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3GPP Release 19: Unveiling the Future of 5G Advanced

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by Juan Montojo, Vice President, Technical Standards, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

After many months of intense discussions leading up to the final 3GPP RAN plenary meeting of 2023, which took place in the historic city of Edinburgh, the scope of 5G Advanced Release 19 was officially decided. Let’s look at the key projects expected to begin this year.

Building on the inaugural 5G Advanced standard, 3GPP Release 18 and Release 19 will deliver new 5G advancements. These not only drive continued system enhancements and further expand into new use cases, but they also bring new capabilities and establish the technical foundation for 6G.

Figure 1: Release 19 focuses on driving the 5G evolution and the technical foundation for 6G

5G System Enhancements

Release 19 will focus on key improvement areas most relevant to continued 5G commercialization as the ecosystem gathers new learning from deployed networks and devices. This category of projects further enhances the 5G technology foundation. Here is a quick overview:

  • Uplink and downlink MIMO evolution: 5G massive multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) capabilities continue to improve, emphasizing uplink performance and better beam management for overhead/latency reduction. Work is also underway to support more CSI-RS ports (up to 128), aiming to match antenna configurations of state-of-the-art massive MIMO deployments.
  • In addition, multiple transmission/reception point (multi-TRP) operation has further evolved, targeting scenarios with single-TRP operation in the downlink and multi-TRP operation in the uplink. This enables feedback enhancements for improved Coherent Joint Transmission (CJT) support under non-ideal synchronization and backhaul assumptions. Finally, a non-coherent UL codebook design tailored to three antenna ports will be specified.
  • Device mobility enhancements: The focus is on further improving various aspects of lower-layer triggered (i.e., Layer 2) mobility, namely, supporting inter-CU Layer 2 mobility and associated measurement-related enhancements. There is also support for conditional Layer 2 mobility and a new Study Item to improve device mobility with wireless AI/ML.
  • Advanced network topology: This release starts by studying the concepts of Wireless Access and Backhaul (WAB) and 5G femtocells, specifying them in the latter part of the release. WAB consists of a gNB with a Mobile Terminal (MT) function providing PDU session backhaul and is applicable for all 5G deployments (i.e., terrestrial and non-terrestrial). Architecture and protocol stack for its support will be studied. While femtocells were specified for 3G and 4G, their specification for 5G has yet to take place. The study will analyze the missing functionality for efficient support of 5G femtocells in Release 19.
  • Other system enhancements: A project on further enhanced self-organizing networks (SON)/minimization of drive tests (MDT) was also approved, aiming at addressing the latest mobility-related enhancements, as well as completing some Release 18 aspects related to RACH optimizations and enhanced carrier-aggregation support. There is, in addition, an extensive collection of smaller projects envisioned to further improve performance and efficiency for different aspects such as coverage, multi-carrier operations, multi-SIM, sidelink, positioning, quality of experience, broadcast, device capabilities, and more, which will be considered for approval in September based on commercial needs and Release 19 progress until then.

Further Use Case Diversification

Continuing the quest for 5G to reach its full potential, Release 19 will support new and enhanced use cases that extend beyond mobile broadband (i.e., smartphones, PCs, fixed wireless access) and vertical services (i.e., IoT and automotive). Release 19 introduces new features in a few key areas:

  • Ambient IoT: Further scaling down 5G IoT support beyond RedCap and enhanced machine-type communication (eMTC)/narrowband (NB)-IoT, Release 19 will first study different architecture and design options for extremely low-complexity 5G devices with small or no energy storage (i.e., batteryless), and with and without signal generation or amplification through a harmonized specification. The topology in which the gNB directly communicates with the ambient IoT tags and where the user equipment acts as the reader are both considered.
  • Enhanced boundless XR: Building on Release 18 XR enhancements, which focused on capacity and power consumption optimizations, Release 19 will further improve XR traffic scheduling, device power savings, and latency enhancements to improve user experiences.
  • Evolved 5G non-terrestrial network (NTN): Release 19 will further enhance uplink capacity for both IoT-NTN and NR-NTN and add support for regenerative payload. NR-NTN will also enhance downlink coverage and extend MBS (i.e., intended service area signaling) and RedCap support to NTN.
Figure 2: The 5G Advanced Release 19 package

Advanced Capabilities

5G Advanced brings the second wave of innovations with a transformational impact to the overall 5G end-to-end system. The work scope spans multiple releases for many of these projects, and Release 19 will continue this work. Here are a few examples:

  • Wireless AI: After the extensive Release 18 study on AI-enabled air interface and framework for next-generation RAN, Release 19 begins the work item. The goal is to provide specification support for a general framework of AI/ML for the air interface, as well as specific support for the beam management and positioning use cases studied in Release 18. In addition, Release 19 will continue exploring the channel state information enhancement use cases to identify more significant gains and further deepen the understanding of two-sided AI/ML models.
  • Network energy savings: Release 19 continues to specify additional techniques that can further reduce energy consumption in the 5G network. This includes studying on-demand SIB1 transmissions for user equipment in idle/inactive mode and specifying on-demand SSB for UEs in connected mode configured with carrier aggregation and adaptation of common signal/channel transmissions to increase the chances of network energy savings.
  • Low-power wakeup receiver (LP-WUR): The Release 18 study item is moving into the work item phase. It supports the most efficient signaling (e.g., waveform, measurement, synchronization) that targets very low-power IoT use cases (e.g., sensors), complemented with Release 18 enhanced RedCap features.
Figure 3: 5G NTN continues to evolve in 5G Advanced Release 19
Figure 4: 5G Advanced is the foundation for 6G

6G Technical Foundation

A key objective for 5G Advanced is to set early technology directions for the 6G platform. While Release 19 is the last “5G only” release (i.e., Release 20 is expected to begin 6G studies), there are already a few projects that explore the technical possibilities of these key enablers coming with 6G:

  • Duplexing evolution: Full duplex is the holy grail for wireless communications, as the ability to transmit and receive in the same band is both rewarding and extremely challenging. Release 19 will bring standardization support for sub-band full duplex, enabled by self and crosslink interference mitigation techniques.
  • Enabling new spectrum bands: To meet the insatiable capacity demand, the wireless ecosystem is starting to study the channel characteristics of the upper midband spectrum in the 7 to 24 GHz range, which can deliver contiguous bandwidth of 500 MHz or more. This can potentially become the wide-area coverage band for 6G.
  • Integrated sensing and communications: Complementing wireless communications with RF sensing is garnering much industry interest as a key differentiator for 6G. This synergy can enable a broad range of new use cases, from sensing-assisted communications to public safety. To start, Release 19 is studying the channel characteristics relevant to the sensing of various types of objects that should, including UAVs, automobiles, and humans.

For Further Reading

Leading the 5G Advanced technology evolution

https://www.qualcomm.com/research/5g

What’s next in 5G Advanced? 3GPP Release 19 is bringing new 5G system capabilities and setting a direction for 6G.

https://www.qualcomm.com/content/dam/qcomm-martech/dm-assets/documents/5G-A-Rel-19-Presentation.pdf

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