayed by three months, now due in March 2019, according to Peter Clemons, chief designer at Quixoticity Index, who posted it on LinkedIn. With 3GPP's three-month cycle, that puts Release 16 back three months as well. 

“There's a lot of sympathy in the room for all parties due to the massive work overload during R15, so hopefully lessons will be learned & a better approach found for R16,” Clemons wrote.

A similar vibe was observed by analysts at Signals Research Group (SRG).

“Given the tremendous workload which the RAN working groups faced with Release 15 and the issues that arose from trying to complete the tremendous workload in a short amount of time, there was very little controversy or debate with the new schedule,” SRG wrote in its Signals Flash note. “The only debate pertained to how this delay will impact the ITU-R submission for IMT-2020 status. There doesn’t appear to be any real concern among the 3GPP delegates since there is belief the IMT-2020 schedule is somewhat arbitrary and open to change.”

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It’s also worth noting that the delay is not going to affect the first 5G commercial rollouts planned for early 2019. 3GPP completed the Option 3 architecture option, known as the non-stand alone (NSA) version, in December 2017, which was six months earlier than originally planned. In June, 3GPP completed the standalone (SA) version, which does not rely on LTE for the core.

The delay is related to Options 4 and 7, which involves transitioning to the 5G core. Most early movers are doing NSA and not interested in doing SA until at least early 2020, according to SRG, which says operators don’t really need Options 4 and 7 until at least late 2019.

Meanwhile, vendors are going to be busy implementing the many CRs that 3GPP just approved at its December meeting. The CRs basically address bugs not previously identified and reflect additional inconsistencies and unfinished items since the September meeting.  

SRG says there are also important enhancements that operators still want introduced into Release 15 and they require their own set of CRs, but SRG also noted that 3GPP made all the critical decisions that have hardware implications a long time ago and that’s why vendors were promoting 5G capable solutions even when 5G was far from finished.