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Making 5G dreams come true in standardization

Twitter: @nokianetworks

It’s not the stuff of most 5G blogs these days – but knowing what’s going on behind the scenes to get the next generation of mobile technology up and running is important to set expectations and priorities straight.

The technical work to establish the first version of 5G standards in 3GPP is on-going full speed ahead. And while a lot of energy has been used in 3GPP meetings to discuss the ”when” as much as the “what” 5G will deliver, timing details will only become apparent once the final specification is ready.

It's goodbye for Turbo in the channel coding race

One of the hot topics of the year is the channel coding for 5G, which has priority status given its impact on the hardware. Well-functioning channel coding is imperative as it ensures that data is transmitted correctly over the air without errors. In August I participated in the 3GPP RAN WG1 meeting in Gothenburg, where the debate regarding 3 different proposals was in full swing. I’m personally most familiar with the Turbo coding proposal, having witnessed its selection for 3G some 17 years ago, when at the time we were targeting an earth shaking 2 Mbps peak data rate. This time the target is to enable a peak data rate of 20 Gbps. Turbo was still a candidate following the Gothenburg meeting but we did see it retiring from the race in the November meeting in Reno. The winning candidate was LDPC (Low Density Parity Check) coding, already chosen for high to medium data rates, and now confirmed also for the smaller data rates. The challenger was the lesser known Polar coding, which will be used with the physical layer control channel.

In addition to being aware of the technical details behind the 5G design, it’s increasingly important to have a clear understanding of the first phase use cases. Massive machine type communication (mMTC) for example, will not be part of the first phase use case. The simple logic behind that is the recent development of the low cost and efficient MTC solutions based on LTE technology.  It’s not easy to beat NB-IoT or LTE-M, which offer very cost efficient solutions in the both the <100 kbps and 1 Mbps data rate classes for machine connectivity in solutions such as metering applications requiring low cost and long battery life. Trying to reinvent such a use case immediately with 5G does not make sense considering both device cost and the existing network coverage. Both NB-IoT and LTE-M are available as in-band solutions that are easy upgrades to an existing LTE network and provide necessary coverage, something that will take 5G a long time to achieve.

Managing expectations through use cases

Expectations are high that 5G will improve each and every possible use case, and while this will hold true for many, timelines need adjusting across different 5G Releases. Those use cases where a clear improvement over existing solutions with 4G can be seen will naturally come first, such as enhanced mobile broadband and low latency/high reliability uses cases. An example of a longer term 5G use case is the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) connectivity just introduced for the LTE Release 14 specifications.  Rushing with 5G to establish a parallel solution for the same problem will only confuse the ecosystem participants and add to the market fragmentation. As a result, for some use cases like V2V, it may take some time to determine what really needs to be added on top of the LTE defined baseline.

In the meantime, I too will remain happily distracted by the myriad of possibilities that 5G will enable, and convinced that ultimately most 5G dreams will come true.

Watch Rajeev Suri’s keynote speech on 5G at CTIA Super Mobility 2016:

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Antti Toskala

About Antti Toskala

Antti Toskala is a Bell Labs Fellow who has worked with 3GPP for more than 20 years. Currently his work is focused on 5G evolution.

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