In December telecommunication vendors and mobile operators took a big step in getting ready for 2020, the year the fifth generation of wireless mobile networks, or “5G”, is expected to become a reality. At the 3GPP RAN Plenary meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, the working group completed the first implementable 5G NR (New Radio) specifications, defining the overall 5G system architecture and detailing the features, functionality and services needed for deploying a commercially operational 5G system.

The finished 5G specification covers a wide range of spectrum, ranging from the 600 and 700 MHz bands to the millimeter wave portion of the spectrum at 50 GHz. Many of the key aspects of the 5G NR physical design were finalized including advanced channel coding, a low-latency 5G NR structure and support for 5G NR Massive MIMO.

Beyond a capacity boost demanded by an IoT world and the raw speed increases needed for 4K mobile video viewing, 5G service customers can look forward to more reliable connectivity anywhere they go and access to powerful cloud computing tools at very low latency, so as to appear to be real-time, which works well not only for gaming, AR and VR applications but for remote health care, too.

5G, the mobile network of the 2020s, will need to support a growing number of mission critical applications, many with rigorous performance and reliability requirements. For the most part early use cases will fall into the realms of enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Vehicle-to-Everything Communications (V2X). Other applications will include monitoring and failure handling of process automation and robots within a factory and real-time feedback and control for remote medical applications.

Completion of the first 5G NR standard has set the stage for the global mobile industry to start large-scale trials and commercial deployments and indeed companies like T-Mobile and Verizon already promising 5G networks to start rolling out in 2018 and 2019.

A distinctive feature of the 5G system architecture is network slicing, which will allow telecom operators to provide networks on an as-a-service basis and meet the wide range of use cases that the decade of the 2020s is expected to provide. For example, in a single 5G system, network slicing technology can deliver connectivity for smart meters with one network slice that connects “internet of things (IoT)” devices with a high availability and high reliability data-only service, offering a specified latency, data rate and security level. At the same time 5G technology can provide another, different network slice with very high throughput, high data speeds and low latency for an augmented reality service.

Further, the 5G system architecture model uniformly enables user services with different access networks, like fixed network access or WLAN, from the onset. A Core Network interface enable the 5G common Core Network to operate with these different access networks. In fixed access networks Quality of Service (QoS) without extra signaling may be desirable. Standardized packet marking informs QoS enforcement functions – what QoS to provide – without any QoS signaling. The system architecture also provides interworking with and migration from 4G.

Network repository functions (NRF) allow every network function to discover the services offered by other network functions. This architecture model enables deployments to take advantage of the latest virtualization and software technologies.

The 5G NR lower layer specifications have been designed so that they can support Standalone (SA) and Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G NR operation in a unified way. NSA 5G NR will utilize the existing LTE radio and core network as the basis for mobility management and coverage while adding a new 5G carrier. This is the configuration that will be the target of early (2019) deployments.

Standalone 5G NR refers to full user and control capability for 5G NR, utilizing the 5G next-generation core network architecture. A framework also was developed to ensure commonality between these two variants. And because NSA and SA 5G NR will share common physical layer specifications for the air interface, these aspects of SA 5G NR were completed as part of the December 2017 spec. Some additional SA 5G NR technical specifications are expected to be completed in June 2018 as part of 3GPP Release 15.

With 3GPP now having announced the first implementable 5G NR specifications telecom operators and networking equipment suppliers are expected to accelerate development of 5G-enabled devices, pushing up demand for laser diodes, optical communication components (such as transceiver modules) and passives which allow for operating frequencies up to 50 GHz. Of course resistors, capacitors and inductors are universally found in every PCB and the need for new base stations and related 5G devices can be expected to provide a supplemental boost for the passives sector.

The delivered specifications define the 5G system from an overall, architectural perspective. 3GPP will continue to evolve the technology as data traffic grows and new business opportunities emerge. Related work in other areas – e.g., security, continues with some additional specifications anticipated on or about June 2018.

Murray Slovick

Murray Slovick

Murray Slovick is Editorial Director of Intelligent TechContent, an editorial services company that produces technical articles, white papers and social media posts for clients in the semiconductor/electronic design industry. Trained as an engineer, he has more than 20 years of experience as chief editor of award-winning publications covering various aspects of consumer electronics and semiconductor technology. He previously was Editorial Director at Hearst Business Media where he was responsible for the online and print content of Electronic Products, among other properties in the U.S. and China. He has also served as Executive Editor at CMP’s eeProductCenter and spent a decade as editor-in-chief of the IEEE flagship publication Spectrum.

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