Sunday, 26 January 2020

NTT Docomo's Vision on 5G Evolution and 6G

NTT Docomo released a whitepaper on 5G Evolution and 6G. In a press release they announced:

NTT DOCOMO has released a white paper on the topic of 6G, the sixth-generation mobile communications system that the company aims to launch on a commercial basis by 2030. It incorporates DOCOMO's views in the field of 5G evolution and 6G communications technology, areas that the company has been researching since 2018. The white paper summarizes the related technical concepts and the expected diverse use cases of evolving 5G and new 6G communication technologies, as well as the technology components and performance targets.

Mobile communication systems typically evolve into the next generation over a period of roughly ten years; DOCOMO commenced its research into the commercial launch of 5G in 2010. In 2018, the company conducted successful radio wave propagation experiments at frequencies of up to 150 GHz, levels which are expected to enable the much faster and larger-capacity communications that 6G will require.

DOCOMO will continue to enhance the ultra-high-speed, large-capacity, ultra-reliable, low-latency and massive device-connectivity capabilities of 5G technology. It will continue its research into and development of 5G evolution and 6G technology, aiming to realize technological advances including:

  • the achievement of a combination of advances in connectivity, including ultra-high speed, large capacity and low latency
  • the pioneering of new frequency bands, including terahertz frequencies
  • the expansion of communication coverage in the sky, at sea and in space
  • the provision of ultra-low-energy and ultra-low-cost communications
  • the ensuring of highly reliable communications
  • the capability of massive device-connectivity and sensing

Visitors to DOCOMO Open House 2020 will be able to view conceptual displays incorporating DOCOMO's vision of the evolution of 5G technologies into 6G. The event will take place in the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition complex in Tokyo on January 23 and 24. DOCOMO also plans to hold a panel session entitled "5G Evolution and 6G" on January 24.

Videos from Docomo Open House are embedded below, along with a previous talk by Takehiro Nakamura from 6G Summit.

6G has become a hot topic, especially after China announced back in November that they are working on 6G. We have some interesting tweets on 6G as well.

This one from Stefan Pongratz, Dell'Oro group shows the timeline for 5G, Pre-6G and 6G

This one provides a timeline all the way from Release 99 up till 21

Finally, here is a tweet highlighting the 6G research

Finally, the paper acknowledges the 5G challenges and focus areas for 5G evolution, before focusing on 6G.
The mmWave coverage and mobility needs improvement, while the downlink is able to provide very high data rates, the uplink is struggling to be better than 4G. Also, there are some very extreme requirements for industrial use cases, 5G has yet to prove that it can meet them.

Finally, here is another view from iDate Digiworld comparing 5G vs 6G in terms of performance, spectrum and network.

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Tuesday, 21 January 2020

How MOCN RAN-Sharing Works

Shared RAN deployment scenarios are an excellent opportunity for mobile network operators to lower their investments on both, network hardware and operational costs by sharing resources.

The MORAN approach where each operator continues to have its dedicated spectrum (= radio network cells) is easy to understand.

However, the Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN) is a bit more complex, especially if one of the involved operators asks for service assurance KPIs that apply to its - and only its - subscribers. In this case it is a prerequisite to find out which "call" belongs to which core network operator to enable further KPI correlation and aggregation.

The figure below illustrates how this works:

(click on picture for larger version)

In the System Information Block (SIB) 1 of the cell a list of PLMN-IDs is broadcasted followed by a single Tracking Area Code (which can be combined each of the PLMN-IDs to get multiple TAIs) and a single Cell Identity.

Encoding is specified in 3GPP 36.331 (RRC) as follows:

SystemInformationBlockType1 ::=     SEQUENCE {
    cellAccessRelatedInfo              SEQUENCE {
       plmn-IdentityList                 PLMN-IdentityList,
       trackingAreaCode                  TrackingAreaCode,
       cellIdentity                      CellIdentity,

The spec further defines that the ECGI is the CellIdentiy combined with the first (!!!) PLMN-ID from the PLMN-ID List:

CellGlobalIdEUTRA field descriptions
Identity of the cell within the context of the PLMN.
Identifies the PLMN of the cell as given by the first PLMN entry in the plmn-IdentityList in SystemInformationBlockType1.

