What is 5G NR?
5G has set a new standard for wireless, opening up the spectrum above 6 GHz that has been previously unusable by cellular services.
The new mobile network technology has already begun using the current architecture of LTE to support non-standalone (NSA) 5G, on the way to full standalone (SA) infrastructure that does not rely on 4G.
The radio access technology (RAT) developed for 5G by 3GPP includes two frequency ranges: FR1, which operates below 6 GHz, and FR2, which includes bands above 24 GHz and into the extremely high frequency range above 50 GHz.
3GPP has dubbed 5G’s new air interface 5G NR (New Radio). Like LTE (long term evolution), the term describes a group of technologies that enable a range of speeds and capacities. The first 5G NR specifications were part of 3GPP’s RAN Evolution of LTE documented in Release 14, begun in June 2016.
They were fast-tracked two years ago to enable non-standalone technologies to begin operating as soon as possible. This meant that major improvements in existing 4G networks, such as LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro, will support sub-6 GHz 5G, and faster, more reliable, and scalable networks will begin delivering services as soon as carriers deployed them.
How Does 5G NR Work?
5G utilizes OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing), a waveform modulation technique also used by both LTE and IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi).
The technology gives 5G enhanced flexibility for a multitude of use cases, enabling it to support diverse spectrum bands, including mmWave bands with far higher available bandwidth, through the use of specialized technologies like scalable subcarrier spacing and massive MIMO, absolutely necessary for the implementation of radio beam steering and forming to mitigate propagation challenges in mmWave communications.
The waveform principle of OFDM is a digital multi-carrier modulation method,” EDN Network reports, in which “a large number of closely spaced orthogonal sub-carrier signals are used to carry data on several parallel streams or channels.” This means that information is transmitted across a number of parallel, narrow bands instead of a single wide band
3GPP has defined three broad areas of use for 5G NR:
- Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) for intensive applications like HD streaming video, gaming, and other streaming uses.
- Ultra-reliable and low-latency communications (uRLLC) for critical applications like command and control functions in autonomous vehicles and remote control in healthcare and manufacturing services.
- Massive machine type communications (mMTC) supporting massive IoT, connecting millions of new, low-powered devices at a huge scale.
Bridging 4G LTE and 5G NR
While large-scale, commercial 5G networks are only just now beginning to go live, major telecom players have begun to make serious strides toward NR-based deployments. In February 2018, Qualcomm and Nokia completed interoperability testing for non-standalone 5G NR specifications, using Nokia’s AirScale base station and devices from Qualcomm.
Other carriers and equipment makers like Ericsson, Vodafone, and Huawei tested and launched 5G NR networks last year as well. In cities across the U.S., NSA 5G networks are being built on existing LTE infrastructure.
The accelerated transition from LTE to 5G NR has been enabled by the dual mode capability of mobile devices that connect to both LTE networks and 5G base stations, enabling the use of 4G/5G devices.
Despite its initial reliance on LTE architecture, 5G NR is not backwards-compatible and truly represents a revolutionary leap forward for cellular technology.
But thanks to the push for major advancements in LTE, which connected 15 billion IoT devices in 2015 and began delivering gigabit speeds in some limited applications in 2018, 5G NR has already begun delivering from non-standalone networks.
However, standalone 5G networks are required for the truly revolutionary service enablement power of 5G to come alive; and they are coming fast.
Earlier in April 2019, China Telecom, State Grid and Huawei announced that the group of companies concluded the first successful live power slice test based on 5G SA network. Within days, China Mobile also announced a fist-of-kind live 5G SA network test with Huawei and Baidu.
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