On the eve of the 2017 Mobile World Congress, 22 mobile communications companies announced collective support for accelerating the 5G new radio (NR) standardization schedule to enable large-scale trials and deployments as early as 2019. The firms are supporting a proposal for the first phase of the 5G NR specification, to be discussed at the next 3GPP RAN plenary meeting, scheduled for March 6-9 in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The companies comprising the consortium are AT&T, British Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Etisalat Group, Huawei, Intel, KDDI, Korea Telecom, LG Electronics, LG Uplus, NTT DOCOMO, Qualcomm Technologies, SK Telecom, Sprint, Swisscom, Telia Company, Telstra, TIM, Vivo, Vodafone and ZTE.

The first 3GPP 5G NR specification will be part of Release 15, the global 5G standard that will use both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave spectrum. Based on the current 3GPP Release 15 timeline, the earliest 5G NR deployments based on standard-compliant 5G NR infrastructure and devices will likely be in 2020.

The companies propose an intermediate milestone for completing the specification for a configuration called “non-standalone 5G NR,” which would enable large-scale trials and deployments starting in 2019. The non-standalone 5G NR specification will use the existing LTE radio and evolved packet core network for mobility management and coverage and add a new 5G radio access carrier to enable certain 5G use cases starting in 2019.

The new proposal and intermediate milestone re-affirm the schedule for the complete standard, including the standalone 5G NR in Release 15.

The companies state they are committed to make forward compatibility a key design principle for the standardization of the first release of 5G NR. This will enable in-band introduction of new capabilities and features in subsequent releases, which will allow unidentified industries and use cases and support the 5G vision to connect everything to everything. According to the companies, the non-standalone 5G NR proposal is consistent with 3GPP’s commitment to a flexible evolution and interworking of the radio access network towards 5G NR and the evolution of the core network towards 5G.