5G is the next generation of wireless technology that is evolving in the global market. 5G networks are already available in some parts of the world, while others are still waiting to get connected with this latest technology. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has released different 5G network types during its evolution stages. Release 15 of 3GPP offers several features which make it a better option for future applications. In this article, we will be discussing all 5G network variants based on several factors including their dependency on the 4th Generation Network.
5G is the fifth generation of wireless communication standards and it has been developed to offer better internet connectivity for not just a phone but to a whole lot of things. 5G offers much higher speed and enhanced services over 4G, find the differences between 5G Vs 4G. The first phase of 5G network deployment will be focused on urban areas, and then it will expand towards rural areas.
There are two types of 5G networks based on the architecture and its dependency over the 4G network. They are Non-standalone and Standalone 5G.
NSA, SA 5G
Non-Standalone (NSA) is a 5G Architecture where the 5G NR connects to the 4G core along with the 4G radio network. NSA puts a 5G radio network on the existing 4G network, without adding the next-generation core (5GC/NGC). That means, NSA is fully dependent on the 4G network and also helps telco to immediately roll out 5G and attain maximum speeds like most people are demanding. Here LTE is used as an anchor to carry control signals and mobility management. NSA is a transitioning architecture where all of the networks shall ultimately move to a Standalone one.
Whereas Standalone (SA) has no dependency over the 4G network and the 5G RAN is connected to the 5G core, thereby providing a full-fledged 5G architecture and services. You can get all the 5G network functionalities and features like network slicing and more with SA 5G.
In terms of operating spectrum band, the 5G network has three different kinds: low band, mid-band, and mmWave 5G.
Low-band, mid-band, mmWave 5G
Based on the spectrum band used for 5G NR base stations, the 5G network has three types. The low band 5G aka Sub GHz band is used to cover a very large area and is most suited for rural regions. The spectrum used in this low band ranges from as low as 400MHz to 900MHz. Though it has a low throughput (due to the lower bandwidth availability), it helps the telco to attain nationwide coverage.
The mid-band 5G aka sub 6GHz band is preferred for metropolitan and built-up areas with throughput higher than low-band 5G. But the coverage of mid-band 5G is lower than that of the low band. Telcos might find this band optimum in terms of providing better speed, in areas not that far from the base stations. The spectrum used in this band ranges from above GHz to below 6GHz. The most popular 5G bands lie in this tier.
Ultimately, there is a mmWave 5G, which operates in a spectrum above 26GHz. Due to the availability of higher bandwidth, mmWave 5G offers gigantic data speeds but the coverage is very limited. The high-frequency propagation characteristics restrict the 5G signal to the proximity of the tower.
3GPP releases of 5G
3GPP (Third generation partnership project) has developed Release 15 to be the first 5G standard, with the introduction of NR and enhancements to LTE and EPC. 5G phase 1 included NSA architecture and services like massive machine type communication/IoT, mission-critical interworking with legacy systems, unlicensed spectrum usage, and more.
Then Release 16 came out as a major update with enhancements to NR URLCC, NBIoT, Aggregation, UE power savings, NR positioning, etc. The 5G phase 2 also had progressed on 5G satellite access, local area network support, network slicing improvement, fixed-mobile convergence, and more.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a tremendous impact on the standardization process and delayed the development, enhancement. Though they are working on Release 17 to be frozen on time for the evolution to 5G advanced, Release 18 package is already approved.
With Release 16, now Industries and factories can build a 5G network on their premises to automate their assembly line based on their requirement for low latency. The network can be owned by either a telecom operator or the enterprise and also can be based on license spectrum or unlicensed. 3GPP calls it Non-public (NPN) 5G. The functionalities of an NPN aka private 5G network are:
- Independent network, managed by enterpirse itself and the data stored in its own premise.
- User and network control managed by MNO, with a SLA defined by the enterprise.
- Shared for licensed spectrum or unlicensed spectrum to be used in the private premises.
- Network slice requirement to meet for the enterprise, that is separated from other networks.
It is due to this private 5G network together with 5G LAN type services, Industry 4.0 is attainable.
5Gi, the Indian 5G variant developed by TSDSI is suited for large coverage with a lower spectrum band. The 5Gi has been approved by ITU for IMT 2020 fulfillment. 5Gi works on the concept of Low mobility large cell, where each cell transmits signals to meet higher coverage. This has a profound impact on countries where the small coverage cannot fulfill the requirements and address the huge investments for a nationwide 5G network. This shall provide 5G service in the low band to address the coverage issues, where the other bands like mmWave technology are not feasible due to the worst propagation characteristics.
Currently, there are debates whether the 5Gi will delay the wide adoption of 5G in the country and make it expensive, as it goes against the economies of scale principle.
So, these are a few different variants of the 5G network and 3GPP releases. The following is an overview of what you can expect from each type. Which 5G variant do you have in your country? What release does it support? Please put your comment down below.