By Nicole Blanchard
The industry is racing to 5G, but setting the standard for the technology won't be pretty.
To help wrangle the multitude of technologies involved in the standard for 5G, a whole host of standards organizations have stepped in -- from traditional big players like the ITU to specialized groups focusing on standardizing a single piece of the 5G puzzle. The arena is crowded, and analyst Peter Jarich, VP of consumer and infrastructure at Current Analysis and a Fierce contributor, said that could complicate 5G standardization far more than the industry has seen in past standards efforts.
"By definition, you're going to have a multitude of things coming together," he said. "But it's worse, by far, with 5G."
Still, the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has set a timeline for 5G standardization, known as IMT-2020, which would seriously begin writing regulations by 2016 in the hopes of having complete agreement by 2020. In line with that, 3GPP held a workshop last month to begin work on RAN and other radio technology-related research to meet IMT-2020's proposed timeline.
3GPP isn't the only group with its hands in 5G RAN development, and Jarich warned the group may have to abandon inclusion in order to make headway in this month's meeting.
"If your goal is to outline use cases and regulations, it should not be too hard," he said. "At this point, the formula of just ignoring [outside research] is probably the best way to go, because you can't include everyone."
Despite the huge amount of moving parts that will need to come together in order to reach final standardization of 5G, Daryl Schoolar, a principal analyst at Ovum and another Fierce contributor, said some elements of 5G are likely already tentatively agreed upon.
According to Schoolar, much of the industry is in agreement over the need to change the core of the network -- some of which will be accomplished through network slicing. Further, Schoolar anticipates a general consensus in the inclusion of LTE as part of 5G, as well as in use of millimeter wave and other spectrum bands.
Regardless of the wide variety of players trying to get a jump on 5G standardization, Jarich and Schoolar predicted that traditional major players in the wireless industry will still pack the most clout when it comes to having a final say. According to the analysts, ITU is likely to do a large portion of standards coordination, as evidenced by its trailblazing with IMT-2020. Their other pick for a 5G frontrunner? 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership, or 5GPPP.
5GPPP has "done the best job of disseminating a lot of information, and they've also been able to bring in a lot of players," Schoolar explained. Schoolar's claim is evidenced by the 5GPPP's litany of sub-groups, including METIS-II, mmMAGIC and 5GNORMA, each of which focuses on a singular element of 5G. Adding even more to the group's punch is its clear deadlines (each project lasts between 24 and 36 months) and members including Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, Orange Labs, Deutsche Telekom and more.
"Beyond the 5GPPP, I think you need to note that the 3GPP is really where standards will get built -- they're the most important group," Jarich said.
3GPP has been one of the first to make moves towards standardization, hosting a conference to discuss RAN options as research and development moves forward. Indeed, the 3GPP's founding members include forums like ETSI that draw in a massive number of global 5G players.
According to the analysts, what's notably missing in all of this is the presence of many U.S. stakeholders. While the U.S. was hugely influential in the implementation of previous standards, the majority of standards groups are Europe-based and include primarily European and Asian vendors, carriers and researchers.
"Recently, however, we've had CTIA and the FCC getting involved along with the 4G Americas group (they've been talking up 5G for a while), so it seems like momentum is building," Jarich said.
In order to prepare for the 5G future, FierceWirelessTech has compiled this list (in no particular order) of some of the main organizations that are working on 5G standards and regulations in order to better understand how their work overlaps, who they're partnering with and when we can expect changes to occur as 5G implementation draws nearer.
5GNOW and FANTASTIC-5G: 5GNOW is a European project pushing for a 5G specification that would alter 4G and LTE's "strict" reliance on orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), trading it for waveforms that could handle not only the demand of large data packages (such as smartphones downloading video), but also bursts of data transmission related to the Internet of Things. Its partners include the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Alcatel-Lucent, France's Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission, IS-Wireless, National Instruments and the Dresden University of Technology. Though the project was technically completed earlier this year, the group continues to be active in the 5G arena and considers itself a trendsetter.
o The FANTASTIC-5G partnership is the EU's follow-up to 5GNOW, sharing some of the group's partners, including the Fraunhofer Institute, and adding players like Intel, Nokia, Samsung and Huawei. FANTASTIC-5G derives its name from its standards goal, which is a "flexible air interface for scalable service delivery within wireless communication networks of the 5th Generation." The group's focus is once again on flexibility, but in regard to air interface in spectrum below 6 GHz. The two-year project convened for the first time in July of this year, and expects to contribute its findings and standards proposals for air interface to the ITU.
3GPP: The 3rd Generation Partnership Project, whose partners include a variety of telecom associations in Japan, India, China and more, is also planning for IMT-2020 deadlines, beginning with a workshop this month meant to look at radio access networks (RAN). This year, the group will be looking for scope and results for radio technology used in 5G, with working groups tentatively planning to begin work in March of 2016. Still, specific projects and endorsed technologies are unclear.
o ETSI: As a founding member of 3GPP, ETSI has been at the forefront of 5G standardization, hosting a mobile summit on the topic in November 2013. The group has hosted several additional conferences since, with another planned for January 2016 with a focus on air interfaces and future radio technologies.
