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The 3GPP Standards and the 5G-Advanced

Base Station Tower_011723A
[Wireless Base Station Tower - 3GPP]


- Overview

3GPP standards have played a key role in the success of LTE, making it the fastest growing cellular technology in history. Never has a new radio technology been brought to market so quickly and widely since the first version of the standard was finalized (3GPP Release 8 was finalized in December 2008).

For the first time in history, LTE has brought the entire mobile industry to a single technology footprint, resulting in unprecedented economies of scale. Following the initial LTE release, 3GPP work has been focused on the following strategic areas: 

  • Enhance the LTE radio standard to further increase capacity and performance;
  • Raise system standards to make LTE and EPC available for new business areas;
  • Introduce system robustness improvements, especially in response to exponential smartphone traffic growth.

If you work in the telecommunications industry or follow the industry closely, 5G seems to have dominated the discussion for almost a decade. It seems so, because it's true - important, impactful things take time - but the best is yet to come. Even as 5G technology matures, the 3GPP standard continues to evolve, with new features in the standard being translated into products, and more spectrum is being used. 

5G has become a global force, and its influence and ubiquity will only grow as it evolves to 5G Advanced and merges connectivity, computing and artificial intelligence (AI) at the connected intelligent edge. 


- Who Decides What 5G Is?

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is the standards organization that develops protocols for mobile phones. 3GPP is an alliance with seven regional telecommunication associations as principal members (“Organizational Partners”) and various other organizations as associate members (“Market Representational Partners”). 3GPP divides its work into three different directions: radio access network, service and system aspects, and core network and terminal. 

The project was established in December 1998 with the objective of developing specifications for 3G mobile telephony systems based on the 2G GSM system within the scope of the International Telecommunication Union's International Mobile Telecommunications 2000. 

3GPP, based in Franc, is responsible for drafting the definition of 5G. 


- 3GPP Specification Release Numbers

The 3GPP standards undergo continual change. To ensure that there is an organised release of new functionality, new releases of the standards occur at planned times. 

For the new 3GPP releases, there is a schedule of releases which contained set introductions of new functionality and this represents the work of the various Technical Specifications Groups and Working Groups. 

The first 3GPP releases were termed Phase 1 and Phase 2. After this the releases were given the year of the anticipated releases, but after Release 99, they reverted to specific release numbers. Release 4 was also known as 3GPP Release 2000.


- 3GPP Release Topics

3GPP Phase 1 reflected the first introduction of GSM. Work on GSM was the main focus through until Release 98. 

3GPP Release 99 was the first release of the UMTS / WCDMA standard, and work on this proceeded with the introduction of HSDPA, the HSUPA to form HSPA. 

3GPP Release 8 saw the first introduction of LTE and this was steadily updated with enhancements of LTE with LTE-A and improvements to many areas. 

Moving on, 3GPP Release 14, Release 15, and Release 16 will include the 5G technologies. Initially 3GPP Release 14 will include elements that build towards 5G, the next two including the actual specifications for it.

- Mobile Phone Standards

A new generation of cellular standards has appeared approximately every tenth year since 1G systems were introduced in 1979 and the early to mid-1980s. 

Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and IS-95 were the two most prevalent 2G mobile communication technologies in 2007. In 3G, the most prevalent technology was UMTS with CDMA-2000 in close contention. 

All radio access technologies have to solve the same problems: to divide the finite RF spectrum among multiple users as efficiently as possible. GSM uses TDMA and FDMA for user and cell separation. UMTS, IS-95 and CDMA-2000 use CDMA. WiMAX and LTE use OFDM.

5G uses 5G NR air interface alongside OFDM principles. 5G also uses wider bandwidth technologies such as sub-6 GHz and mmWave. Like 4G LTE, 5G OFDM operates based on the same mobile networking principles.



- 5G Architecture and The 3GPP 

3GPP covers telecommunication technologies including RAN, core transport networks and service capabilities. 3GPP has provided complete system specifications for 5G network architecture which is much more service oriented than previous generations. 

Services are provided via a common framework to network functions that are permitted to make use of these services. Modularity, reusability and self-containment of network functions are additional design considerations for a 5G network architecture described by the 3GPP specifications.

