Release 17 will introduce “NR-Light” for IoT

The Third Generation Partnership Project has put together its list of approved work for 5G New Radio features in Release 17, which is slated for completion in the second half of 2021.

What’s in the cards for 5G NR? A lot. 3GPP Radio Access Network Chair Balazs Bertenyi of Nokia wrote that the release is “perhaps the most versatile release in 3GPP history in terms of content” and that, as evidenced by the 3GPP RAN work, “the 5G ecosystem is building out to be substantially more versatile than LTE.”

The Release 17 decisions were made during the quarterly 3GPP RAN Plenary meeting, held last week in Sitges, Spain. (Read more details about the event here from analyst Prakash Sangam, who attended.)

Physical layer work for RAN1 will start next month, with radio protocol work in the RAN2 group and architecture work in RAN3 will start in the second quarter of 2020.

Among the highlights:

Expanding into even higher spectrum. Release 17 will expand the supported 5G spectrum range beyond 52.6 GHz, all the way up to 71 GHz.

“The priority will be to define 5G NR for the newly extended 60 GHz band, just identified by the World Radio Conference as an IMT band for some regions,” wrote Lorenzo Casaccia, VP of technical standards for Qualcomm Europe, in a blog post on the plenary meeting. He noted that existing millimeter wave waveforms from Release 15 and 16 “can be scaled to support the higher frequencies, but this will be validated and documented as part of this Rel-17 project.”

More attention to the needs of specific industry verticals, including automotive, critical communications, indoor industrial uses and other internet of things requirements, such as “stringent accuracy” in positioning and latency. IoT advancements will also focus on a “rich set of capabilities to better support low latency and industrial IoT requirements, and also to terrestrial Low Power Wide Area systems (NB-IoT),” Bertenyi wrote, going on to add that supporting NR devices with lower capabilities while improving NR coverage are “key elements to enhance support for the Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC) scenarios.” Those, he said, are important to the global success fo 5G NR, particularly in developing countries.

In particular, Qualcomm’s Casaccia pointed out, Release 17 will continue work on massive IoT in 5G but will also introduce something called “NR-Light”. He described NR-Light as “a new class of devices that is more capable than eMTC/NB-IoT but supports different features and smaller bandwidth than 5G NR eMBB/URLLC.” NR-Light, Casaccia said, can “occupy just 10 or 20 MHz of bandwidth and deliver 100 Mbps of downlink and 50 Mbps of uplink throughput, making it a suitable technology for use cases such as high-end wearables or industrial IoT cameras and sensors.”

Overall enhancements to multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) capabilities, spectrum sharing, user equipment power savings and coverage. There is a specific project focused on improving Dynamic Spectrum Sharing.

Work on non-terrestrial access (NTN), such as 5G NR support for satellites and High-Altitude Platforms such as balloons or high-flying drones. That also includes initial studies for IoT as well, which Bertenyi said will pave the way to introduce both narrowband IoT and eMTC support for satellites.

Multi-SIM devices, which can operate with dual or multiple SIM cards, will be addressed by 3GPP for the first time. Bertenyi said that such devices “have been extremely popular for LTE in many regions” but “have been based on proprietary solutions. In order to have a more efficient and predictable Multi-SIM operation in NR RAN2 will work on specification enhancements, especially in the area of paging coordination.”

Quality of Experience needs in 5G NR, starting with a study that will look what will be needed for the QoE function in 5G, compared to what was specified for LTE.

Multi-cast for public safety and within venues, which Bertenyi noted was “in addition to the LTE-based 5G terrestrial broadcast currently being completed right now.”

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