Chris Pearson, President, 5G Americas – (January 2024) – As we begin 2024, the ever-changing landscape of telecommunications continues to march forward with new innovations and advances. The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) continues to stand as a beacon of progress with the advent of new wireless communications standards and specifications in Release 17 and the march towards 5G-Advanced in Release 18. I am pleased that 5G Americas has explained these exciting new technologies in our latest white paper (and simplified briefing paper) entitled “3GPP Tech Trends”.
3GPP Release 17 represents a significant milestone in the evolution of 5G networks, introducing a suite of enhancements that not only elevate the capabilities of existing applications but also set the stage for the transition to 5G-Advanced. These improvements are multifaceted and encompass a wide range of technological advancements. They include:
- The Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) capabilities have been substantially enhanced, including a unified transmission configuration indicator framework and multi-transmission reception point transmission.
- Improvements in uplink coverage have been achieved through advanced techniques such as enhanced repetitions, demodulation reference signal time domain bundling, and the distribution of uplink data transport blocks over multiple slots.
- Enhancements in sidelink communications have been introduced, incorporating power-saving measures, improved reliability, and support for relay operations.
- Additional support for non-terrestrial networks, particularly addressing challenges such as long propagation delays and large Doppler effects, which are prevalent in networks like Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO).
One of the revolutionary aspects of Release 17 is the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) into 5G-based wireless networks. This integration marks a paradigm shift in how networks operate and manage data, enhancing network intelligence and efficiency in several ways. Network energy savings have been a significant focus, with strategic cell activation and deactivation, along with traffic offloading, playing a crucial role in reducing overall network energy consumption. Load balancing methods implemented through AI/ML also address the perennial challenge of network congestion through methods that ensure the equitable distribution of traffic among cells, carriers, and various Radio Access Technologies (RATs), thus maintaining network integrity and preventing bottlenecks in high-traffic areas.
Moreover, mobility management solutions utilizing AI/ML have been developed to minimize issues such as call drops and radio link failures while optimizing dual connectivity, cell handover optimization (CHO), and dynamic antenna point selection (DAPS). These solutions enhance the network’s mobility management, ensuring seamless service continuity and optimal performance.
Beginning in Release 18, 5G-Advanced, the natural successor to 5G, heralds a significant leap forward in connectivity. It promises not only faster data speeds, reduced latency, and ultra-reliability but also unlocks a myriad of opportunities that could transform industries, consumer experiences, and the broader ecosystem. A crucial element of 5G-Advanced is its potential to power the Metaverse and Extended Reality (XR). This represents a leap into immersive digital experiences that transcend the limitations of the physical world, offering new avenues for social interaction, healthcare, education, gaming, industrial operations and virtual economies.
Additionally, for Reduced Capability (RedCap) devices, initially introduced in Release 17, will see further enhancements in 5G-Advanced. These devices, which include wearables, industrial wireless sensors, and technology for smart grids, are set to become more feature-rich and versatile, with improved support for diverse applications.
The concept of Integrated Communication and Sensing (ICAS) is another groundbreaking aspect of 5G-Advanced. ICAS extends the capability of cellular networks from mere communication to include sensing functionalities, effectively enabling the network to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ its surroundings. This integration has profound implications for industries and consumers alike, offering innovative services by fusing the physical with the digital world.
Ambient IoT represents another innovative category in 5G-Advanced, relying exclusively on harvested environmental energy. This approach ensures cost-effectiveness and simplicity, eliminating the need for battery replacements and reducing maintenance burdens. Ambient IoT opens up a plethora of applications across various sectors, including smart agriculture, urban planning, and inventory management.
5G Americas continues to advocate for more mobile wireless spectrum for the Americas and one very significant area of 5G-Advanced involves the usage of the FR3 spectrum band, which ranges from 7.125 GHz to 24.25 GHz, which brings its unique set of challenges. These include issues such as propagation loss and the need for innovative transceiver designs. However, 3GPP has addressed these challenges with several capabilities:
- Usage of Gigantic MIMO will be instrumental. This approach scales up massive MIMO to offer larger beamforming gain, effectively mitigating the propagation loss in the FR3 band.
- Coexistence of 5G-Advanced with existing communication systems, especially those involving government agencies, requires advanced interference management and suppression techniques. These techniques ensure that 5G-Advanced can operate harmoniously alongside existing systems without causing interference.
The deployment in the FR3 spectrum may necessitate new transceiver technologies, including advanced Radio Frequency (RF) filters, high-performance power amplifiers, and innovative antenna designs for both User Equipment (UEs) and next-generation Node Bs (gNBs). These technologies are critical to ensuring the successful deployment and operation of 5G-Advanced in the new spectrum. Of course, it is critical that we continue our work to help align and harmonize international spectrum use, so that 5G-Advanced uses in this FR3 range will be broadly adopted globally.
Sustainability and energy efficiency have been key focuses in the development of 5G and advanced networks. Our recent 5G Americas white paper, “Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Mobile Communications Networks” explores how wireless cellular companies are using 3GPP-specific technologies to better manage the energy requirements of their networks and help in the fight against climate change. New technologies and features such as sleep mode optimization and dynamic transmission power adjustment demonstrates 3GPP’s commitment to aligning with global environmental goals and promoting resource-efficient, sustainable mobile communication systems.
Additionally, optimizing gNB (gNodeB) sleep modes and adapting transmission patterns of downlink common and broadcast signals significantly contribute to reducing energy consumption, especially in low-traffic areas. This approach not only enhances network efficiency but also aligns with the broader goal of environmental sustainability. Implementing Uplink Wake-Up Signals (WUS) is another step towards reducing gNB energy consumption. By minimizing the active state duration of gNBs and prompting the transition from low-power mode only when necessary, WUS conserves energy and optimizes network operation.
Additionally, dynamic transmission power adjustment and multi-carrier energy conservation techniques, along with dynamic UE group Pcell switching and bandwidth adaptation, improve overall network energy efficiency. These measures are crucial in creating a sustainable and efficient network ecosystem that aligns with the growing global emphasis on environmental conservation and sustainability.
Overall, the advancements brought forth by 3GPP Releases 17 and 18, and the transition to 5G-Advanced represent a significant leap in the realm of connectivity. From enabling the metaverse to fostering the growth of Ambient IoT, these developments are reshaping the way we interact with technology, paving the way for a more connected and efficient world. As we embrace these changes, we stand at the threshold of a new era of connectivity, one that promises to be more dynamic, immersive, and transformative than ever before. The dawn of 5G-Advanced is upon us all.