So there is one and only 1 ECGI per radio cell in the network, but multiple PLMN-IDs and hence, multiple TAI, one fore each core network operator, are broadcasted.

During RRC establishement a particular UE signals on behalf on the selected PLMN-ID information element in the RRC Connection Setup Complete message to which core network operator shall be used.

This information is "translated" by the eNB into ECGI and TAI with different PLMN-IDs. While the ECGI displays the PLMN-ID of the operator that owns the RAN equipment the TAI shows the selected PLMN-ID of the UE's core network operator. 

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Sunday, 19 January 2020

2-step RACH Enhancement for 5G New Radio (NR)

5G Americas recently published a white paper titled, "The 5G Evolution: 3GPP Releases 16-17" highlighting new features in 5G that will define the next phase of 5G network deployments across the globe. It's available here. One of the sections in that details the 2-step RACH enhancement that is being discussed for a while in 3GPP. The 2-step process would supercede the 4-step process today and would reduce the lartency and optimise the signalling.

Here are the details from the 5G Americas whitepaper:

RACH stands for Random Access Channel, which is the first message from UE to eNB when it is powered on. In terms of Radio Access Network implementation, handling RACH design can be one of the most important / critical portions.
The contention-based random-access procedure from Release 15 is a four-step procedure, as shown in Figure 3.12. The UE transmits a contention-based PRACH preamble, also known as Msg1. After detecting the preamble, the gNB responds with a random-access response (RAR), also known as Msg2. The RAR includes the detected preamble ID, a time-advance command, a temporary C-RNTI (TC-RNTI), and an uplink grant for scheduling a PUSCH transmission from the UE known as Msg3. The UE transmits Msg3 in response to the RAR including an ID for contention resolution. Upon receiving Msg3, the network transmits the contention resolution message, also known as Msg4, with the contention resolution ID. The UE receives Msg4, and if it finds its contention-resolution ID it sends an acknowledgement on a PUCCH, which completes the 4-step random access procedure.

The four-step random-access procedure requires two round-trip cycles between the UE and the base station, which not only increases the latency but also incurs additional control-signaling overhead. The motivation of two-step RACH is to reduce latency and control-signaling overhead by having a single round trip cycle between the UE and the base station. This is achieved by combining the preamble (Msg1) and the scheduled PUSCH transmission (Msg3) into a single message (MsgA) from the UE, known as MsgA. Then by combining the random-access respond (Msg2) and the contention resolution message (Msg4) into a single message (MsgB) from the gNB to UE, see Figure 3.13. Furthermore, for unlicensed spectrum, reducing the number of messages transmitted from the UE and the gNB, reduces the number of LBT (Listen Before Talk) attempts.

Design targets for two-step RACH:

  • A common design for the three main uses of 5G, i.e. eMBB, URLLC and mMTC in licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
  • Operation in any cell size supported in Release 15, and with or without a valid uplink time alignment (TA).
  • Applicable to different RRC states, i.e. RRC_INACTIVE, RRC_CONNECTED and RRC_IDLE states.
  • All triggers for four-step RACH apply to two-step RACH including, Msg3-based SI request and contention-based beam failure recovery (CB BFR).

As described earlier, MsgA consists of a PRACH preamble and a PUSCH transmission, known as MsgA PRACH and MsgA PUSCH respectively. The MsgA PRACH preambles are separate from the four-step RACH preambles, but can be transmitted in the same PRACH Occasions (ROs) as the preambles of fourstep RACH, or in separate ROs. The PUSCH transmissions are organized into PUSCH Occasions (POs) which span multiple symbols and PRBs with optional guard periods and guard bands between consecutive POs. Each PO consists of multiple DMRS ports and DMRS sequences, with each DMRS port/DMRS sequence pair known as PUSCH resource unit (PRU). two-step RACH supports at least one-to-one and multiple-to-one mapping between the preambles and PRUs.

