As the industry celebrates the much-anticipated, official ratification of the first 5G standard, companies are eager to utilize the specification for “full-scale development of 5G NR” with tests and trials over the coming year and commercial offerings as soon as 2019. Qualcomm and Ericsson immediately announced that they have already demonstrated multi-vendor interoperability at both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave frequencies, utilizing the new non-standalone 5G New Radio spec.

NSA 5G NR will rely on an operator having an existing LTE network as an anchor, while adding 5G NR carriers to boost speeds and reduce latency.

A group of 30 mobile network operators and suppliers issued a joint statement saying that “the completion of the first 5G NR standard has set the stage for the global mobile industry to start full-scale development of 5G NR for large-scale trials and commercial deployments as early as in 2019.”

“The first version of 5G NR not only provides a [non-standalone] solution for 5G deployment but also completes the common part of NSA and [standalone], which lay a solid foundation for a global unified 5G system with global market scale,” said Zhengmao Li, EVP of China Mobile Group. “We believe the next important milestone that is SA standard providing end to end 5G new capability could be completed by June of 2018, which is very crucial to enable the operators to explore the enterprise and vertical markets. China Mobile is actively working with industry partners for 5G commercialization in year of 2020.”

Although timelines differ, most of the operators who mentioned their plans are looking at continued testing and trials this year and commercial launches in either 2019 or 2020. China Telecom said that it plans to launch field trials in major Chinese cities as early as 2018. Dongmyun Lee, CTO of KT and head of the Institute of Convergence Technology, said that KT is making “a strong commitment to finally bring full-scale services of the true 5G standards to commercial market as early as 2019.” SK Telecom also said that 2019 is its goal for early commercial deployments. T-Mobile US is aiming for 2020, as is NTTDoCoMo.

“This standard completion is an essential milestone to enable cost-effective and full-scale development of 5G NR, which will greatly enhance the capabilities of 3GPP systems, as well as facilitate the creation of vertical market opportunities,” the companies said. “3GPP plans to continue to develop Release 15, including the addition of support for Standalone 5G NR operation …. The 5G NR lower layer specifications have been designed so that they can support Standalone and Non-Standalone 5G NR operation in a unified way, to ensure that 3GPP benefits the global industry with a large-scale single 5G NR ecosystem. We express our appreciation for the tremendous efforts that 3GPP has dedicated to accomplishing this challenging standardization schedule.”

“We now have an approved 5G NR standard for the first phase,” said Matt Branda, director of 5G technical marketing at Qualcomm Technologies. “That’s what’s going to enable the 2019 commercial network launches and deployments, and sets the whole industry up to go build full-scale deployments, from both the device and the network side.”

Branda said that the first phase of the 5G standard is aimed at addressing the enhanced mobile broadband use case, ideally encouraging operators to make their initial investments in 5G by providing a business case that can then lead into support for new types of 5G services.

“Nothing can drive the scale and the type of investment that’s needed, more than mobile and smartphones,” Branda said. “The scale of that use case is a great vehicle for driving the investment in 5G and then building the framework in a way that scales to all these other things that we want to do with 5G. As an operator invests in their 5G deployment, they have a platform that can be used for a much larger set of use cases and revenue streams.”

Although 3GPP officially approved the 5G standard yesterday, technical work was completed at the end of November, however, which gave Qualcomm and Ericsson the ability to proceed with tests that utilized NSA 5G NR. With AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, T-Mobile US, Verizon, and Vodafone as carrier observers, Qualcomm and Ericsson held live demos in both the Ericsson Lab in Kista, Sweden and the Qualcomm Research lab in New Jersey that leveraged Ericsson pre-commercial 5G NR base stations and device prototypes equipped by Qualcomm. The over-the-air interoperability development testing was “conducted for lower layer data connections operating at both 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands. These just standardized layers are the fundamental building blocks of 5G NR.” 

 Marachel Knight, SVP technology planning and engineering for AT&T, mentioned the tests in a blog post: “We were able to be part of the first standards-based 5G interoperability tests  in collaboration with Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.,” Knight wrote. “During this test, we observed standards compliant equipment communicating with each other in a lab setting. These types of tests pave the way for additional standards-compliant trials and early 5G commercial launches. …

“We’re moving fast. And standards are the foundation. We’re confident this latest standards milestone will allow us to bring 5G to market faster without compromising its long-term vision,” Knight said.

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