What’s New in 5G Phase 2/3GPP Release 16? (Part-1)

Previously delayed by three months due to ongoing COVID situation, the long-awaited Release-16 from the global wireless standards body 3GPP has finally been frozen. Often dubbed as 5G Phase 2, it is a new set of specifications for 5G NR technology. While the initial 5G Phase 1 (3GPP Release 15) laid the foundation to kickstart initial 5G deployments, its main focus was to deliver high speeds with enhanced mobile broadband. Almost all of the existing 5G networks from 2019 and 2020 are in non-standalone (NSA) mode, using their 4G core (EPC) behind the scenes. The entire focus of the new release is on standalone (SA) 5G with upgraded RAN capabilities and enabling other aspects of 5G like URLLC, massive IoT and unlicensed spectrum access. This set of standards includes enhancements that improve the battery life and performance of 5G devices and networks. For vendors, telcos and device makers, this release is something significant to look forward to for the next 12-18 months.

Enhancements to 5G Air Interface and the Device Battery Life

One of the key enhancements to 5G standard in Release 16 is the support for a technique called MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple-Input Multiple-Output). This enhancement will enable it to work with multiple transmission and reception points simultaneously with increased power levels and efficiency. This will result in faster speeds and reliable performance even at last mile of the cellular network. Release 16 also includes some power saving mechanisms from Qualcomm. It incorporates new signals that notify devices to temporarily put their modems in low power mode. Another Wake Up Signal (WUS) notifies the device to put the modem back to the full power mode and back to the low power mode when the reception is complete.

5G Based Positioning

One interesting enhancement in Release 16 is being able to find the position of a 5G-equipped device without relying on the GPS. The detection range will be 3-meter indoors and 10-meter outdoors. Instead of GPS, the devices will use reference signaling for positioning. The device’s position will be calculated relative to the position of the cell tower. This will bring significant improvements to indoor positioning applications (e. g. indoor maps in shopping malls) when it comes to precisely locating the user.

NR-U – Unlicensed Spectrum for Private 5G

New standards from Release 16 enable non-telco organizations (e. g. universities, farms) to deploy their private 5G networks inside their operating premises. This 5G capability is referred to as NPN (Non-Public Network) using NR-U (New Radio-Unlicensed) as standard. This private 5G network can leverage all the smart features of 5G along with its high-speed and low-latency and has the potential to be a replacement for the traditional Wi-Fi networks.

In the next post, we will discuss about some more enhancements like V2X, Industrial IoT, Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB), Satellite Access and FRMCS Phase 2. Stay tuned!

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