Before 5G, some mobile users may get almost-5G

Some of the biggest carriers are now backing an interim specification

The mobile industry is so anxious for 5G that it’s now planning something that’s almost 5G, but will be ready a year earlier.

On Sunday, many of the world’s biggest equipment vendors and mobile operators joined hands to accelerate the 5G NR (New Radio) specification that will define many elements of 5G. The new technology they plan to produce will handle some of the planned uses of 5G but will be ready for large-scale trials and deployments in 2019 instead of 2020, they say.

There’s a lot at stake with 5G for both carriers and the companies that supply their networks, who are all gathering this week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The next generation of technology will give operators new services to sell, like multi-gigabit broadband and special offerings for the internet of things and connected cars, and it should help vendors emerge from a years-long sales drought following the rollout of LTE.

The official 5G NR specification is expected to be finished in time for large-scale deployments starting in 2020. It will be part of what’s called Release 15 from the 3GPP, the group that standardized LTE. The new specification that’s being proposed, called Non-Standalone 5G NR, will use LTE radios and back-end software while adding another mode that will be able to support some 5G use cases, according to a press release by its backers.

Most of the main industry players are part of that group. Vodafone, AT&T, and carriers from many other countries are on board, along with hardware makers like Qualcomm, Intel, Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE. They plan to propose Non-Standalone 5G NR at a 3GPP meeting next month in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Nokia and Verizon are notable exceptions. At a Nokia event in Barcelona on Sunday, Nokia President and CEO Rajeev Suri said they were implementing the first commercial end-to-end 5G solution with fixed wireless networks in several U.S. cities. Intel is also involved in that rollout, which is based developments from the Verizon 5G Technical Forum.

The group will still support the true 5G specification, called Standalone 5G NR, and gave assurances that their interim system will be compatible with that specification once it’s done.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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