State of the Market: 5G Standardization

ATIS, the North American founding Organizational Partner of 3GPP, recently hosted a webinar that provides an up-to-date view of the completed 3GPP Release 16 work with a particular focus on how the work is expanding the capabilities of 5G and enhancing the mobile system’s technical performance. This presentation also looks ahead to future 3GPP deliverables and their use cases.

Demand for 5G networks and services continues to grow with more than 100 commercial networks deployed in 44 countries[1] and nearly 138 million subscribers as of 2Q2020.  As such, standardization work on 5G continues to evolve over several 3GPP releases to expand the scope and scale of 5G capabilities by providing further enabling functionality.

Standardization activity for 5G began in 2015 with the SMARTER study, which addressed four different topic groups: massive Internet of Things, Critical Communications, enhanced Mobile Broadband, and Network Operation, covering more than 70 different use cases.  This formed the foundation for the development of 5G standards.

By 2018, 3GPP had released the first full 5G standard (also known as 5G phase 1) in Release 15 with a primary focus on enhanced mobile broadband.  Release 15 enabled operators to launch 5G services and is used in current 5G deployments.  This initial specification enabled non-standalone 5G radio systems to be integrated into previous-generation LTE networks.  Release 15 was further expanded to cover “standalone” 5G, with a new radio system complemented by a next-generation core network as well as additional architecture options.  The 5G New Radio (NR) specified in Release 15 supports low-latency, beam-based channels, new high frequency spectrum bands, massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) with large numbers of controllable antenna elements, scalable-width subchannels, carrier aggregation, cloud Radio-Access Network (RAN) capability, and coexistence with LTE.

3GPP recently finalized Release 16 in July 2020.  Release 16 – also known as 5G Phase 2 – delivered important updates to 5G specifications to broaden the range of use cases and verticals where NR can be applied as well as improve capacity and performance of the system

Release 16 delivers system solutions for new use cases beyond mobile broadband with a focus on enterprise applications with enhanced ultra-reliable, low-latency communication (eURLLC), operation in unlicensed spectrum, integrated access and backhaul (IaB), Intelligent transportation systems and vehicle-to-anything communications, industrial IoT, and efficiency and performance enhancements.

Standardization efforts are now focused on Release 17 to further expand on the broad range of verticals and use cases of the previous releases.  Work has begun to define support for low-complexity devices, operation in 52.6 to 71 GHz, satellites, multiple SIMs, NR multicast and broadcast, and a wide range of feature enhancements.

The enhancements in 3GPP’s releases 16 and 17 will play a crucial role in expanding both the availability and the applicability of 5G New Radio to a wide range of new applications and use cases in both industry and public services. ATIS has several programs that complement work in 3GPP These programs are open to all ATIS members. Contact ATIS’ Membership Director Rich Moran for details on how to join.

ATIS’ many 5G-related initiatives, white papers and more are highlighted here.  Our work spans  the areas of 5G North American Needs, 5G Supply Chain, Assessment of 5G Verticals Enablement Platforms, Non-Terrestrial Networks 5G Integration, Future 5G Operational and Regulatory Requirements and more.

Access the archived version of the ATIS Webinar: 5G Standards Developments in 3GPP Release 16 and Beyond.


Iain Sharp, Principal Technologist, ATIS
Iain Sharp has over 20 years experience in the mobile communications industry and served two periods as vice-chairman of the 3GPP CT Plenary. He is the director of Netovate, an independent consultancy with a mission to provide clients with a commercial advantage through an understanding of communications technology developments, particularly in the standards sphere.