After the UE transmits MsgA, it waits for the MsgB response from the gNB. There are three possible outcomes:

  1. gNB doesn’t detect the MsgA PRACH ➡ No response is sent back to the UE ➡ The UE retransmits MsgA or falls back to four-step RACH starting with a Msg1 transmission.
  2. gNB detects MsgA preamble but fails to successful decode MsgA PUSCH ➡ gNB sends back a fallbackRAR to the UE with the RAPID (random-access preamble ID) and an uplink grant for the MsgA PUSCH retransmission ➡ The UE upon receiving the fallbackRAR, falls back to four-step RACH with a transmission of Msg3 (retransmission of the MsgA PUSCH).
  3. gNB detects MsgA and successfully decodes MsgA PUSCH ➡ gNB sends back a successRAR to the UE with the contention resolution ID of MsgA ➡ The reception of the successRAR successfully completes the two-step RACH procedure.

As described earlier, MsgB consists of the random-access response and the contention-resolution message. The random-access response is sent when the gNB detects a preamble but cannot successfully decode the corresponding PUSCH transmission. The contention resolution message is sent after the gNB successfully decodes the PUSCH transmission. MsgB can contain backoff indication, fallbackRAR and/or successRAR. A single MsgB can contain the successRAR of one or more UEs. The fallbackRAR consists of the RAPID: an uplink grant to retransmit the MsgA PUSCH payload and time-advance command. The successRAR consists of at least the contention resolution ID, the C-RNTI and the TA command.

For more details on this feature, see 3GPP RP-190711, “2-step RACH for NR” (Work-item description)

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

EN-DC SRB3 Demystified

3GPP 37.340 says that it is up the secondary node to establish "SRB3", but what exactly does this mean and how is it done?

Simple answer: The establishment of a signaling radio bearer (SRB) 3 in EN-DC mode means that RRC Measurement Reports for NR quality can be sent directly to the SgNB. This enables the 5G node to make intra-SgNB handover decisions and start the handover execution without involving the master eNodeB of the connection.

To prevent confusion the figure below shows a simplified scenario in which the Complete/Acknowledgement messages are not mentioned although they will be seen in the message flow.

A prerequisite is the successful addition of 5G radio resources as described in an earlier blog post. After this is completed the UE in the example transmits user plane information over the NR cell with the physical cell ID (PCI) = 12. In the transport network this cell is identified by NR CGI = xxxx52 (where „xxxx“ stands for a valid PLMN-ID and gNodeB-ID).

In the figure below the SgNB sends a X2AP SgNB Modification Required message that carries an embedded NR RRC cG-Config message. This cG-Config message is transparently forwarded by the MeNB to the UE. When arriving at the UE it activates CSI reference signal measurements on the 5G frequency including the serving 5G cell as well as its neighbors. It shall be noticed that here the concept of the Special Cell (SpCell) applies as it was defined for LTE-A CoMP scenarios. 

Instead of the X2AP SgNB Modification Required message the information for activating the CSI reference signal measurements can alternatively transported using the X2AP SgNB Addition Request Acknowledge or X2AP SgNB Change Required message.

In step 2 the UE sends a NR RRC (3GPP 38.331) Measurement Report that indicates a stronger 5G cell (the neighbor cell with PCI = 11) was measured. It might be a vendor-specific implementation to send this NR RRC Measurement Report simultaneously over uplink channels of the LTE radio link where it is carried by the LTE RRC Uplink Information Transfer MRDC (Multi-RAT Dual Connectivity) as well as over NR radio links where it is forwarded by the SgNB to the MeNB embedded in a X2AP RRC Transfer message.