For decades, 3GPP has maintained detailed mechanisms through standards which have enabled billions of worldwide users to access mobile communications. Comprised of seven different international telecommunications standard development organizations, 3GPP coordinates the establishment of technologies, radio access networks, core network and service capabilities, as well as non-radio access and interworking protocols for non-3GPP networks. 3GPP has a defined set of releases for the new versions of the standards, each containing new functionality.

3GPP is the industry organization that defines the global specifications for 3G UMTS (including HSPA), 4G LTE, and 5G technologies. 3GPP is driving many essential inventions across all aspects of 5G design, from the air interface to the service layer. Other 3GPP 5G members range from infrastructure vendors and component/device manufacturers to mobile network operators and vertical service providers.


- 5G 3GPP Releases from Release 15 to Release 17

Standards body 3GPP first standardized the world's first 5G New Radio (NR) solution in "Release 15," which introduces an entirely new cellular system to help developers implement new capabilities in the network. The key improvements brought about by this iteration are in three areas: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), and massive machine-type communications (mMTC).

Release 15 forms the basis for 5G non-standalone (NSA) deployments, however, these deployments still rely on 4G LTE infrastructure to provide end-to-end services. In fact, many operators have launched commercial 5G services with enhanced eMBB or fixed wireless access (FWA) technologies, which are similar in nature to earlier LTE services. 

However, operators in some more advanced markets, such as South Korea, are focusing on developing innovative consumer use cases that take advantage of 5G's more advanced features, such as cloud gaming, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and 4K video, aimed at Encourage users to adopt 5G plans. Release 15 also takes this a step further with the introduction of 5G Standalone (SA), where the 5G New Radio system is complemented by the Standalone 5G Core with optional cloud-based networking capabilities.

3GPP subsequently released Releases 16 and 17, introducing enhancements for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), including innovations to support Time Sensitive Communications (TSC), broader expansion of the 5G ecosystem, Enhanced MIMO, small data transmission ( SDT), User Device Energy - Savings, and many more improvements. Other areas include slicing, edge computing, and support for non-terrestrial networks (NTN). For mobile operators, these areas present opportunities to provide services in industrial environments such as mining and transportation, and for enterprise customers to digitize their operations and processes. 


- 5G 3GPP Release 18 and 5G-Advanced

In 2024, 3GPP will launch Release 18, which will put us on the path to the 5G-Advanced Era, followed by Release 19 and 20 in 2025/6, which will lay the foundation for 6G. 5G-Advanced is the combination of all these advances that will continue to improve over the next decade.

5G-Advanced is the second phase of the traditional 5G era; it will allow the 5G system to evolve to its most complete and feature-rich.

Possible work items for the release 18 could include enhanced multimedia telephony services, in-vehicle trunking, smart energy and infrastructure, and enhancements to support residential 5G. One of the more interesting projects expected in Release 18 is research on performance requirements for AI/ML models and data distribution, distributed/federated learning, model transfer and training requirements, splitting operations, and representation for use cases such as image recognition, video improvements , robot control, speech recognition, and automotive networking.

Global 5G subscriptions are expected to reach 692 million by the end of 2023, currently covering one-fifth of the world's population. In some markets, such as Hong Kong, Kuwait, South Korea and the United States, 5G coverage of 80% or more of the population is impressive. Even at this early stage, its rollout is outpacing 4G/LTE networks. Despite all these great strides, we're only just getting started, and 5G still has a lot of unrealized potential.


- 5G-Advanced Industry Value

5G-Advanced is the next evolutionary step in 5G technology. It will bring a higher level of enhancement beyond connectivity and enable a wider range of advanced use cases across vertical industries. It will support advanced applications with enhanced mobility and high reliability, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) that improve network performance. It will also further improve spectral efficiency and energy saving.

5G-Advanced will extend the reach of connectivity and make it suitable for new market segments; including innovations to improve coverage, enhanced low-cost massive-scale Internet of Things, and further support for non-terrestrial networks (NTN), such as space-air-ground networks and drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) and drones. 

5G-Advanced will help bridge the digital divide by extending broadband connectivity to rural and underserved areas, providing people with economic opportunity and the benefits of mobile connectivity. It will also be the basis for the operation of driverless cars, autonomous robots and industrial automation systems.

Industry 4.0 is one of the first industries to really benefit from 5G services to improve productivity and manufacturing. For example, for some use cases, 5G provides high-quality video streaming, real-time mobile video capture, and feeds from multiple video streams for a range of use cases such as advanced video analytics or video surveillance.



[More to come ...]

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