In the ever-evolving realm of telecommunications, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) plays an important role in the innovation and progress of connectivity and communication in an interconnected world. While 5G networks have already started a transformative journey for many people worldwide, members within 3GPP tirelessly dedicate themselves to elevating these networks to even greater heights with the development of 5G-Advanced. 5G-Advanced, the natural successor to 5G, heralds an extraordinary evolution in our connectivity experience. With faster data speeds, reduced latency, and ultra-reliability, 5G-Advanced promises to unlock a vast array of opportunities for industries, consumers, and the broader ecosystem. This white paper ventures deep into the core of 5G-Advanced, shedding light on the pivotal technologies, features, and use cases that will define the forthcoming era of wireless communication.
In June 2022, 3GPP Release (Rel)-17 was introduced, heralding significant enhancements to existing applications, complementing the advancements in data speeds, reduced latency, and ultra-reliability. These encompass Multiple In Multiple Out (MIMO) for 5G New Radio (NR), Improved Uplink Coverage, Enhanced Sidelink Communications, Positioning Enhancement, UE Power Saving, Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC)/Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Enhancements, Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB), and Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN). These enhancements collectively propel the comprehensive development of 5G networks, driving progress in areas like MIMO technology, power efficiency, communication reliability, positioning capabilities, and support for non-terrestrial networks. Moreover, the expansion of spectrum utilization designed to enhance coverage has contributed to the emergence of a more versatile and efficient 5G ecosystem with 3GPP Rel-17. 5G NR introduces key features that enhance the network’s capabilities and functionalities, making 3GPP Rel-17 a pivotal milestone in the evolution of cellular networks. Throughout the paper, we will use the term NR Rel-17, 3GPP Rel-17, and Rel-17 interchangeably.
The evolution of 3GPP technology trends continues with Rel-18, exploring cutting-edge topics such as the metaverse. The metaverse is a dynamic concept in the realm of digital technology, offering immersive digital experiences that seamlessly interconnect people, places, objects, and information in real time, transcending the constraints of the physical world. In addition to the metaverse, RedCap (Reduced Capability) devices were also initially introduced in 3GPP Rel-17, which supports diverse use cases and lays the foundation for additional specification work on NR RedCap. This work includes applications like wearables (e.g., smartwatches, wearable medical devices, augmented reality (AR)/VR goggles, industrial wireless sensors, and video surveillance). Planned enhancements for RedCap devices in 3GPP Rel-18 aim to improve these features and expand into new realms, including smart grid technology. 3GPP Rel-18 also delves into features like joint communication and sensing (JCAS), integrating communication and sensing functionalities within the same system or network.
Where ML (machine learning) coverage was expanded to provide descriptions of principles for Radio Access Network (RAN) intelligence enabled by ML in Rel-17, Rel-18 extends specifications for AI/ML into the new radio air interface. The focus on this area of the air interface, specifically addresses ML solutions that require interactions between network infrastructure and user equipment. Future AI/ML use cases will be addressed in the air interface, RAN, and system architecture in Rel-19. As we approach Rel-20, 6G will be studied with AI/ML as an integral component of the system. Advanced technologies such as distributed learning, in conjunction with deeply embedded AI, will significantly boost performance and usability, marking 6G as the first generation of data-driven mobile networks.
As 3GPP technology trends continue to evolve, spectrum and sustainability also take center stage. Spectrum remains a critical necessity, with new spectrum bands holding the promise of not only enabling innovative applications but also enhancing the capabilities of existing ones within the realm of 5G-Advanced. The spectrum allocated for 5G-Advanced cellular deployments, often occupying the upper midbands from 7.125 GHz to 24.25 GHz, possesses key advantages such as substantial bandwidth and suitability for extensive geographical coverage. This designated “FR3” spectrum, highlighted in this whitepaper, shows promise for enhancing positioning and sensing capabilities.
Finally, 3GPP recognizes the importance of addressing climate change by paying careful attention to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 3GPP diligently works on standards related to energy efficiency, resource efficiency, circularity, and social responsibility. This comprehensive approach underscores the commitment of 3GPP to lead global technology trends while innovating on connectivity, systems, and various modes of communication. Their approach has broad impacts on minimizing resource usage, limiting the environmental effects of network operations, and increasing global resource efficiency.