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  • 5G
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5G: What’s Expected from 3GPP Release 16 and Release 17?

Uday Parida

Uday Parida

In July 2020, 3GPP finalized the second set of specifications for 5G New Radio (NR) technology – Release 16. Also, the global wireless standards body has scheduled the delivery of the third set of specifications for 5G New Radio (NR) technology – Release 17 – in June 2021. The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed the release of both 3GPP Release 16 and Release 17. But 3GPP created many new opportunities and use cases for 5G network deployments by finalizing the 3GPP Release 16 in July 2020.

Finalization of 3GPP Release 16 adds advanced capabilities to the 5G New Radio (NR) – the next generation radio access technology (RAT) introduced in Rel. 15. Rel. 16 facilitates and speeds up the deployment of commercial-standard based 5G NR. Both telecom operators and network equipment manufacturers can expect a slew of things related to 5G standardization and network deployments from 3GPP Release 16 and 17.

What Telecom Industry Can Expect from 3GPP Release 16 and Release 17 Standards?

5G NR-U:

This is one of the most important features in Release 16. 5G NR-U is the first-ever global standard that supports both standalone and license-assisted usage of 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands. The telecom operators can access the standalone NR-U just like accessing 5G MulteFire. But they can leverage 5G NR-U to add capacity to their 5G network by tapping the unlicensed bands.

Non-Public Network (NPN):

The new system architecture featuring in Release 16 supports private networks or non-public networks. Unlike public networks, NPN uses enhanced data security and reduces latency by utilizing dedicated resources that are managed independently. Also, the new architectural support extended to NPN will cater opportunities for innovative 5G deployment and use cases including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Time Sensitive Networks (TSN):

3GPP Release 16 creates industry 4.0 cases by supporting TSN integration. The integration will facilitate the time-deterministic delivery of data packages. The data package delivery can be customized according to precise delivery time using generalized precision timing protocol (gPTP). The operators have the option to choose from multiple mechanisms according to the application and deployment of URLLC services.

Cellular-Vehicle-to-Everything:

Release 16 emphasizes on enhancing vehicle safety by introducing an NR-based side-safety. The NR-based side-safety is built on top of the features introduced in Releases 14 and 15. But the advanced feature will boost automated driving and enable several new use cases related to vehicle safety. The latest release further supports efficient and reliable multicast communication to drive connected car adoption.

5G-Based Positioning:

The 3GPP Release 16 sets the baseline for a 5G-based positioning architecture. The new architecture will meet the accuracy target ranging from 3 meters indoor to 10 meters outdoor. Also, the release complements the 5G-based positioning system with a slew of new single-cell and multi-cell positioning techniques – time difference of arrival (TDOA), angle of arrival/departure (AoA/AoD), and roundtrip time (RTT).

Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) Enhancements:

Rel. 16 enhances the efficiency and performance of MIMO by optimizing the ecosystem.  MU-MIMO now supports multiple transmission and reception points. Also, it supports higher ranks and simplifies multi-beam management by improving reference signals and link reliability. The enhancements increase coverage drastically by supporting full-power up-link.

Enhanced Ultra-Reliable, Low-Latency Communication (eURLLC):

Rel. 16 enhances the URLLC foundation set by Rel. 15 to increase link reliability up to 99.9999%. The eURLLC will have several new use cases including end-to-end factory automation. EURLLC uses coordinated multi-point (CoMP) to overcome one of the most important systematic challenges in factory automation – stringent latency bound. CoMP will facilitate uninterrupted M2M machine communication through remaining paths once the primary path is blocked or unavailable temporarily.

Advanced Power Saving Features:

Rel. 16 extends the battery life of various battery-powered devices by introducing several new features and mechanisms. The new power-saving features will lead to overhead reduction and low-power setting optimization. At the same time, the feature will enable devices to check if the transmission is in progress. The information will make the device operate in low-power mode.

Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB):

The operators have to invest in extra mmWave base stations while expanding 5G NR mmWave network. Release 16 eliminates the need to invest in additional resources by introducing this new feature. IAB eliminates the need for a wired backhaul by providing wireless backhaul connectivity, along with wireless access for devices. Also, the operators can leverage IAB to add new base stations dynamically without increasing backhaul capacity by installing additional fibers.

LTE Advanced Pro Technologies:

Rel. 16 extends the 5G platform by introducing a slew of LTE Advanced Pro technologies. These technologies will enable massive 5G IoT connectivity through in-band deployment of eMTC and NB-IoT using 5G NR services. Likewise, the technologies will facilitate terrestrial TV delivery using high-power and high-tower broadcast. Also, Release 17 is expected to introduce several new LTE Advanced Pro technologies along with enhancing the existing technologies.

Service Based Architecture (eSBA) Enhancements:

Rel. 16 extends eSBA by introducing a new feature – Service Communication Proxy. The feature will facilitate indirect communication and discovery delegation driven by 5GC. In addition to making eSBA more flexible, the feature will simplify the deployment of NF services by defining network functions and services.

Location Services (LCS) Enhancements:

Rel. 16 expands the baseline architecture set under Rel. 15 by supporting roaming for location services. Also, Release 16 enhances the LCS by adding a slew of new features – NEF enabled exposure of location, control plane positioning for non-3GPP accesses, temporary blocking of positioning consent, and location privacy subscription.

In addition to finalizing Release 16 in July 2020, 3GPP has released the road map for delivering Release 17 in 2021. Release 16 will speed up the deployment of 5G networks by adding the advanced capability to the 5G NR. Also, at the same time, Release 17 aims to highlight many more innovative use cases for 5G mobile communication. The enhancements will contribute hugely to accelerate the deployment of 5G networks across the world.

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