5G Release 16 fulfils industry promise
From the outset, the focus of development for the new 5G mobile radio standard was not on telephony, but on data transmission for professional users. However, only part of the announced advantages have been implemented so far. With Release 16 (5G R16), which is now slowly entering the market, the standard is delivering on some of its promises to the industry.
The further development of mobile communications is in the hands of the technology providers. However, the standardisation body 3GPP ensures in numerous working groups that, on the one hand, the interests of providers and users are taken into account and, on the other hand, interoperability between radio technology and end devices is guaranteed. The technical definitions developed in this way are each summarised in major releases, which are numbered in ascending order. 3GPP Release 8 was the first definition of LTE mobile radio, with Release 10 came the extension to LTE Advanced and with Release 15 the era of 5G began.
Release 16 is the first further development of the 5G standard. It was completed in the summer of 2020, with the final work on the technical implementation extending into the autumn of the same year. Work interruptions due to lockdowns, disrupted supply chains and bottlenecks in chip production as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, have meant that the modem chips for 5G R16 are only now available in sufficient quantities so that com boards and 5G routers can be equipped with them by the end of the year.
This is good news for all those who want to use 5G in the industrial environment. Automotive manufacturers and transport and logistics are the industries showing the most interest in 5G campus networks, according to TecFutures loT CSP Survey 2022. They can benefit from the following innovations, for example:
- Integrated IoT services: Wide-area network services such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and enhanced Machine Type Communication (eMTC) are now also defined for 5G.
- Additional LAN-type services: Release 16 integrates functions typically found in LANs and VPNs. They simplify user management, enable optimised routing and improve overall performance, remote access, mobility and security of the 5G network.
- Support for TSN: Time synchronisation for Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) is integrated into the 5G network, TSN network elements such as UE, gNB, UPF, NW-TT and DS-TTs are synchronised with the internal 5G system clock (5G grandmaster clock).
- Easier management of campus networks: A number of features simplify the setup and operation of Non-Public Networks (NPN), both standalone campus networks and hybrid public / private networks.
- Use of non-licensed spectrum: Use in both freely available frequency ranges and mixed operation of licensed and non-licensed spectrum (License Assisted Access, LAA).
- Integrated Access Backhaul (IAB): Extension of the range of a 5G network similar to the principle of a WLAN repeater. The radio cells are only connected to each other by means of 5G radio.
In addition, there are also some improvements to existing functions that will be introduced with 5G Release 16, including:
- Enhanced URLLC: The reliability of the connection increases by an order of magnitude to 6×9, now 99.9999%.
- Optimised MIMO: 5G R16 supports MIMO Rank 4, reducing overhead, enabling communication with multiple base stations and generally increasing signal behaviour and range.
- Improved positioning: The R16 standard requires accuracy of at least 3m indoor and 10m outdoor (for 80% of measurements); the already fixed Release 17 sets 1m each (indoor and outdoor) for 90% of cases.
- Higher energy efficiency: This is intended to benefit battery-powered sensors, for example.
- Enhanced network slicing functions: These are intended to simplify the offering, monitoring and billing of network slicing and thus enable business models such as Network Slicing as a Service (NSaaS) or Business to Business to Everyone (B2B2X).
A complete overview is provided by the standardisation body 3GPP on its topic page on Release 16.
Meanwhile, development continues, of course. The last work on Release 17 was completed in autumn 2022. However, the resulting modem chips are not expected until mid to late 2024. The standardisation work for Release 18 is currently in progress, and a work plan has already been drawn up for Release 19 – but the extensive innovations associated with it, which justify an extension to “5G Advanced”, are still four to five years away from being ready for the market. The subsequent 6G will not become reality before 2030.