A couple of issues ago I had discussed some of the hype and reality of 5G. One of the topics was pulling up the new radio (NR) specifications release date. I want to drill down a bit more on that. If you were at the Mobile World Congress, the hype made you think that 5G was the panacea for everything, and the perfect solution for the future. OK, I get that. There is a lot riding on that. If one believes some of the hype, it will be the most revolutionary technological leap in modern history. Nevertheless, so far, as I have said more than once, it is still blue sky in all but test and lab scenarios.
What we are talking about is something called the non-standalone specification. Let’s talk about that for a minute. The term that is getting thrown around a lot, and somewhat sneakily trying to masquerade as a 5G standard, is called the non-standard new radio (NS-NR for this conversation) specification. But the reality is that this NS-NR is really based on knowledge of 4G use cases, extrapolating them to 5G.
It is not THE 5G standard, which implies full user and control plane capabilities for 5G NR. The NS-NR specification is simply a platform that will run over existing LTE frequencies as an enhanced Mobile Broad Band (eMBB) overlay. In NS mode, the connection is anchored in LTE using 5G NR carriers to boost data-rates and reduce latency. Essentially, NS-NR is a bit of a beta Platform.
The final specification isn’t expected until late 2018, but that assumes everything goes as planned with the NS-NR specification as well as a number of other elements. With all the pressure to hit the deadlines, my concern is that the specification may end up missing, or compromising some KPIs.
Qualcomm is one of the most vocal proponents of NS-NR. They have a lot riding on it. In fact, they are one of the first out the gate with a “5G” product. However, what exactly is the difference between the non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) technologies? Well, here is how Qualcomm spins it.
Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G NR technology will utilize the existing LTE radio and core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while adding a new 5G carrier. This is the configuration that will be the target of early 2019 deployments (in 3GPP terminology, this is NSA 5G NR deployment scenario Option 3).
Standalone (SA) 5G NR technology implies full user and control plane capability for 5G NR, utilizing the new 5G core network architecture also being done in 3GPP.
So, it is difficult to find out what, exactly, the technical specs of NSA are but they are supposed to utilize eMBB, which is defined as a key part of 3GPP 5G SMARTER (Services and Markets Technology Enablers). eMBB is a broad platform that forms the underpinnings of 5G. Things like:
· Bandwidth (100 megahertz bandwidth below 6 GHz; 800 MHz to 2 GHz bandwidth above 6 GHz)
· mmWave frequencies (candidate bands: ~28 GHz, ~39 GHz, ~70 GHz) for high data rate applications, edge computing and small networks of various types
· Highly directional beamforming antennas and MIMO
· New signal waveforms (Scalable OFDM)
· Latency (1millisecond down to a nanosecond eventually)
· And more
So bits and pieces eMMB are showing up in NS-NR. I guess it can be used as a platform to see if and how devices can meet the eMBB bounds; that is a good thing.
But please, we all know there is a lot at stake. 5G will be a composition of many different platforms. In the past, this industry has not always played nice amongst themselves.
We are no strangers to the mobile industry’s habit of developing a new radio standard, with vendors and carriers jockeying for position, pushing the new-standard hype machine into overdrive. This has happened every time in the cellular ecosystem as cellular standards went from 2G to 4G. Today, we are witnessing it in LTE, mmWave, unlicensed and more.
First, the 40+ companies that are part of the NS-NR group give cause for hope. But there are also some important players missing who should be on board; notably Nokia and Orange, and, to a lesser degree, Apple and Google. There are others, as well. That is a bit of a red flag.
Second, there are many ways to describe the current state of the state, but the best one I have yet heard is what a contemporaty of mine penned, “the companies who support the NS-NR are calling the tune before the band is assembled” – aptly put!
I still think this has a ways to go. It looks good on paper, but as I said earlier, what exists is not real world and is very sparse. Lots of deals being made for trials but not much of that has started yet.
I believe 5G should start small, make sure it works and let it mature smartly. There is plenty of business to go around. After all, making what promises to be the biggest global technological leap isn’t something that should be rushed into.
Ernest Worthman is the Executive Editor of Applied Wireless Technology magazine. A Life Member of the IEEE, his 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others.