What is 3GPP Release 16?

What is 3GPP Release 16? When was it published? What are the key takeaways?

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- everything RF

Sep 11, 2021

On July 3, 2020 3GPP published the completed 5G NR Release 16 standard. This second 5G standard (Release 15 was the first) unlocked many new applications for 5G-NR technology outside traditional broadband services. Release 16 specifications and features enabled better 5G system performance and efficiency for the network. It also introduced new capabilities in the RAN and core that reduce network latency and support real-time applications in various sectors, such as healthcare and industrial IoT.

Release 16 introduced a variety of enhancements in the multiple areas which include Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) application layer services, 5G satellite access, Local Area Network support in 5G, wireless and wireline convergence for 5G, terminal positioning and location, communications in vertical domains and network automation and novel radio techniques. This new release was developed to make 5G a multi-trillion-dollar contributor to the world economy over the next few years.

Major Improvements of Release 16. Source: Samsung

The 3GPP Release 16 introduces multiple updates that include:

  1. Additional Frequency Spectrum
  2. Massive MIMO Enhancements
  3. Enhanced ultra-reliable, low-latency communication (eURLLC)
  4. Network Slicing
  5. Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB)
  6. Power-Saving Features
  7. Time Sensitive Networking (TSN)
  8. Cellular-Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X)

Additional Frequency Spectrum

5G was introduced with the aim of utilizing high-frequency waves to provide greater bandwidth and low latency. In Release 16, 3GPP further expanded the 5G NR frequency spectrum with bands starting from under 1 GHz and going all the way up to 43 GHz. 3GPP is further exploring the possibility of using even higher frequencies and intends to add support for more frequency bands in the mmWave range, including 57-66 GHz and 66-72 GHz, in Release 17.

Click here for complete 5GNR frequency bands in Release 16.

Massive MIMO Enhancements

3GPP has been constantly working to improve MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) performance and efficiency and Release 16 follows the trend. Release 16 improves on multiple technical areas, which includes enhancing multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) to support higher ranks and support multiple transmission and reception points (multi-TRP). It also allows for better multi-beam management to improve link reliability which is critical for millimeter-wave bands and improving reference signals to reduce peak-to-average power ratio (PAPR). Release 16 also supports full-power uplink to improve coverage at the cell edge for all MIMO capable devices.

Enhanced ultra-reliable, low-latency communication (eURLLC)

Release 16 introduced enhancements to the 5G eURLLC to deliver better reliability along with reducing the latency as much as possible. It extended 5G NR capabilities to reduce latency between the user device and the radio to near 1 ms. The goal of this new Release was to achieve stable and consistent transmissions without errors. Reliability and latency go hand-in-hand, as increase in errors will result in increased latency as additional transmissions would be required to fix the errors.

Click here to learn why low latency is important for 5G.

Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB)

Release 16 introduced a new method to implement network backhaul which makes it easier and faster to deploy mmWave 5G-NR networks and enhance coverage. Unlike traditional cellular base stations that use fiber optics for backhaul connectivity, Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB) enables base stations to provide wireless access for backhaul connectivity. IAB eliminates the need for wired backhaul which significantly reduces the time required to deploy 5G networks as operators do not have lay optical fiber when deploying networks.

Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB). Image Credit: Samsung

Power Saving Features

Release 16 introduced new power saving features to increase the battery life of battery-operated devices. For instance, a new wakeup signal (WUS) can let the device know if a transmission is pending or allowing it to stay in low-power mode, skipping the next low-power DRX (discontinuous reception) monitoring period. Other additions include optimized low-power settings, overhead reduction, and more efficient power control mechanisms.

Release 16 - Power Saving Techniques. Image Credit: Qualcomm

Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN)

5G aims to be more than just a traditional mobile broadband service, it has been designed to be utilized in various sectors including Industrial IoT (Industry 4.0). Keeping this mind, Release 16 adds support for TSN integration for time-deterministic delivery data packets.

Cellular-Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X)

The Release 16 adds support for C-V2X which will allow advanced safety features to be implemented and become a solution for autonomous driving in the future. Vehicles moving at high speeds require real-time information from their surroundings and the Release 16 standard has accounted for this by developing features specifically for C-V2X.

What Lies Ahead?

5G is still relatively new in the market and it is almost certain that further enhancement will be made over time. The 3GPP is now working on Release 17 which is expected to be complete sometime in 2022.

Timeline of 5G Releases. Source: 3GPP

Release 17 will see more/higher frequency mmWave bands being introduced for 5G deployment. In addition, further enhancements to MIMO, IAB, and unlicensed access are expected along with optimizations to the RAN and core to support use cases for low-data IoT, high-density “wearables” and a number of other applications.