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Ericsson Research Lays Out LTE, 5G Standardization Roadmap

The mobile broadband ecosystem is making progress when it comes to developing the industry standards that will define next-gen, 5G wireless. LTE Release 14, the first of 3GPP's 5G standardization efforts will see the standardization of new radio access technology as well as continued evolution of 4G LTE, as noted from NetAmerica Alliance partner Ericsson.

Ericsson Research's Stefan Parkvall zooms in low latency, spectrum flexibility, machine-type communication, multi-antenna and multi-site transmission and ultra-lean design as prospective elements of 3GPP's 5G standardization work. 3GPP is currently at work developing LTE Release 13. Work on LTE Release 14, which is to focus on 5G standards, is slated to begin in early 2016, he points out.

NX

Referring to the next-gen 5G radio access technology as “NX,” Parkvall says LTE Evolution will focus on enhancing backwards compatibility in existing spectrum up to approximately 6 GHz. NX standards development efforts, in contrast, will focus on spectrum where LTE isn't deployed.

Large amounts of contiguous spectrum are easier to find at higher frequencies. Lower frequencies are important when it comes to wide-area coverage, however, so the first NX deployments are likely to target moderately high frequencies – more specifically those below 1 GHz to nearly 100 GHz, according to Parkvall.

Parkvall highlights the following as likely areas of concentration in 3GPP's 5G LTE evolutionary path:

  • Latency reduction - Not only is reduced latency important for an improved end-user experience and to fully exploit the high data rates provided by LTE, it can also provide better support for new use cases, for example critical machine-type communication. As a follow-up to the ongoing release 13 study, instant uplink access – where uplink transmissions can take place without a prior request-grant phase – and a shorter transmission-time interval, 0.5 ms or less, are likely to be part of release 14 work.
  • Unlicensed spectrum - It has received a lot of attention in release 13 and will continue to be in focus also in the coming releases. Currently, the carrier-aggregation framework is used to aggregate licensed and unlicensed spectrum and forms the basis for downlink-focused license-assisted access in release 13. In practice, carrier aggregation implies that the same node is handling licensed as well as unlicensed spectrum. A natural enhancement is to extend license-assisted access to build upon the dual-connectivity framework. This will provide additional deployment flexibility as physically separate nodes can handle the two spectrum types. Full support for uplink transmissions in unlicensed spectrum is also a natural part of release 14.
  • New use cases – These will be addressed by LTE, for example in the area of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), including vehicular-to-vehicular and vehicular-to-infrastructure communication. Traffic safety and transportation efficiency can be greatly improved by enabling information exchange between vehicles as well as between vehicles and the infrastructure. Compared to alternative solutions, the existing widespread deployment of LTE is a great advantage. The usage of mainstream LTE technology also makes it possible to include a wide range of road users, e.g. pedestrians and bicyclist, in an overall traffic safety work. The existing device-to-device framework can serve as a basis for the work on vehicular-to-vehicular communication.
  • Massive machine-type communication (MTC) - A vital part of the overall vision of a networked society. LTE has already been enhanced in previous releases and is well positioned to combine low device cost with long battery lifetime – two of the main requirements for massive machine-type communication. Release 14 will further improve the MTC capacity as well as look into new features for MTC devices such as MBMS support for delivering software upgrades and device-to-device relaying for coverage extension.
  • Massive MIMO – Also known as full-dimension MIMO as it is called in 3GPP, is about using a large number of antenna elements, e.g. for two-dimensional beamforming and/or multi-user MIMO. The focus of release 14 will be to extend the current massive MIMO framework to an even larger number of antennas (more than 16) and to secure the development of requirements and test methodologies to facilitate real-life deployment of these technologies.

New radio access technology such as NX is necessary in order to address many 5G network requirements. In moving beyond LTE Evolution, NX won't take backwards compatibility into account, Parkvall notes.

5G Frequency Bands

Making use of higher frequency bands is one of NX's expected attributes. Coverage is more local at high frequencies, so they're used to boost capacity and rates of data throughput in specific areas, Parkvall explains. Wide-area coverage, in contrast, is provided by using lower frequency bands currently in use.

As a result, there's a need for tight interworking between high and low frequency data flows, and LTE and NX will both play important roles in this regard.

5G to large extent is about moving beyond mobile broadband and demonstrating a wide range of new use cases. Massive and critical machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is one such prospect.

Ericsson has demonstrated some of the elements of next-gen 5G networking in its mobile testbed and more widely at the 2015 Mobile World Congress, Parkvall points out. At its mobile testbed Ericsson has demonstrated multi-Gbps data rates with “beamforming" and OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing) modulation at 15 GHz carrier frequency. It also demo'd different advanced antenna configurations to, among other things, assess wireless network coverage both indoors and outdoors.

A first version of 3GPP NX radio access technology specifications isn't expected until the second half of 2018 with the release of 3GPP's LTE Release 15. The aim is to facilitate initial commercial deployments in 2020. Completion of all 5G requirements is slated for end-2019 with Release 16, which will be submitted to the ITU for approval, Parkvall writes.

Having partners like Ericsson allows NetAmerica Alliance to better keep track of 5G developments and their implications. Our Members gain access and insight to these important mobile broadband developments. Our continued network evolution will allow Member carriers to participate in the movement to advanced 4G and 5G technologies.

Chuck Harris leads the Alliance Development Team for NetAmerica Allaince whose mission it is to grow NetAmerica's 4G LTE footprint by working with wireless license holders across the U.S. interested in joining the NetAmerica Alliance to provide 4G LTE service to citizens in rural America.