A small number of mobile operators are planning to launch pre-standard trial 5G networks as early as 2017 (see section on operator visions), and 2020-2022 is generally cited as the timeframe for the broader launch of commercial networks that conform to international standards. While Verizon has attempted to get ahead of the game by creating its own 5G specifications, and operators and vendors are trying to accelerate the speed of the standardization process, indications are that a fully formed standard will not be ready before mid-2018, in readiness for network deployments from 2020. Thus any networks rolled out before that point would be based on non-standardized equipment and would be regarded as “pre-5G.”
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the standards body that will release the final standard, which is also referred to as International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)-2020. The 3GPP is the mobile industry standards body that will submit a proposed specification to the ITU to be part of the IMT-2020 standard. Mobile operators and multiple vendors participate in the 3GPP specification process.
The first release of 5G specifications is expected to be included in 3GPP Release 15, in the second half of 2017, and will include support for 5G NR. Release 15 will deliver the rst set of 5G standards (phase 1), introducing a new 5G radio while retaining an LTE core network. The second phase, planned for 3GPP Release 16, is expected to define a 5G core network architecture to which both 5G and LTE radio access networks (RANs) connect directly.
The functional freeze date for Release 15, including stable protocols, is targeted for June 2018. Phase 2 is due to be completed by December 2019 for the IMT-2020 submission and is intended to address all identified use cases and requirements (end of 3GPP Release 16).