5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5GPPP): Considered one of the frontrunners of 5G standardization, 5GPPP has a broad scope of goals for network standards, as well as an umbrella of more focused sub-groups. 5GPPP's goals include 1000x increased capacity, 90 percent reduced energy (particularly in mobile), drastically reduced service creation time cycle, secure and ubiquitous coverage with negligible latency, dense wireless communication links and an increase in user security. In addition to its lofty standardization goals, the group also aims to hold 20 percent of 5G standards essential patents. In keeping with the ITU, the group expects research and development through 2017, with standardization and trials beginning the following year.
o METIS-II EU: A subset of 5GPPP, this project, like 3GPP, focuses on the design of radio systems, with the ambition of creating a "roadmap recommendation for 5G," as well as playing a key role in the development of 5G system architecture. Rather than developing its own technology, this project aims to unite other RAN-developing groups by the end of its duration in January 2017. Partners include Ericsson, Telecom Italia, Orange, Deutsche Telecom and a variety of U.S. and European universities, among others.
o 5G Novel Radio Multiservice adaptive network Architecture (5G NORMA): NORMA's focus is in end-to-end architecture and core networks with a goal, once again, to create a flexible architecture that not only successfully integrates previous standards, but uses software to ensure that it is "future-proof" as well. Group participants Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent, Azcom Technology, Real Wireless Limited and others are working to integrate SDN and NFV technology into the infrastructure of 5G by the project's end in mid-2017.
o mmMAGIC: The 5GPPP's millimeter-wave focused arm concentrates on the development of mobile radio access technology for millimeter wave bands. The consortium includes equipment and infrastructure vendors and universities including Rohde & Schwarz, Samsung, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei and Nokia. Launched in January, the program is expected to have final results in 24 months.
Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance: The Alliance has adopted a comprehensive approach to 5G, announcing plans to research infrastructure, frequency, business principles and more in addition to creating a 5G patent pool framework. NGMN, which includes wireless execs from companies like AT&T, U.S. Cellular and Verizon, aims to include operator voices in the 5G discussion, ensuring that standards and patents are compliant with the needs of all stakeholders. The group recently announced a cooperation agreement with technology and solutions development group ATIS, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions. Expect further discussion in October 2016 when NGMN hosts an industry conference.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU): The ITU's IMT-2020 is largely being considered the definitive timeline of 5G development, citing early 2016 as the beginning point for discussions on technical performance requirements and evaluation criteria. According to the group's plan, standards proposals would begin in late 2017 through mid-2019, with consensus building beginning in 2018 and continuing into 2020. The group anticipates an outcome and definitive 5G standards to be in early stages by mid-2019. An ITU focus group met in Turin, Italy, in late September to cover network standardization requirements, with emphases in lower latency, increased speed and diversity of use, as well as reliability comparable to that of fiber-optic networks.
IEEE: In May, the IEEE held a 5G Summit, which featured talks on everything from cloud-based networks to design fundamentals and even vocabulary associated with the IoT. The group has been active in research and standardization talks that promote the use of technology like WLAN and WPAN in order to allow mobile phones to use very high bandwidth.
National Institute of Standards and Technology: As part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST researchers are working to tackle three proposed elements of 5G: massive multi-user MIMO, millimeter-wave communications and ultra-dense networks. While the group has not announced any deadlines for completion, it has launched a 5G Millimeter Wave Channel Model Alliance to consolidate research participants.
4G Americas: 4G Americas, a trade group focused on North and South America, has branded itself "the voice for 5G in the Americas," bringing in partners including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile US, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm and more. The organization recommends a variety of 5G standards, including massive MIMO, network flexibility, millimeter-wave use and new waveforms. In its white papers, 4G Americas has featured both ITU's IMT-2020 and the 3GPP's timelines.
FCC: The FCC is the U.S. agency for spectrum and telecommunications regulation. In August, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler promised investigation into high-frequency spectrum coverage and a 600 MHz "wide-area 5G coverage layer." Wheeler said the Commission could adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to further exploration into 5G, adding that 600 MHz spectrum, which will be auctioned in early 2016, could pave the U.S. leadership in 5G as the 700 MHz spectrum band did for 4G. The Commission plans to propose a variety of usable spectrum bands at the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference.
Small Cell Forum: Following the 3GPP's recent workshop, the Small Cell Forum detailed three requirements for small cell involvement in 5G: multi-operator support, RAN virtualization and monetization through common APIs. In addition, the Forum announced six new small cell work programs focusing on license-exempt spectrum, virtualization, multi-operator applications, enterprise opportunities, HetNet and SON compatibility, and M2M and IoT. Each program will be researched alongside a Forum vendor; members include AT&T, Black & Veatch, Boingo, Cisco and Motorola, among others.
GSMA: GSMA has taken on the task of defining 5G, publishing a white paper earlier in the year that defines what 5G both is and is not, as well as attempting to determine a generation-defining attribute. The GSMA has posited that NFV, SDN and HetNet developments are separate from 5G rather than integral to it. These findings are in contrast to many groups, some of which include GSMA members.