The 3GPP has concluded its big RAN pow-wow by accepting the request from multiple telecoms stakeholders to speed up the development of the air-interface part of 5G.
Somewhat awkwardly referred to as non-standalone 5G new radio (NSA 5G NR), this is an attempt to get an early version of NR up and running before the rest of the 5G standard is, erm, standardised. It was proposed by a consortium of companies at the start of the recent MWC event but was far from unanimous, with Nokia, Telefónica and Orange among those not to add their names to the proposal.
The main objections were around possible fragmentation of the standard and a concern that focusing solely on NR will distract attention from all the other stuff – virtualization, network slicing, etc – that will be needed to complete the full 5G standard, and thus ultimately delay the whole thing.
As you can see from the 3GPP slides below Nokia and Telefónica have now decided to join the party but Orange is still a notable absentee. Light Reading reported from MWC that Orange wants to focus on the full 5G system and it would appear whatever reassurances the 3GPP has offered it over NSA 5G NR were insufficient.
“A major decision was taken this week in RAN on the 5G New Radio (NR) workplan,” said outgoing 3GPP RAN Chairman Dino Flore. “In particular, the group agreed to have an intermediate milestone for the early completion of the Non-standalone (NSA) 5G NR mode for the enhanced Mobile BroadBand (eMBB) use-case.
“In Non-standalone mode the connection is anchored in LTE while 5G NR carriers are used to boost data-rates and reduce latency. With the updated workplan, NSA will be finalized by March 2018. At the same time, the group re-instated its commitment to complete the Standalone (SA) 5G NR mode by September 2018 and put in place a plan to achieve that.”
You can read in-depth analysis on this topic here. It’s still not obvious what advantage will be gained by giving NR a six-month head-start on the rest of 5G. At best it will be a chance to iron out some specific RAN challenges ahead of time, at worst it will fragment and delay the whole process.
One thing’s for sure, however: it will give telecoms marketing departments even more encouragement to spam out 5G-themed press releases. Yay!