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 as opposed to 5G developmental chaos.
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.
5G Standards Bodies
With no firm 5G technology standard truly in place at this time, the market is still figuring out the essential 5G features and functionalities. 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.
In late 2016, a special ITU focus group concluded a preliminary study into the standards necessary to meet 5G’s performance targets, including concentrations on network architecture, fixed wireless convergence, network management requirements, and network management framework.
5G Standards—Looking Ahead
Progress has been made toward the finalization of a singular 5G standard, but much more testing and trials are to come. The market has been in a long-term study phase, and this first phase will probably come to fruition in late 2018, as 5G standards are stamped in concrete and the industry coalesces on the first high-profile use cases.