5G-Advanced Starts Without a Killer Feature in R17, but R18 Will Implement the Full 5G Vision

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4Q 2021 | IN-6393

Though Release 17 has yet to be fully implemented, there is much anticipation for Release18 which promises more enhancements for 5G, including 5G-Advanced.

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Release 18 Approved by 3GPP in December 2021

NEWS


3GPP just approved the package of Release 18 (R18) in December 2021, which initiated the second phase of the 5G era as “5G-Advanced”. The commercial launch of R18 is estimated round 2025 by ABI Research, following the publication of the standard in December 2023. As with all other 3GPP releases, R18 will introduce enhancements for cellular networks in the core, system, radio, and device domains and the current development effort covers twenty-eight approved work/study Items. Included in these are:  

  • Evolution in NR-MIMO: Enhancements for downlink/uplink throughput, coverage, lower power consumption, and size/weight.
  • Mobility enhancements: Reducing handover latency from improving layer one and layer two based inter-cell mobility.
  • AI/ML in the end-to-end 5G system: Applying Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) to optimize the deployment decision making, network energy saving, CSI feedback, beam management, and positioning.
  • Network energy savings: Defining network energy consumption model, evaluation methodology, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and power consumption reduction techniques under various deployment scenarios, e.g., Urban Micro in mid-band (FR1), and mmWave (FR2) spectrum deployments for beam-based scenarios with massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output).
  • Sidelink: Expanding Sidelink to FR1 unlicensed spectrum and FR2 licensed spectrum, enhancing the power saving and co-existence with the previous generation, and using Sidelink to improve positioning. Previously Sidelink is mainly for C-V2X while with 5G-Advanced it may extend to more devices, including smartphones.
  • Enhancements for XR: Specifying Radio Access Network (RAN) support for XR-specific Quality of Service (QoS) and KPIs for both system-level and end-user experience. This work depends on the outcome of Release 17 (R17), which hasn’t been finalized.
  • RedCap (Reduced Capability) Use: RedCap, also known as New Radio (NR)-Light (aka NR-Lite) in R17, is aiming to further embrace new use cases, especially requiring low-cost devices and low energy consumption. Examples are industrial sensors, connected cameras, and wearables.
  • Precise positioning and time resilience: With 5G-advanced radio access, the location accuracy can reach centimeter-level for both outdoor and indoor without satellite coverage.

Apart from the examples listed above, there will also be numerous applications in the IoT for automation and quality control, smart cities, robots/drones, and mobile edge computing. ABI Research will discuss them in more detail in an upcoming report focused on Release 17 and 18 in what is referred to as 5G-Advanced.

No Ground-Breaking Feature but Continuous Improvements Towards the Full 5G Vision

IMPACT


Although there are many compelling innovations in the Release 18 plan, none of them can claim to be a major feature for 5G-Advanced, like carrier aggregation was for LTE-Advanced. Carrier Aggregation allowed mobile operators to offer much better user experiences and, in turn, monetize their networks better. Release 18 brings a balanced set of enhancements to the 5G system, which will establish a foundation to implement the full 5G vision.

For example, a boundless Extended Reality (XR) experience requires extremely high data rates and low/bounded latency which are more likely achievable by 5G-Advanced. Continuous enhancement in traffic management efficiency, radio resource allocation, mobility management, and Ubiquitous Energy (UE) energy-efficiency can all contribute to the foundation of immersive experiences. Additionally, the Sidelink proximity services would be ideal for XR/cloud gaming as they can make devices directly communicate with each other at extreme rates and low latency. Another example is precise positioning and time resilience related use cases. The accuracy of centimeter-level and indoor coverage are crucial features for some enterprise use cases, such as real-time financial transactions and self-driving cars in underground facilitates. Another example is RedCap, which provides an evolution path to 5G for LTE-M or Narrowband (NB)-IoT devices to enjoy upgraded capabilities without increasing the cost, which may help the operators accelerate the migration to 5G. Finally, some topics in Release 18 are ongoing work toward 6G, for example, the evolution in AI/ML and duplex operation.

Release 17 or 18 Go for the Plus!

RECOMMENDATIONS


Release 18 will certainly introduce more features (even compared with R17) and will likely specify 5G systems in full, including end- to-end slicing, automation using AI/ML, fully specified Service-Based Architecture (SBA), NG Core and many other devices, core network, system, and radio features. However, R18 will come at least two years after R17, at a time when enterprise digitization is the hottest topic, and many enterprises are seeking to optimize their operational technologies and IT platforms. Nevertheless, both R17 and R18 will represent long-term plans and will be designed for future networks and systems.

The features of R18 are more likely to achieve monetization for operators. For example, XR-based applications are not only for industrial use cases but also bring opportunities for the consumer market. This is very important for operators in markets without a heavy industrial section of economy. One of the risks in XRs-based applications in the consumer market is the lack of high-definition content. Therefore, operators should partner with content providers and expose the capabilities of 5G systems to help them create content suitable to be delivered through these advanced networks. A further favorable feature is precise positioning and time resilience applications which can revolutionize Local Area Networks and introduce new use cases in many verticals that require mission-critical functionality.

Additionally, R18 contains concerns for some long-term issues. For example, network energy savings is in line with the trend of the sustainable future which can help operators reduce the operation cost and meanwhile prepare for the environmental policy changes. ABI Research expects that automation will start to become ever important in the network domain, and an inflection point will soon happen, after which all communication networks will require automated, rather than manual control, to remain profitable and manageable.

 

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