5G Summit panel optimistic about industry meeting December deadline for 5G NSA

CTO panel
Screen shot of the CTO Panel on 5G presented as part of the Brooklyn 5G Summit hosted by Nokia and NYU Wireless.

The industry, namely 3GPP, has a lot of work to do if it’s going to meet the December 2017 deadline to finalize the specifications for Non-Stand Alone (NSA) 5G New Radio (NR), but participants in a panel appearing at the Brooklyn 5G Summit seem to think it’s achievable.

A member of the audience, who is thoroughly involved in the 3GPP standards debates, cited challenges around the radio side and very specific items, saying he’s concerned there are major problems to be solved before the end of the year and not enough time to address them. He asked the panel, which included representatives from AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo, KT and Intel, if they share those concerns or think it will all magically sort itself out.

“There’s always a concern,” said Dave Wolter, assistant VP, Radio Technology & Architecture at AT&T. “We share those concerns, we talk with our vendors, we talk with other service providers and the feeling right now, I think you saw that going into the last 3GPP meeting where we had, I think it was 22 companies sign onto the acceleration, the feeling is it can get done. At this point, I’d leave it to my standardization colleagues to really address some of the specifics, but I think at this point I have to trust that they’re going to get there and we’ll be doing the testing to ensure that it does, along the way, and we’ll have to adjust as required,” but “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Ken Stewart, senior fellow at Intel, said RAN 4, the radio performance group, to some extent is the “victim” of the other groups inside the 3GPP because they have to define in many ways the fundamental performance requirements that devices and base stations, to some extent, live up to. “The workload on that group over the next 12 months will be extraordinary,” Stewart said.

There may be ways to reduce the load, but “my personal view is it will require all of the skill of all the delegates who have been in the group for many years … to get the job done. It will be a very significant task, but with pragmatism, it’s just about achievable,” he said, adding with a smile to the audience member who posed the question: “I want to thank you right now for all the work you’re going to be doing over the next 12 months.”

Related: Controversial plan to accelerate 5G NR timeline gets OK in 3GPP

After months of debate, the 3GPP agreed last month to accelerate some elements in the 5G NR timeline, and for AT&T, that means it will be able to launch standards-based mobile 5G services starting as early as late 2018. That was announced last month by Andre Fuetsch, president, AT&T Labs and CTO, and when Fuetsch talks about delivering something in that kind of timeframe, “we take that as a command” to make it happen before 2018 is over, Wolter said during his keynote at the Summit on Thursday.

Related: AT&T moves needle on standards-based 5G to late 2018

A number of things have to be addressed and decided, including MIMO transmit schemes, for the industry to meet its goals for 5G. 

“It’s a pretty aggressive list, so we’re all going to have to kind of buckle down as an industry and really work hard to make sure that we can get this done, but we think that’s really going to pay off” in much earlier equipment availability that is NR based, Wolter said.

AT&T is prioritizing the NSA version as opposed to the stand-alone (SA) version in part because “we’ve got a lot of LTE out there,” and there isn’t going to be widespread 5G coverage for a while, he said.

Plus, in the U.S., there hasn’t been new spectrum that has been allocated that the industry can use for 5G with the possible exception of 3.5 GHz. That CBRS band, however, has some rules that don’t make it terribly attractive for a base 5G layer. “The FCC is taking another look at some of those rules around the licensing structure, and that may change,” he said. “If that licensing structure changes, we may find that the 3.5 GHz band is a good band for us to be looking at,” and it goes from 3.55 to 3.7 GHz.

In general for millimeter wave spectrum, AT&T will be relying heavily on 39 GHz spectrum since Verizon pretty much snapped up a lot of the 28 GHz and AT&T is making some key acquisitions for 39 GHz, but it still will probably be doing some things at 28 GHz.