Tech Talk: Lisbon, Portugal 3GPP Plenary Meetings Recap

January 17, 2018
The First Responder Network Authority represented public safety interests at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Plenary meetings held in Lisbon, Portugal last month. (Photo courtesy of 3GPP)
The First Responder Network Authority represented public safety interests at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Plenary meetings held in Lisbon, Portugal last month. (Photo courtesy of 3GPP)
By Dean Prochaska, Director of Standards, First Responder Network Authority

This blog post is part of the "Tech Talk" series focused on FirstNet’s standards development activities to support the public safety community needs.  This post recaps discussions related to public safety and other related topics from the 3GPP Plenary meetings that were conducted December 18-22, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. 

It wasn’t long ago that we provided you an update on the September Plenary meetings from Japan.  In our effort to continue keeping you updated on Standards activities impacting Public Safety, this blog discusses the latest developments from the 3GPP Plenary meetings held in Lisbon, Portugal last month.  These quarterly meetings addressed standards in several areas relevant to the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), and they consisted of three separate plenary group meetings: 

The Radio Access Network (RAN) Plenary— From my perspective, the biggest news from the Lisbon meetings came from the RAN Plenary dealing with the next generation 5G technology standards development. Before I explain it further, let me start this section with an overview of acronyms and definitions.

What is 5G?

5G (also referred to as ITU IMT-2020) is the next generation of mobile wireless technology that offers a user experience similar to fixed networks with capabilities such as:

  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) including higher speeds and other enhancements to deal with increased data volumes and user density,
  • Massive Machine-type Communications (MTC) for the Internet of Things (IoT), requiring low power consumption and low data rates for very large numbers of connected devices, and
  • Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC) primarily for safety-critical and mission critical applications.

The previous project plan for 5G New Radio (5G NR) supported standards-compliant 5G NR deployment to begin around 2020. To support the aggressive early deployments of 5G by major global operators in 2019, 3GPP defined two stages of 5G introduction: “Non-Standalone and “Standalone.”

  • Non-Standalone 5G NR will utilize the existing LTE core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while 5G NR channels are used to increase data rates and take advantage of the reduced latency defined in the specifications. This is the configuration that will be the target of early 2019 deployments (in 3GPP terminology, this is called Non-Standalone 5G NR deployment, scenario Option 3).
  • Standalone specification is planned to be completed around the June 2018 time-frame. It will enable standalone 5G NR with user and control plane using the 5G next-generation core network (5G NGC) which is also being defined in 3GPP.

During the RAN plenary meetings, more than 350 global registrants worked tirelessly on all outstanding work items to ensure that the two previously committed major milestone dates were met: December 2017 for phase one Non-Standalone and June 2018 for phase two Standalone. At the end of the meeting, the delegates’ hard work paid off with completing the specifications for Non-Standalone 5G NR. This immediately resulted in marketing messages from major technology companies and operators worldwide stating their intent to accelerate 5G trials and deployments.

Other related accomplishments during the Lisbon RAN plenary included the reassurance that the phase two Standalone 5G NR will be completed by June 2018.

While 5G NR is developing fast, one needs to keep in mind that equal, if not more, resources are being spent on further enhancing LTE and its features.  Also, it is important to note that LTE is going to stay for a long period of time. As new features are developed for 5G, there will be equal efforts expended to support these new features on LTE for some time to come.

The Core Network and Terminals (CT) Plenary – The CT Plenary meeting included almost 150 global registrants.  The meeting focused on the good progress of 5G CT specifications, and several items related to public safety were also discussed.  The remaining Stage 3 work for Release 14 on MCPTT, MCVideo, and MCData was completed and each specification set was considered 100% complete. Work on Release 15 is in progress including Interworking to legacy Land Mobile Radio (LMR) and continued additions to MCPTT, MCVideo, and MCData.  CT has challenging schedules and resource constraints to complete 5G, so we plan to work closely with our Standards counterparts to ensure progress continues in parallel on public safety work.

The Service and System Aspects (SA) Plenary—With over 200 global registrants, the SA Plenary meeting celebrated the completion of Stage 2 of 5G, and also officially approved several public safety items.  At the last plenary meeting, much of the discussion focused on re-naming the current Mission Critical specifications to remove the limiting "over LTE" wording so existing specifications can be reused for 5G and future "Gs".  Renaming of Stage 1 Mission Critical specifications was completed and approved at this meeting.  Other 3GPP committees are now busy evaluating their Mission Critical specifications to generalize their titles, make technical changes where required, and modify other language as needed within the specifications themselves.

The SA plenary committee also reviewed the progress on the normative Stage 2 (architecture development) technical specification describing the architecture for Interworking between MCPTT and legacy LMR systems.  This specification was scheduled to be completed and approved at this meeting.  However, even though enormous progress was made with the specification at almost 90% complete, an exception to continue the work for a few more months was requested and approved.  Delegates are optimistic that enough work has been completed to allow Stage 3 (protocol development) work to begin and that all stages of the suite of LMR Interworking specifications will be finished by the original target date of June 2018.       

Additionally, the committee reviewed normative Stage 2 work on Railway Communication and Common API Framework and approved their final specifications. The Railway Communication work leverages the Mission Critical Services specifications and will add to the economy of scale when deploying public safety features.  Work on Railway Communications will continue into Release 16, as well as continued additions and enhancements to MCPTT, MCVideo, MCData, and LMR Interworking features.

During the SA Plenary, the newly defined requirements for 5G Unified Access Control (UAC) framework were accepted. 5G UAC Framework complements the legacy LTE Access Classes that provide the capability to allow high priority (e.g. Public Safety) traffic while barring lower priority traffic in case of network congestion. Additionally, it also provides flexibility for traffic barring based on users as well as access types (i.e. Service). It is to be noted that the 5G UAC Framework is backwards compatible with LTE by maintaining the priority access classes 11 through 15.

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