Industry Insights

5G Gets Boost From 3GPP Release 16

2020-07-30  |  5 min read 

5G celebrated another major milestone earlier this month with the competition of Release 16 from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). The global wireless standards consortium announced the freeze of Release 16 specifications in early July, concluding the process of defining the technologies contained within.   

Release 16 is the second phase of the 5G New Radio (NR) standard because it builds on the primary concepts established in 3GPP Release 15 and extends the range of 5G capabilities. Release 15 set the technical foundation for 5G, establishing aggressive targets for high-bandwidth and low latency. It also introduced many of the technologies and use cases we most associate with 5G and enabled commercial deployments to begin.

Release 16 builds on that foundation, raising the bar for latency and bandwidth targets, enhancing those technologies and use cases, and adding others to the mix. Release 16 also extends the applicability of 5G to a host of different industries.

In all, Release 16 adds more than 20 technical features to 5G, including improvements for enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB),  massive multiple-input / multiple-output (MIMO) and beamforming technology, dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), and carrier aggregation.

Let's take a closer look at a few of the key areas where elements of Release 16 improve 5G.

  • DSS is a technique that enables LTE spectrum to be dynamically shared between 5G and LTE users. DSS was first introduced in Release 15 and is already being deployed in many commercial networks. It allows Long Term Evolution (LTE) and NR to share the same carrier, helping mobile network operators (MNOs) manage their spectrum resources during the transition from the majority of customer devices using LTE to a future date when 5G NR devices make up the majority. DSS enhancements in Release 16 make possible spectrum sharing when CA is used for LTE. CA enables MNOs to combine multiple carriers in fragmented spectrum bands to increase peak user data rates and overall capacity of the network.
  • Release 16 adds support for 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum, also known as NR-U. 3GPP previously defined the use of unlicensed spectrum with LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) and License-assisted Access (LAA). The goal of NR-U is to give MNOs more spectrum options for deploying 5G. Release 16 defines two operation modes for NR-U — one that involves using licensed and unlicensed spectrum together and a standalone mode that allows using NR-U without requiring any licensed spectrum. It marks the first time that 3GPP has defined a cellular technology capable of using unlicensed spectrum exclusively.
  • Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology enables vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and other parts of the traffic system, including roadside infrastructure, bicyclists, and pedestrians, to improve traffic safety and efficiency. Release 15 contained some elements utilized by C-V2X, but Release 16 takes them further. One example is direct device-to-device communication, also knows as sidelink. Sidelink technology is critical for C-V2X because it enables one vehicle to communicate directly with another without relying on the network. While the basics of sidelink technology were defined in Release 15, Release 16 extends the capabilities of sidelink.
  • Release 16 also adds support for private networks, also known as non-public networks (NPN). NPNs are an area of significant potential for 5G because they are managed independently of public cellular networks, giving them security advantages for facilities such as factors to utilize them in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and machine-to-machine communications applications.

These are just a handful of the goodies found in 3GPP Release 16. There are many others, some of which we will be examining in greater detail in future Keysight blog installments.  

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