August 8, 2020
The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is the industry group that establishes the standards for cellular networks. The 3GPP finalized Release 16 on July 3.
While earlier releases focused on the core of 5G as a generation of cellular service, Release 16 lays the groundwork for new services that have never been addressed by cellular before.
Release 16 has introduced a lot of new areas for 5G service, but very few of these areas are finished.
One of the flashiest things in Release 16 is V2X, short for “Vehicle to Everything.” In other words, using 5G for cars to communicate with each other and everything else around them.
Release 16 also introduces a new technique called sidelinking. Sidelinks will allow 5G-connected vehicles to communicate directly with one another, rather than going through a cell-tower intermediary.
Sidelinking can theoretically apply to any two devices that might need to communicate directly rather than go through a base station first. Factory robots are one example, or large-scale Internet of Things installations.
Release 16 also includes information on location services. In past generations of cellular, three cell towers were required to triangulate where a phone was by measuring the round-trip distance of a signal from each tower. But 5G networks will be able to use the round-trip time from a single tower to locate a device.
That’s because massive MIMO and beamforming allow 5G towers to send precise signals directly to devices, and so the network can measure the direction and angle of a beam, along with its distance from the tower, to locate it.
5G incorporates millimeter waves, which are higher frequency radio waves (30 to 300 GHz) that don’t travel nearly as far as traditional cell signals. Millimeter waves means it will be possible to build a network just for an office building, factory, or stadium. At those scales, 5G could function essentially like Wi-Fi networks.
Unlicensed spectrum could be key for private networks as, just like Wi-Fi, the networks could use that spectrum without having to go through the rigorous process of licensing a frequency band which may or may not be available.