Indeed, it is the SgNB that makes the handover decision, but since the MeNB is in charge of the signaling connection the handover command (here: another NR RRC cG-Config message that orders to switch the 5G radio link to the cell with PCI = 11) must be transmitted to the MeNB by using another X2AP SgNB Modification Required message.

After the UE received the NR CC cG-Config message sent by the SgNB the HO is executed and the 5G cell with PCI = 11 becomes the new primary secondary cell of the EN-DC connection.

Figure: Measurement Configuration, Reporting and Execution for intra-SgNB  Handover 

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Free 5G Training

Many readers of this blog would be aware that I run 5G 'An Advanced Introduction to 5G Technology' training course for Cambridge Wireless at regular intervals. The next one is on 10th March 2020, in Cambridge. In fact I am also running a 'Introduction to Private 4G & 5G Networks' workshop on 4th Feb 2020 in London.

Many people ask me if they I have an online course available. While I haven't, I have quite a few videos on 3G4G YouTube channel and also have a 3G4G training page. People (mainly students or newbies) still ask me what sequence of videos they should go through, etc. So to make everyone's life simple, I created 2 YouTube playlists. Both are embedded below for ease.

Part 1. This is for people who know basic telecommunications theory and don't know much about mobile technology in general

Part 2. This is for people who understand 2G/3G/4G basics and want to learn about 5G.

I will add/remove/update videos when we add new videos on our channel. Feel free to skip videos if you already know a topic. There is quite a lot of other information on the 3G4G YouTube channel if you want to explore more

Where do you go after you have watched these videos? Go to the 3GPP homepage and start looking at specifications, news, etc. You can also start looking at the specifications on 3G4G page here.

Hopefully this is a good starting point.


Monday, 23 December 2019

Top 10 posts for 2019

As one would guess, 2019 was dominated by 5G and so was this blog. Surprisingly the most popular post was on Open RAN. Most likely because many people did not understand what the term meant.

People still continue to ask us when we will be changing the 3G4G name. We will change it when 3GPP (whose name is derived from 3G) and/or GSMA (whose name is derived from 2G/GSM) change their name. In short, never!

Here are the posts, from most popular to the tenth most popular, in descending order of popularity

1. A quick tutorial on Open RAN, vRAN & White Box RAN - Feb 2019

2. Displaying 5G Network Status Icon on Smartphones and Other Devices - Feb 2019

3. Prof. Andy Sutton: 5G Radio Access Network Architecture Evolution - Jan 2019

4. Theoretical Throughput Calculation of FDD 5G New Radio (NR) - Feb 2019

5. New 3GPP Release-17 Study Item on NR-Lite (a.k.a. NR-Light) - Aug 2019

6. Slides and Videos from the 1st 6G Wireless Summit - Apr 2019

7. Examples of 5G Use Cases & Applications - May 2019

8. Updated 5G Terminology Presentation - Mar 2019

9. 3GPP 5G Standardization Update post RAN#84 - July 2019

10. Exploiting Possible 5G Vulnerabilities - Oct 2019

Finally, a post from 2018 that continued to perform brilliantly this year

11. 5G Network Architecture Options (Updated) - Oct 2018

If you had a favorite post, let us know which one.

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Monday, 16 December 2019

5G Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB) Enhancements in Rel-17

It's been a while since I last wrote about IAB on this blog here. At that time 3GPP Release-16 was being discussed. Since then things have moved on. While Release-16 is being prepared for final release soon, Release-17 study and work items have just been agreed upon.

IAB is included as part of Rel-16 but there isn't a comprehensive document or presentation easily available to details all that it will contain. Similarly the enhancements for Release-17 are available only superficially. Qualcomm is well known for making some really excellent presentations available on 5G. One of their presentations from January (here) has some details on IAB (pg. 32 - 35). There was also an excellent presentation by Navid Abedini, Qualcomm from IEEE Sarnoff Symposium, 2019 which is embedded at the end.

