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5G-Advanced’s system architecture begins taking shape at 3GPP

5G-Advanced’s system architecture begins taking shape at 3GPP

Today we’re getting our first look at the 5G-Advanced system architecture, just as we got our first look at the radio features of 5G-Advanced in July. The Service and System Aspects Technical Specifications Group (TSG SA) this week received submissions from across the industry for new features and plans for Release 18. Combined with those earlier radio access network (RAN) proposals, these system features will make up the lion’s share of 5G-Advanced standards, which will bring new use cases and service capabilities to 5G and elevate the end-user experience in unprecedented ways.

We’re still more than two years away from final 5G-Advanced standards – and the first commercial 5G-Advanced-powered networks won't appear before 2025 – but based on the proposals made at the Release 18 workshop, we can predict what shape those networks will take. Let’s review some of the more interesting features among those proposals.

Edge computing

Edge computing allows operators to host applications and content closer to the user, thus ensuring low latency for edge applications while keeping heavy traffic at the edge and away from the backbone network. 5G-Advanced will enrich edge computing by quickly and efficiently exposing device-traffic-related information to edge application servers. 5G-Advanced also will optimize the allocation and relocation of edge application servers among different users. For instance, the 5G-Advanced system would recognize that friends in a multi-user game might be sitting in the same moving train. Those users could then be moved collectively from one edge server to the next as they travel through the network.

AI/ML-powered systems and services

5G-Advanced will introduce new artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies across the RAN, core and management network domains. These technologies will help unlock the full potential of 5G systems, empowering them with new network automation capabilities, boosted performance and enhanced energy efficiency. AI/ML will also be crucial in providing higher-accuracy and lower-latency positioning for devices, which will be useful for 5G system operations and can be offered as a service in third-party applications.   

3GPP is also exploring how 5G system capabilities can be used to assist AI/ML applications running over the whole network. For instance, network resources could be allocated and tailored toward voice recognition apps running on smartphones (thus respecting user privacy) or robot control systems linking to automated vehicles in the field. Operators could offer their networks as optimized platforms for distributed AI/ML services between application servers and application clients. For example, an autonomous driving service might run on both a network application server and the car’s onboard computer.

Extreme mobile broadband performance

Cloud gaming, augmented reality, virtual reality and the video-based tele-control of machines are all services that are rapidly emerging. They will account for a substantial part of the traffic in 5G networks. Those services require enhanced and extreme mobile broadband performance, with high data rates, low latency and high reliability to avoid issues such as frozen or lagged video or voice loss when users are moving. 5G-Advanced will provide an enhanced QoS framework that will weigh various applications and traffic characteristics and take a user’s spatial orientation and position into account.

Network slicing

5G-Advanced networks will also benefit from operational enhancements for network slicing that address scale and advanced business scenarios while improving network slice availability for devices. 5G-Advanced will allow better control of device registration to network slices based on applications actually running on those devices. It will optimize the formation of registration areas with regards to network-slice usage and availability. And it will enable slice-aware network selection for roaming devices.

While we have covered a few of the biggest proposals here, 5G-Advanced systems will contain many other attractive features such as personal IoT networks, a more dynamic group management for connected industries and automated applications, and timing resiliency and synchronization as a service. 5G-Advanced denominates the evolution of the 5G standard with 3GPP Release 18 and beyond. While we expect the market to adopt 5G-Advanced features in the second half of this decade, we see additional technologies around 5G becoming mainstream in that 5G-Advanced era, such as the disaggregation and programmability of the radio access network with Open RAN.

In December 2021, 3GPP is expected to approve the entire feature set for the first release of 5G-Advanced systems, including the RAN. After that, the real hard work begins. We will need to create the standards that will bring all of these amazing new capabilities to life!