The 5G standards
Dr. Evangelo Damigos; PhD | Head of Digital Futures Research Desk
- Connected Intelligence
- Sustainable Growth and Tech Trends
- Emerging Technologies
Publication | Update: Sep 2020
Standardization of 5G started in early 2016 under the umbrella of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the key standardization body for global mobile communication systems. A first wave of standards is available through the 3GPP Release 15 and a second wave is under development and should be available by 2020.
The new 5G mobile networks are expected to arrive in 2019 or 2020, but before that can happen, the 5G standards must be developed. Consensus is vital in the interest of 5G standard cohesiveness.
According to SDx Central research, operators and vendors who will have a stake in the 5G future are deeply involved in this standards process. U.S. operators such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are engaged in ongoing 5G trials so that their findings will contribute to the 5G standard. Vendors such as Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm, and Samsung are obviously financially motivated to see their intellectual properties included in the 5G standards process.
The three main 5G usage scenarios — Enhanced Mobile Broadband, Massive Connectivity, and Ultra-high reliability & Low Latency— and their use cases. Source: ResearchGate
The primary 5G standards bodies involved in these processes are the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
3GPP: This international body is a communications-focused organization made up of seven telecommunications standard development organizations called “organizational partners.” It is composed of supporting-member companies like the aforementioned companies. The organization is charged with formulating the 5G technical specifications, which ultimately become standards.
In mid-2017, the 3GPP Technical Specifications Groups agreed on a detailed workplan for Release 15 — the first release of 5G specifications. The workplan included a set of tasks and checkpoints to guide ongoing 5G studies of next-generation architecture and the 5G New Radio (NR), focusing on enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-reliability and low latency, frequency ranges, and the importance of forward compatibility in radio and protocol design.
IETF: The IETF is the standards body coming up with the key specifications for virtualization functions evolving IP protocols to support network virtualization. For example, IETF is pioneering Service Function Chaining (SFC), which will link the virtualized components of the 5G architecture—such as the base station, serving gateway, and packet data gateway—into a single path. This will permit the dynamic creation and linkage of Virtual Network Functions (VNFs).
Other new technology under development by IETF includes routing-related testing, including protocols for distributed networking, segment routing, and path computation to meet the constraints of the 5G NR. IETF works synergistically with 3GPP on the development of 5G, covering not only new technology under IETF development but also new uses of existing technologies.
ITU: The ITU is a Geneva-based United Nations agency focused on information and communication technologies. It coordinates the global sharing of radio spectrum. In 2015, the ITU identified three spectrum bands that will be used for 5G, and in 2016, it refined the criteria for the selection of 5G radio interface technologies.
According to the Citi GPS: “Global Perspectives & Solutions on 5G Technology,” the 5G standards, as proposed by the International Telecommunications Union and developed by 3GPP, improve on four central attributes, including lower latency, improved device density, improved speed and capacity, and dynamic spectrum access.
Lower Latency. Latency is the delay between a request for information being made and the time the transmission begins; that delay will drop below 10 milliseconds with 5G versus 50 milliseconds or more with 4G LTE. While this may not sound like much, it could mean the difference between an immersive virtual reality experience and a disorienting delay between moving your head and the changing view on the display. Lower latency will be key for emerging applications including autonomous driving, virtual and augmented reality, and mobile gaming.
Device Density. With the 5G standard, it is hoped that the network could connect as many as 1 million devices per square kilometer (0.38 square miles).
This is a 10x improvement over 4G and is key to the potential for vast sensor networks that report back on conditions ranging from air quality and humidity to whether a parking spot is available or if a streetlight is out. The Internet of Things depends on networks being able to handle a vast number of intelligent devices and reporting back to the network.
Speed and Capacity. As with any generational improvement, 5G will allow for faster average and peak speeds than previous standards. This bump in speeds, however, is being created by using more spectrum than was previously capable before rather than a significant leap in spectral efficiency. We equate wireless network technology to a highway: Spectral efficiency, or bits per hertz, is like the speed limit, while megahertz of spectrum is the number of lanes. The speed limit is expected to rise just 15%–20%, while the number of lanes is increasing by 5–10x as we move from 4G to 5G.
Dynamic Spectrum Access: A fourth important innovation with 5G is ‘network slicing,’ or the dynamic allocation of network capabilities based on the application. This would allow, for example, guaranteed low latency and reliability for first responders in an emergency while prioritizing speed for smartphone users. It allows network owners to customize the offer, and their network capabilities, to price the solutions needed by the end user rather than selling a one-size-fits-all product. (See earlier chapter on Dynamic Spectrum Access.)
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The degree of necessity. Luxury products and habit forming ones, typically have a higher elasticity.
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