The 5G system based on 3GPP Release 15, comprising 5G core and 5G radio (or New Radio [NR]) with 5G User Equipment (UE), is currently being commercially deployed throughout the world at both sub-6 GHz and mmWave frequency bands. Concurrently, the second (Release 16) and third (Release 17) phases of 5G are being developed in 3GPP. With 5G Release 16 nearing completion, and Rel-17 commencing development, this paper traces the main themes of these releases of 5G and provides an executive overview of the most important features being introduced.
The 5G system is being developed and enhanced to provide unparalleled connectivity and functionality for everyone and everything, everywhere. The second phase of 5G is being finalized in 3GPP, with the Rel-16 version of the specifications being frozen around the middle of 2020. The 3GPP Plenary meetings in December 2019 decided the work program for the set of features to be included in Rel-17, which is scheduled for completion 15 months after Rel-16.
Releases 16 and 17 together contain tens of features. For brevity and clarity, we focus here only on the key features we have identified, which we have categorized into four main themes:
1. Industrial IoT
2. Other verticals
3. Network deployment and automation
4. Device enhancement
It is important to recognize that Rel-16 and 17 are not just about incremental improvements to the performance of Rel-15. Rel-15 already provides outstanding performance in KPIs like data rate, spectral efficiency and latency. Rather, Rel-16 and 17 are primarily about expanding the ecosystem that can take advantage of 5G, by adding features to provide the full range of functionality required by new industry segments, as well as making 5G networks easier to deploy and optimize.
An extended list of features in Rel-16 and 17 is given in the Annex for reference. It should not be forgotten that aspects such as security and network/service management are also integral to the whole 5G system design, even though they are not explicitly highlighted in this paper.
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