3GPP Release 16 is here

By Dudy Cohen 5 min read


3GPP Release 16 (Rel-16) was finalized last week. While current Release 15-based deployments focus on broadband applications, Rel-16 brings improvements to 5G implementations (e.g. better spectrum utilization, power savings and self-organizing networks). Rel-16 also enables new use cases, including NR-based vehicle-to-everything (V2X), industrial internet of things (IIoT), unlicensed spectrum, mission-critical applications and more.



5G just got closer. But isn’t 5G is already here, with networks that provide 5G services? The Ookla 5G map doesn’t lie, does it?

Well, it really depends on what you consider as 5G. As discussed in previous posts, 5G has multiple layers of use cases, service offerings and target markets.

What we have seen so far are mostly services that address the need for more capacity, both at home and on the go. These enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) services were based on the first phase of 5G, standardized within 3GPP Release 15.

Release 15 did touch upon areas that have to do with the other (more exciting?) use cases of 5G, such as ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) and massive machine-type communications (mMTC). But Rel-15 did not cover the full aspects of those use cases, nor did it finalize the 5G core (5GC). 5GC is essential for the move from non-standalone (NSA) architecture to standalone (SA) architecture, in which, for instance, end-to-end network slicing is available.

So last week, 5G indeed got closer with the functional freeze of 3GPP Release 16.

And Release 16 got us much closer to the full vision of 5G, with two main achievements:

  1. Enhanced efficiency of 5G implementation – this comes from standardization and support of power optimization, spectrum optimization (e.g. additional MIMO profiles) and self-organizing networks (SONs)
  2. Enhanced functionality enabling additional use cases and, more importantly, new target markets – this means that 5G is relevant now to more organizations (not only to mobile operators), and that it enables mobile operators and other service providers to expand their customer base and create new revenue streams

New use cases supported by 3GPP Rel-16 include:

  • C-V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything) – “sidelink” (a short name for 3GPP Release 16 NR C‑V2X direct communication mode) allows direct connections between vehicles and anything (e.g. vehicles, pedestrians and infrastructure) to support autonomous driving
  • Factory automation use cases for industrial internet of things (IIoT)
  • Utilizing license-exempt spectrum for 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum (NR-U) implementations, which is extremely important for private 5G implementations
  • Critical infrastructure use cases – specifically enhanced capabilities with regards to Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS), which aims to replace GSM-R, the 2G-based MOTS (modified off the shelf) variant - GSM-R, with a 3-generations newer architecture to answer railway’s requirements for modern command, control, infotainment and monetization

So yes, 5G IS here. And, yes, 5G just got closer.

Yet there is more to do until 5G technology can be considered completed. The next step is the 3GPP Release 17, which is expected next year.

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