Six months after hitting a critical milestone by approving the 5G standalone (5G SA) specification that is part of the Release 15 standard, the 3GPP appears to have encountered something of an obstacle in its work to complete what it described as the second wave of 5G specifications in Release 15.
Balazs Bertenyi, chairman of the 3GPP group, TSG Radio Access Network (TSG RAN), said it was decided at the TSG RAN plenary on December 10, 2018 in Italy to delay the delivery or “freeze” schedule for the third and final step of Release 15 by three months to March 2019. The ASN.1 freeze will not take place until June 2019.
The third step, the so-called “late drop,” essentially concerns the development of architecture options to aid the migration from LTE to 5G. However, Bertenyi stressed that the delay “does not in any way impact the first 5G deployments. The compatibility of devices and networks used for the first deployments are not impacted.”
The delay will have an inevitable impact on Release 16, with the freezing of the start phase moved back three months to the fourth quarter of 2019. The 3GPP has also started work on Release 17, and expects to have approved the work items describing its features by December 2019.
Any hint of a hold-up in the move toward a fully-fledged 5G standard is likely to cause some consternation at carriers and equipment vendors that are already working on 5G network launches. However, the 3GPP has completed two important steps for Release 15 with the approval of 5G SA in June 2018 and the completion of the 5G non-standalone (NSA 5G NR) specification in December 2017. 5G NSA was locked down in March 2018 and 5G SA in September 2018.
In November 2018, the 3GPP also said it is understood that the September 2018 version of the “NR specifications at large” constitutes the basis for initial 5G deployments around the globe.
Since then, there has been a raft of announcements from carriers and vendors as they race to launch commercial 5G services, with many starting with 5G NSA and eventually planning to move to 5G SA. Examples of recent launches include those of Deutsche Telekom in Poland using equipment from Huawei Technologies, and the simultaneous launch of 5G networks in South Korea by LG Uplus, Korea Telecom, and SK Telecom.
The 5G momentum is certainly continuing apace as 2018 draws to a close. For example, Nokia has just announced that Telenor Group is to deploy its cloud-native core solution in Denmark, Norway and Sweden as the carrier prepares to launch 5G in those markets. Nokia has already deployed the solution at Telenor’s operations in Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan, to support 5G technologies such as network slicing.