In a 3GPP RAN#84 discussion document RP-191181, Samsung has provided a comprehensive summary of what is being done as part of Rel-16 and what did not make in that:
  • Rel-16 IAB aims at basic operations
    • Architecture and protocol design
    • IAB integration procedure 
    • Routing, BAP and BH configuration
    • CP and UP data transmission  via IAB
    • Topology support: 
      • Spanning Tree (ST) and Directed acyclic graph (DAG) 
      • Intra-Donor adaptation is prioritized
  • The following cannot  be supported in Rel-16
    • Mobile IAB
    • Topology support: Mesh
  • Some functionalities in Rel-16 may not be completed due to time constrains e.g. 
    • Topology adaptation between IAB donors
    • Mechanisms for efficient control signaling transmission
Ericsson also provides a good summary in RP-190971 regarding Release 16 IAB and Rel-17 enhancements:
  • IAB Rel-16 provide basic support for multi-hop and multi-path relaying. 
  • The solution supports 
    • QoS prioritization of traffic on the backhaul link
    • Flexible resource usage between access and backhaul
    • Topology adaptivity in case link failure
  • In Rel-17 it would be possible to further evolve the IAB solution targeting increased efficiency and support for new use cases

Meanwhile in the recently concluded RAN#86, AT&T provided a good detailed summary on what enhancements are required for IAB as part of Rel-17 in RP-192709
  • Duplexing enhancements
    • Multiplexing beyond TDM (FDM/SDM/multi-panel Tx/Rx) including multi-parent scenarios, case 6/7 timing alignment, power control/CLI optimizations
  • Topology enhancements
    • Mobile IAB: CP/UP split + Group mobility 
    • Inter-CU topology adaptation
    • Mesh-connectivity between IAB nodes for local control/user plane routing
  • User plane enhancements
    • Multi-hop scheduling enhancement – exchange of benefit metric between IAB nodes to enable radio-aware multi-hop scheduling to improve throughput performance
  • Network Coding
    • Study benefits compared to duplication over redundant backhaul routes

We will have to wait and see what makes it into the enhancements and what don't. Meanwhile here is a video from Navid Abedini, Qualcomm from IEEE Sarnoff Symposium, 2019

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Monday, 9 December 2019

5G Evolution with Matthew Baker, Nokia

I wrote a summary of CW (Cambridge Wireless) TEC conference here a couple of months back. The last session was on "Getting ready for Beyond-5G Era". Matthew Baker, Head of Radio Physical Layer & Co-existence Standardization, Nokia Bell Labs was one of the speakers. His talk provided a summary of 3GPP Rel-15 and then gave a nice and short summary of all the interesting things coming in Rel-16 and being planned for Rel-17. The slides from his presentation is embedded below:

Nokia also created a short video where Matthew talks about these new features. It's embedded below:

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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Challenges of 5G Inter-Node Handovers

In all mobile communication networks handovers are the most complex signaling procedures, because multiple network elements (or network functions) are involved. Thus, it is logical that dual connectivity with two different base stations contributing to the radio connection simultaneously are even more complicated. And in EN-DC these two base stations are often covering different footprints using different carrier frequencies.This leads to a situation where we have more options for performing a handover in detail compared with plain LTE handover scenarios before.

The two signaling scenarios presented below illustrate in which different ways a change of the LTE master eNodeB can be performed during an ongoing EN-DC radio connection by using the X2 interface. In a very similar way it is also possible to perform S1 handover from old to new MeNB.

The pros and cons of these options have been discussed already by Martin Sauter in his Wireless Moves blog.

Inter-MeNB Handover without 5G Inter-Site Anchor

Figure 1 shows the easiest way of handing over the signaling connection from one MeNB to another one. Here it is up to the new MeNB to decide if and how the 5G part of the radio connection is continued.

