5G Standards Work Hitting Hurdles of Reality, Could See Delays

Dan Meyer
June 27, 2017

Recent moves to fast track 3GPP work on 5G standards could be hitting a snag as the reality of those efforts begins to set in.

According to a new report from Signals Research Group (SRG), a number of items related to work on the 5G non-standalone New Radio specification have been delayed or stopped. SRG President Michael Thelander, who attended the most recent 3GPP meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida, said the delay is impacting study items related to both Release 15 and Release 16 specifications for the 5G standard.

“I don’t want to blow it all out of proportion, but they are basically saying they need to prioritize getting stuff done for December and then getting stuff done in June,” Thelander said. “To do that they are realizing they can’t have any additional time spent on doing these other things, like studying Release 16 study items.”

Thelander noted the current “freeze” on any new, or what is considered not critical to the standards work, is in effect until at least September. He did note there were not any plans to delay already assigned completion dates on study items, but said that with no resources being allocated to those items a decision will have to be made on timing.

“Ultimately, if you are not working on them, plan to work on them, or are allocating any resources to those items, at some point a decision needs to be made if those items will be delayed,” Thelander said. “Or do we allocate more time and resources to finish them once we do start working on them? But we can’t because there isn’t enough time, so you can do a half-assed job, spend less time, and not put the thought into it that you should have. Or you can potentially delay things, which will impact Release 16, or you cut back certain functionalities and say that you just can’t do it.”

As an example of items being impacted, Thelander cited work on what is termed Short TTI. The technology is designed to reduce latency on LTE networks from around 15 to 20 milliseconds to around eight milliseconds. This is seen as important for the deployment of 5G networks as LTE is expected to remain key for broader coverage and needs to provide network performance similar to 5G in order to support 5G use cases.

Thelander said initial work on the technology was to be done by September. However, work has been officially delayed until December, with indications that deadline won’t be kept.

Thelander noted that while Short TTI is not mandatory for initial 5G deployments, “it’s a feature operators definitely want to have, and it’s a feature you need to have if you are going to be deploying 5G and have it coexist with your LTE network.”

A similar issue was made in terms of work on narrowband-IoT technology, which is expected to power Internet of Things (IoT) networks and use cases.

“You can’t have commercial multivendor solutions when you have specifications that have ambiguity or things in them that need to be fixed,” Thelander explained. “That results in misinterpretation by different vendors and interoperability issues on a technology deemed as very important to 5G.”

SRG concluded that despite the timing issues, work on a completed Release 15 standard remains on track for June 2018.

5G Fast-Track Hangover
The 3GPP earlier this year caved to operator pressure and agreed to move up the deadline on the 5G non-standalone NR specification from March 2018 to December 2017. The completed Release 15 standard kept its June 2018 deadline.

“What is relevant is that 3GPP agreed to the new schedule, which leaves the overarching Release 15 schedule unchanged and which benefits operators and vendors who want 5G NR sooner rather than later,” SRG said in a research note.

Several operators and vendors announced at Mobile World Congress 2017 that they advocated for the 3GPP to fast track the specification. Among those were AT&T, which has long been a proponent for the early release of the 5G NR standard so that it could deploy standardized gear. Other operators in favor of the accelerated timeline included Sprint, Telstra, BT, Deutsche Telekom, KDDI, Korea Telecom, LG Uplus, SK Telecom, and Vodafone. Vendors backing the proposal included Ericsson, Qualcomm, Huawei, Intel, and ZTE.

Verizon, which had initially been an opponent of an accelerated timeline, has since changed its tune. Adam Koeppe, VP of technology planning at the carrier, said the operator believes the updated schedule from the 3GPP and the current framework supports the company’s objectives and is realistic.

“Verizon supported adoption of a 3GPP agreement that aligns the industry standards direction to enable early 5G product development, core network evolution, and accelerates the realization of 5G,” Koeppe said in a statement.

AT&T and Verizon are on track to begin commercial deployments next year of 5G-based services.