Qualcomm leads study on 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum

A lot of people likely are aware that the 3GPP agreed to accelerate the non-standalone (NSA) implementation of 5G New Radio (NR) at its meeting in Croatia this past March—pushing the specification deadline to December 2017, which could be a challenging time table to meet. But not as well publicized is a study item on 5G NR operating in unlicensed spectrum, both licensed-assisted and standalone.

Qualcomm will lead the study with other partners, and it’s kind of a big deal, according to Rasmus Hellberg, senior director of technical marketing at Qualcomm Technologies. In a recent blog post, he said that’s because 5G NR will proliferate around the world more broadly and more rapidly if all spectrum types can be used, especially unlicensed spectrum.

“Doing so will allow 5G to support more uses and deployments models so that many more entities will be able to enjoy the benefits of 5G in a much broader 5G ecosystem,” he wrote.

It’s also significant, he said, that the 3GPP-approved study includes a wide array of unlicensed spectrum ranges, all the way to 60 GHz, also known as mmWave. The study will run through the beginning of 2018.

Hellberg notes that the expansion of cellular technologies into unlicensed spectrum did not happen overnight. Indeed, the LTE and Wi-Fi industry stakeholders spent much of last year conducting meetings to fine-tune a test plan that they all could live with after Wi-Fi proponents raised concerns that LTE might not play fair with Wi-Fi in unlicensed spectrum. 

Unlicensed spectrum stakeholders are likely to be keeping a close eye on the latest developments as well.

Hellberg told FierceWirelessTech via email that 5G NR is being designed from the ground up to enable enhanced mobile broadband by using all types of spectrum: low-band, mid-band and high-band, as well as licensed, unlicensed and shared. 

Asked if he believes the Wi-Fi community will raise concerns about LTE operating in unlicensed spectrum when it comes to the 5G NR work, he said from the ground up, 5G NR in shared and unlicensed spectrum will be designed both to enable enhanced mobile broadband and to coexist fairly and without causing any adverse impact to any other technology.

“3GPP included Listen-Before-Talk (LBT) in LTE LAA and worked diligently to ensure fair sharing with Wi-Fi in 5 GHz, which will serve as the foundation for the 5G NR in unlicensed study,” he said. “Therefore we are confident that NR in unlicensed bands will also coexist fairly with Wi-Fi when they share the same unlicensed spectrum band.”

The IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee (IEEE 802) reached out to the 3GPP last year in an effort to spur more collaboration between the groups as 5G specifications are being formed. Does Qualcomm, which supplies both Wi-Fi and LTE technologies, have a position on that?

Hellberg responded that many of the same companies interested in 5G NR for shared spectrum are members of both 3GPP and IEEE. “These companies are already participating in the 3GPP process and will make their views known through that process,” he said.

RELATED: T-Mobile launching some LTE-U now, LAA on the horizon

With LTE-U supported in the new Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said during the company's first-quarter earnings call that the uncarrier has started the first network deployments of LTE-U. Right now, LTE-U is just in a few locations across the U.S., but T-Mobile is starting to turn it up more through 2017 and into 2018 and 2019, with licensed-assisted access (LAA) also coming down the pike.