That didn’t take long. The 3GPP just ratified the Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G New Radio specification, and already, Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies are talking about how they’ve demonstrated interoperability with nine operators around the world.
The operators include AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, T-Mobile US, Verizon and Vodafone.
The interoperability achievement isn't completely out of the blue since these companies are involved in the standards process, and many of the final details were already known before the official ratification at the 3GPP RAN Plenary in Lisbon, Portugal, yesterday. But it's an important milestone that shows they’re well on their way to interoperability.
Specifically, the operators and vendors showcased 3GPP-compliant 5G NR multivendor interoperability during live demonstrations this week in both the Ericsson Lab in Kista, Sweden, and the Qualcomm Research lab in New Jersey. The demos used Ericsson’s 5G NR precommercial base stations and Qualcomm’s 5G NR UE prototypes.
The over-the-air interoperability testing was conducted for lower layer data connections operating at both 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands. NSA 5G NR will use the existing LTE radio and evolved packet core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while adding a new 5G NR radio access carrier to enable certain 5G use cases starting in 2019.
The NSA 5G NR is targeted for early 2019 deployments, while the Standalone (SA) 5G NR technical specifications are to be completed in June 2018; both are part of 3GPP Release 15.
Missing from the list is Nokia. Matt Branda, director of technical marketing at Qualcomm, said Qualcomm and Nokia announced plans in September to conduct interoperability testing and over-the-air field trials based on the 5G NR Release 15 specifications. The companies said they would showcase 5G NR technologies to achieve multigigabit-per-second data rates at latencies as low as 1 millisecond, among other things.
Qualcomm is one of many contributors to the standards, although technically speaking, 3GPP develops technical specifications, not standards, according to Lorenzo Casaccia, vice president of Technical Standards at Qualcomm Technologies, who provided an update from the Lisbon plenary meeting here. The technical specifications are handed off to seven regional standards-setting organizations that form the 3GPP partnership. Casaccia previously discussed the 3GPP process and the gamification that was going on.
AT&T has said it expects to launch a standards-based 5G service as soon as the end of 2018, while Verizon plans to launch three to five fixed wireless 5G markets in the second half of 2018. T-Mobile has its sights on launching a nationwide 5G network by 2020.
Sprint, which plans to provide commercial 5G services and devices in late 2019, noted that its 2.5 GHz spectrum band is included in the NSA spec, which includes bandwidths up to 100 MHz for an n41 (2.5 GHz) single component carrier versus today’s 20 MHz per component carrier for 4G LTE. Sprint’s priority is mobile 5G, and it’s working with Qualcomm and Softbank to develop technologies for wide-scale 5G deployment.
While the industry is celebrating the NSA milestone, there’s still a lot of work to do. Signals Research Group (SRG), which has been closely following the standards process and attending many of the meetings, issued a report shortly after the ratification yesterday noting that 3GPP always goes through a round of change requests, which could be quite intensive for at least the next few months.
“There is a huge difference between having approved specifications and approved specification which are complete and consistent with each other,” said Mike Thelander, CEO and founder of SRG.
The March plenary will be the next major milestone where 3GPP will finalize the essential functions that will be included in Release 15, according to SRG.