One of the most exciting milestones for 5G was reached early last month with the official introduction of Release 16 of the 5G standard from 3GPP, colloquially known as 5G Phase 2. Release 16 enables some of the most innovative and transformative aspects of 5G technologies which, while we’re at the very beginning of a long process to implement these new capabilities, will go far in fulfilling the potential of this new generation of wireless technology.
It would be challenging to overstate the importance of this critical release. Whereas Release 15 was focused primarily on enhanced mobile broadband, Release 16 brings a host of new capabilities that go far beyond simple performance and enable new business models, applications, and support for vertical markets. In particular, enterprises and industrial organizations ranging from manufacturers to healthcare will now have access to the kinds of functionality that will enable them to institute new levels of automation, efficiency, and service.
One of the critical new technologies from Release 16 includes support for Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC), one of the most anticipated capabilities of 5G as a whole. URLLC represents a fundamental shift in mobile network capabilities, supporting guaranteed levels of reliability and latency for the first time. This is a driving force for why 5G is now more relevant for businesses than ever before. There is also the ability for 5G to support license-exempt bands and non-public networks (NPN), also known as 5G private networks that could be run solely on a single organization’s campus or factory. Release 16 enhances 5G’s support for V2X technology via an improved ability to discover and locate devices and vehicles, or even to enable vehicles to communicate directly with one another, further advancing progress for autonomous vehicles. Release 16 also provides the ability to deploy and manage low-power mobile IoT protocols such as NB-IoT and LTE-M over the 5G core network.
As with any technology with this level of global significance and reach, these new features and capabilities would not have been possible without the 3GPP standards setting process. Representing the global community of wireless innovators and leaders, work through 3GPP continues to successfully bring this industry together in making 5G a reality.
Intel Contributions to 3GPP Release 16
Our teams at Intel have been honored to be a part of the effort to bring 5G to life. With leadership positions across key 3GPP working groups – such as RAN2/SA2 Chair and RAN3/RAN4 Vice Chair – Intel has contributed our knowledge and expertise to help lead and guide progress of Release 16 to completion. The years-long and continuing work of chairing meetings, driving towards consensus and pathfinding forward progress alongside our industry colleagues are now paying off. In conjunction with the ecosystem, Intel has been one of the major contributors to progress the many diverse elements of 5G Release 16. A few examples of these contributions include:
- URLLC-over-5G: One of the most exciting elements of Release 16, 5G now delivers low-latency and ultra-reliable deterministic capabilities for industrial control systems and data traffic. While Release 15 introduced increased reliability and lower latency capabilities, Release 16 delivers on the full set of URLLC features envisioned for 5G. This will allow enterprises to take advantage of the flexibility that wireless can provide for system connectivity across industrial manufacturing facilities and factories. Collectively known as URLLC, these capabilities enable other applications such as Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) that aim to improve accuracy guarantees for time-critical data, ideal for control systems receiving data from sensors, computer-vision applications, and more. TSN-over-5G supports TSN services over 5G so that industrial devices like sensors and actuators can communicate with industrial controllers wirelessly and deterministically. This aligns with Industry 4.0 solutions and has the potential to drive down costs, enable new business models, and streamline factory operations.
- 5G positioning support: A great deal of innovation was required to meet the location discovery needs involved with 5G NR positioning. This feature is critical to a broad range of 5G applications, including autonomous and V2X vehicle applications, emergency and municipal services, and applications related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). With Release 16, 5G networks can ascertain the position of 5G-enabled devices to within 3 meters indoors and 10 meters outdoors.
- Edge computing management: Edge computing architectures are a critical element of many 5G deployments, so Release 16 incorporates elements that support this specific paradigm. This includes management of the edge computing functionalities that include deployment, provisioning, performance assurance, etc. by utilizing Virtualized Network Functions.
- 5G NR Self-Organizing Networks (SON): 5G Release 16 SON brings automation to 5G networks that are becoming increasingly complex with the advent of denser deployment of small cells and richer and more demanding applications (e.g. URLLC for autonomous driving) by leveraging new technologies (e.g. Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning) to embed intelligence in the RAN architecture.
- 5G media services: Release 16 brings multiple enhancements to media services over a 5G network. These include additional speech and video rate adaptation capabilities, new enhancements for wearables and low-power IoT devices and added support for uses cases with real-time communication and interaction needs. For streaming services, Release 16 defines a new media streaming architecture for 5G focusing on different collaboration and deployment models between mobile network operators and third-party media service and content providers, while also leveraging network slicing, edge computing and API-based network capability exposure.
Commercializing 3GPP Release 16
In order to ensure the standards being developed are informed by real world applications and to shorten time to market for our products, Intel has already been hard at work trialing and testing technologies that can take advantage of new 3GPP Release 16 capabilities. As an example, SK Telecom and Intel validated the performance of a 5G SA UPF (5G Stand Alone User Plane Function) capability based on 2nd generation Intel Xeon® Scalable processors and Intel Ethernet 800 Series Network Adapters. SK Telecom was able to take advantage of URLLC services enabled by Release 16 to reduce the round-trip-time latency of the UPF system up to 78 percent and jitter up to 88 percent depending on packet size. This translates into nearly jitter-free customer experiences while browsing, streaming video, playing games, and using many other kinds of services. SK Telecom has already begun developing the low-latency UPF with plans to trial this year and be commercial-ready by next year.
We also engaged with Bosch, a global IIoT leader, to create an early Time Sensitive Networking (TSN)-over-5G proof of concept (PoC) implementation leveraging Release 16 URLLC capabilities. The PoC includes the user equipment (UE), Radio Access Network (RAN), and Intel® Core™ processors. Working in conjunction with TSN-compatible controller endpoints from Bosch Rexroth, the PoC validates the URLLC technology and demonstrates key IIoT use cases. During the PoC, Intel and Bosch successfully demonstrated a typical TSN IIoT use case, currently supported via wireline infrastructure on the factory floor. The demonstration is one of the first to showcase 5G New Radio (NR) Release-16 URLLC features.
Finally, Release 16 is a key enabler of Intel’s FlexRAN, which is a software reference architecture developed by Intel to help accelerate the development of virtualized Radio Access Network solutions. FlexRAN can be implemented on any part of the wireless network from edge to core, and enables customers to build a cloud native, fully virtualized 4G and 5G RAN on Intel® architecture-based platforms for a wide variety of use cases. In addition, as services opportunities grow as a result of the finalization of the 3GPP Release 16 specification, Intel’s work in CERA and OpenNess also helps foster the services ecosystem.
3GPP Release 16 and the Future of Computing
Like any major technology trend, 5G does not exist in a vacuum. Other technologies augment and enhance 5G in order to make it truly transformational. With the advent of Release 16 for 5G NR, the combination of powerful yet efficient edge compute running AI for ultra-low-latency applications enables incredible new use cases. Examples like hundreds of autonomous robots safely operating in real-time on factory floors, autonomous vehicle navigation in crowded cities, public safety initiatives that coordinate of thousands of cameras in real-time throughout airports and large arenas – all of these showcase the future power of distributed compute resources.
As exciting as Release 16 is, this is only another step in an ongoing journey. Release 17 promises to be another significant advancement. We at Intel are excited to be a big part of that journey as we join our community in fully realizing the potential for 5G.