In December 2017, 5G took a big step forward when the 3GPP standardization body approved a first draft of the 5G specification for Release 15. We have been talking about 5G for what seems like forever, yet tangible benchmarks to assess the status of the impending standard have been few and far between. With the consensual approval from the 3GPP’s over 400 member companies, the world now has a real specification. But, we still have a long way to go before 5G becomes reality in out lives.

Although the dialog regarding 5G has been extensive and some may argue bordered perilously close to "hype." no one questions whether 5G will be impactful. Looking back over the last 30 years, every new wireless standard improved our lives and kicked off spending cycles spurring accelerated economic output.

Whether 5G will live up to its promise is not really the central question; 5G will impact our lives if for no other reason than it must. Wireless carriers and equipment suppliers have been relying on new innovations with wireless technologies and have built businesses around these cycles. The companies in the 3GPP defining the standard continue to face pressure to move the 5G agenda forward and that pressure is not likely to subside in the short-term even with the initial release. With that said, The first draft of Release 15, which covers New Radio (NR), is still a very important step in 5G's development.
3GPP 5G timeline
The first specification of the 5G New Radio technology was released in December 2017, with further updates through 2018. Source: 3GPP

In the next few months as companies accelerate development, a focus will revolve around test and its challenges. Look for extensive testing at the device level, system level, and even at the network level. New devices will be developed that range from semiconductors to network infrastructure equipment. Prototypes for infrastructure equipment and user equipment will also be tested in "field trials" to assess performance and the end user's experience. Test results may force the 3GPP to append and/or modify the specification to address any issues with the current draft. I expect a flurry of activity in the next few months as companies put the specification into practice.

While the initial draft specification may be completed, there is still more work to do on the full 3GPP Release 15 specification. The 3GPP working groups must finalize the upper layer signaling of the protocol stack. To that end, the 3GPP has set a goal for ASN.1 ratification in June 2018. The 3GPP must also wrap up the Stand-Alone (SA) use case targeted for the end of 2018 to complete Release 15. In parallel, the 3GPP will kick off several study items for Release 16 at the next 3GPP RAN Plenary in February. There is more work to be done but for now, 5G appears to be on track.

James Kimery is the director of marketing for RF, communications, and software defined radio (SDR) initiatives at National Instruments.

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