New 3GPP Standard Adds Support for 5G New Radio (NR) in Unlicensed Spectrum and Expands 5G NR Use Cases

By Asimakis Kokkos

The telecom industry has rallied behind 5G and its promise of 10x faster speeds (10Gbps peak data rates, 100Mbps whenever needed), 10x quicker response times (less than 1ms latency) and ultra-reliability. This July, 3GPP completed its Release 16 specification, marking a significant milestone in expanding 5G capabilities, deployments and use cases. 3GPP Release 16 expands the 5G New Radio (NR) framework set in Release 15, and it caters to a wider range of industries in addition to mobile broadband, with enhanced vertical focuses including public safety, automotive and industrial communications.

Significantly, Release 16 adds support for 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum, both licensed assisted and standalone modes, referred to as 5G NR-U. The expansion of 5G NR to unlicensed spectrum paves the way for future proliferation and adoption of 5G technology; specifically, standalone NR-U enables 5G to be deployed via small cell deployments and operated by any vertical end user without requiring licensed spectrum. This update will allow 5G New Radio technology to leverage the 5 GHz global band as well as the 6 GHz band, significantly increasing the spectrum reach of 5G. In addition to adding support for 5G NR-U, Release 16 addresses industrial IoT use cases particularly through the inclusion of enhanced ultra-reliable low-latency (eURLLC) features that are required for successful and efficient IoT deployments. These are both low-power wide-area technologies intended to increase capacity and coverage, which are needed for IoT deployment scenarios.

MFA (MulteFire Alliance) has based MulteFire technology on proven 3GPP standards, building on Releases 13 and 14. It is in active support of 3GPP 5G NR-U standalone standardization specified in Release 16, with overlapping members actively contributing to the technology’s development. With these efforts, MFA aims to significantly lower the hurdles for enterprises and industry verticals to deploy their own private 5G networks and enable them to take advantage of the cost benefits of unlicensed spectrum. As 5G technology propels forward, MFA is eager to promote and support 3GPP 5G NR-U standardization and enhance this technology to bring 5G performance benefits to industrial IoT.