Expanding the Reach of 5G with 3GPP Release 16

  • 5G NR Release 16 explained
  • Ultra-reliable low-latency communication
  • Access to Unlicensed Spectrum

As global leaders in information technology continue to find ways to improve wireless connectivity for everyone, access to 5G internet becomes more and more evident. Several countries are looking forward to the completion of their respective 5G infrastructures and the recent 5G NR Release 16 from the 3GPP is a much welcome development.

The latest innovation allows 5G to have a more expansive reach beyond mobile broadband services. But what does this mean for everyone? And how does it impact future users who have long been eager to switch to 5G?

In this article, we will discuss how the new 3GPP Release 16 directly affects the global reach of 5G technology, what the Release 16 has in store for operators, and what it means for subscribers.

  • What is 3GPP?
  • 5G NR Release 16 explained
  • 5G connectivity beyond mobile telecommunications
    • Ultra-Reliable and Low-Latency Communication
    • Access to Unlicensed Spectrum
    • Integrated Access Backhaul
    • Network share and NPN
    • Power-saving features
  • Other features worth noting
    • LTE Advanced Pro technologies
    • Automotive safety
    • Better positioning information
  • What does this mean for 5G as a whole?

What is 3GPP?

3GPP stands for 3rd Generation Partnership Project. It refers to a number of organizations in charge of developing protocols for mobile telecommunications. Some of the most notable works of the 3GPP include the development and maintenance of standards for GSM and 2G networks such as GPRS and EDGE; UMTS and 3G networks such as HSPA and HSPA; LTE and 4G networks such as LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro; and the 5G NR, including the recent Release 16.

5G NR Release 16 explained

Release 16 is referred to by the 3GPP as the second phase of the 5G system. It was recently released as an additional standard for the 5G connectivity and aims to expand its reach into a greater number of services than mobile broadband connections.

The new Release 16 also allows 5G to enter other industries aside from telecommunications. Some of its features include industrial Internet of Things applications and mobile communication systems for railways. But while these are now an option, it still depends on the operators whether they want to pursue other industries outside of telecom.

5G connectivity beyond mobile telecommunications

Ultra-reliable low-latency communication

One of the most significant features of Release 16 is its ultra-reliable and low-latency communication. With 5G being marketed for providing a much better, faster, and more stable internet connection, having low latency is definitely going to be a plus for consumers.

But more than personal use, this also benefits companies in the Internet of Things (IoT) and manufacturing industries. With up to 99.99% of reliability, extremely fast, and low-latency connections, productivity is greatly improved in all aspects.

Access to Unlicensed Spectrum

With the Release 16, operators will now have the opportunity to launch a 5G network in an unlicensed spectrum. This is similar to deploying a Wi-Fi network, whose capacity is now pretty much obvious to anyone with internet access.

Service providers can utilize 5G’s unlicensed spectrum to strengthen the capacity of their existing networks the same way that operators are doing with 4G’s License Assisted Access (LAA).

Integrated Access Backhaul (IAB)

Thanks to Release 16’s Integrated Access Backhaul capability, it has become easier for 5G cell sites to establish a wireless internet connection even without the use of additional equipment. This is greatly beneficial for service providers because it greatly reduces the costs of their operations.

It’s no secret that the deployment of mmWave base stations requires a huge sum of money. This is because the whole process involves backhaul installations of fibre optic cables to ensure fast connection speeds. With the arrival of Release 16, wireless connection is now made easier and cuts the need for wired connections.

Network share and NPN

A common complaint among internet users these days is the fluctuating speeds and instability of the connection. This is often affected by user density or the number of people connected to the network within a specific area.

But with Release 16, network slicing becomes an option for service providers. This means that operators can avail of a “slice” or chunk of the 5G network, which they can specifically allot for their products and won’t have to share with users that are not their customers.

Not only does this access to Non-Public Network give operators a more reliable and faster connection. It also allows them to keep sensitive data secured and protected within their “premises”.

Power-saving features

Another feature that’s keeping the eyes of customers peeled on the Release 16 is its power-saving features. A huge part of our daily activities is reliant on power, which means anything that promotes less power consumption is music to the ears of battery-powered devices.

3PGG, through Release 16, introduces a slew of power-saving features that potential customers will surely be interested in. One of these is the wakeup signal (WUS) that lets the device know of a pending transmission so it can switch to the low-power mode. There is also the enhanced cross-slot scheduling, adaptive MIMO layer reduction, low-power carrier aggregation control, and relaxed radio resource management.

For end consumers, this also means having a longer battery life for their 5G smartphones and other electronic devices. This alone is enough to attract customers to the network.

Other features worth noting:

LTE Advanced Pro technologies

Technologies in the LTE Advanced Pro category are also among the features of the new Release 16 phase. It allows the in-band deployment of eMTC and NB-IoT for various types of services that will be entirely supported by the 5G network.

Also benefiting from Release 16 is the enTV, one of the standards introduced in Release 14 that is involved in terrestrial TV broadcasting. The upgrades in the system support higher mobility for operators, resulting in better coverage.

Automotive safety

With the growing number of automakers venturing in the autonomous driving territory, the existence of a reliable and far-reaching network is a huge step towards progress. 

Release 16’s C-V2X feature, through the use of 5G connectivity, makes it easier for car manufacturers to develop advanced safety technology for their vehicles. It complements the NR-based sidelink that was introduced in Release 14 and 15 and also supports multicast communication.

Better positioning information

Another important addition to the list is the improved positioning feature. In this technology, operators can now locate the exact position of devices that are connected to the 5G network. This is possible for devices that are within 3 metres indoors and up to 10 metres outdoors.

What does this mean for 5G as a whole?

Release 16 follows the initial phase that 3GPP first launched in 2018 and completed late last year. 3PGG initially projected the completion of Release 16 in June this year, but it was delayed by a few months due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the arrival of Release 16, however, it does not mean that 5G connectivity is now completed and is finally ready for a global launch. What it says is that everyone is one step closer to this future. Although there are new standards introduced to operators and consumers, it’s obvious that there is still a lot of work to be done.

The road does not end at Release 16 for 3PGG. In fact, experts are now channeling their efforts into the upcoming launch of Release 17. But given the current global public health situation, this is not going to be easy.

How will this affect NBN?

While 5G has not completely rolled out anywhere, some companies in Australia are already looking into the possibility of making the service available. Optus, one of the leading service providers in the country, has even started offering a 5G-powered wireless connection to customers.

Given this level of progress on the technology, though, there is no denying that it’s only a matter of time until network operators and service providers begin offering 5G services on a wider scale. But this begs the question: How will 5G technology affect NBN?

Prior to Release 16, an easy way to answer this question would be to say that 5G is more focused on providing access to a wireless network, which is contrary to what NBN offers — a wired connection. Promoters of the NBN infrastructure also say that wireless connections such as that of 5G generally have a smaller capacity.

With the latest development with Release 16, however, it gives us the idea that the future of 5G could be bigger than what all of us might be expecting. It wouldn’t be surprising if the technology could reach the level where it can surpass the reach of NBN, especially considering that a lot of areas in the country still do not have access to the national broadband network.

Whatever results come out of this endeavour, the consumers are definitely going to be the ones that benefit the most. Although realistically thinking, it might take a while for the technology to be completed and for the groundwork to commence in Australia. That means NBN is going to remain relevant for the next few years.