Industry leaders hailed the release of the first formal 5G standard as a milestone which sets the stage for the global mobile industry to begin full-scale deployment of the next-generation technology.

Major operators from China, Europe, Asia Pacific and the US, along with key vendors and consumer electronics companies, said the release of the 5G New Radio (NR) specification for non-standalone (NSA) operation enables full scale development of the technology and associated vertical market business cases to begin in earnest.

In a joint statement, Zhengmao Li, EVP of China Mobile Group noted the initial standard “completes the common part of NSA and SA, which lay a solid foundation for a global unified 5G system” with worldwide market scale.

Hank Kafka, VP of Access Architecture and Analytics at AT&T, agreed, noting the “milestone enables the next phase of equipment availability and movement to interoperability testing”.

Operators and vendors swiftly announced such testing, with a group of 11 detailing completion of the first multi-vendor trials using the NR standard

AT&T, NTT Docomo, Orange, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, T-Mobile US, Verizon and Vodafone Group conducted live demonstrations of sub-6GHz and end-to-end mmWave 5G NR systems using pre-commercial Ericsson base stations and Qualcomm’s 5G NR UE prototypes.

OTA interoperability tests were conducted on lower layer data connections operating in the 3.5GHz and 28GHz bands, both of which are included in the new specification, and the tests also complied with 3GPP’s 5G NR transmission specifications related to use of scalable OFDM waveforms, implementation of a slot-based frame structure, control and data channel support for massive MIMO and mmWave, and new channel codecs.

While the tests were conducted at Ericsson and Qualcomm laboratories in Sweden and the US, the companies said they pave the way for operators to conduct live evaluations on their own networks.

In a joint statement, Qualcomm EVP Cristiano Amon said the 3GPP specification and trials are important steps toward “the launch of standard-compliant commercial networks and devices starting in 2019”. Ericsson EVP and head of Business Area Networks, Fredrik Jejdling, noted the specification and associated trials are the culmination of “years of researching and developing 5G technology”.

Test partners agreed the trials were a “significant” step on the road toward 5G commercialisation.

Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone’s head of group R&D, noted the multi-vendor demonstration “paves the way for Vodafone to trial commercial grade equipment in the coming year.” Similarly, AT&T’s SVP of wireless network architecture design Marachel Knight said the standards-based interoperability testing “helps speed up development of 5G devices and hardware” and sets the stage for the launch of standards based services “as soon as the end of 2018.”

Release 15
The 5G NR specifications for NSA operation are included in the 3GPP’s Release 15 and cover both fixed and mobile applications. A key element in kick-starting the testing process is the standard enables operators to add a 5G carrier to existing LTE network architecture.

Lorenzo Casaccia, Qualcomm’s VP of technical standards and the company’s lead for 3GPP technology standards, noted in a blog post the physical layer specifications (the air interface and radio specifications) are common to both NSA and standalone (SA) 5G NR. The remaining specifications for SA operation, which will extend full user and control plane capabilities for 5G NR, are expected to be completed in June 2018.

In addition to the new radio transmission technologies mentioned above, the NSA specification also laid out key 5G bands including 617MHz to 698MHz (Band 71), AWS (Band 66), 2.5GHz, 3.3GHz to 4.3GHz, 4.4GHz to 4.99GHz, 24.25GHz to 29.5GHz and 37GHz to 40GHz.