Figure 1: X2 Handoverof EN-DC connection without 5G inter-site anchor

The handover is triggered when the UE sends a RRC Measurement Report (step 1) indicating that a stronger 4G cell than the currently used primary cell was measured. From its neighbor list the current MeNB detects that this better cell belongs to a neighbor eNB.

To provide both, the the Master Cell Group (MCG) and Secondary Cell Group (SCG) parameters to this neighbor eNB the old MeNB queries the SCG configuration parameters from the old SgNB by performing the X2AP SgNB Modification procedure (step 2+3).

Then it sends the X2AP Handover Request message to the target MeNB (step 4) including all information necessary to continue the 5G radio link in case the target MeNB decides to go for this option.

However, what comes back from the target MeNB is a plain LTE handover command (LTE RRC Connection Reconfiguration message [step 6]) embedded in the X2AP Handover Request Acknowledge message (step 5).

Due to this the old MeNB releases all 5G resources and the UE context in the SgNB (steps 7 + 10).

After the UE  successfully connected via radio interface with the target cell in the new MeNB the S1AP Path Switch procedure is executed to re-route the GTP/IP-Tunnels on S1-U (step 8) and releases the X2 UE context in the old MeNB (step 9)

The new MeNB then waits for a new inter-RAT measurement event B1 (step 11) before starting a new SgNB addition procedure (step 12).  Once the SgNB addition is successfully completed including all necessary reconfigurations/modifications on RRC and S1 the payload transmission over 5G resources is continued.

Inter-MeNB Handover with 5G Inter-Site Anchor

Now figure 2 shows what happens when the new MeNB decides to keep the existing UE context in the SgNB while the RRC measurement results and parameters are identical with what was presented above. 
Figure 2: X2 Handoverof EN-DC connection with 5G inter-site anchor

The difference in the call flow starts at step 5 when the new MeNB after receiving the X2AP Handover Request (step 4) starts the X2AP SgNB Addition procedure towards the SgNB (old = new!). The SgNB-UE-X2AP-ID earlier requested in step 2+3 acts as the reference number for the existing context that is going to be continued.

After adding the SgNB UE context successfully the new MeNB sends the X2AP Handover Request Acknowledge message including an UE Context Kept = "true" flag and the Handover Command (step 8).

After the UE successfully connected to the target cell of the new MeNB the S1AP Path Switch procedure is performed and the temporary X2 UE context between old and new MeNB is released (step 10).

The big advantage of handling the handover in this way: The duration of the interruption of the payload transmission over 5G radio resources is minimalized and subscriber experience is significantly better compared to the scenario in figure 1.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Guest Post: Exploring Network Convergence of Mobile, Broadband and Wi-Fi

This is a guest post by Ben Toner, Founder and Director, Numerous Networks

Are multiple networks better than one?

How many articles have you read with a title similar to "Which technology is better, 5G or Wi-Fi6?" If, like me, you regularly use Wi-Fi and cellular (I still use 4G though) then you might find it hard to take sides.

Enter Network Convergence - the concept of bringing multiple networks together to get the best of them all. Imagine, as an end user, not having to decide which network to use but instead feeling satisfied that your data was traversing the best combination of networks at that moment in time.

Imagine a business traveler being connected to Wi-Fi which is slow or busy while trying to take that all important conference call while sitting in an airport. Because you are roaming you want to use that Wi-Fi but you do not want to compromise the video call quality. If your network and device could work together to use just enough cellular data to supplement the slow Wi-Fi so that you stayed within your daily roaming quota but never lost a moment in the video call - then you would probably be very happy with that service. Better still, as you start walking off, if the call transitioned from Wi-Fi to cellular with no dropouts or hangup then you might be delighted!

Earlier I underlined best because that in itself is somewhat complicated.  The example above is easy to desribe but quite hard for to achieve within a framework where all possible scenarios are handled that well, for every user. The common questions which need to be factored into any such choice are:
  • What do I as the end user want? 
  • What performance can each network deliver. 
  • How important is the transfer of content at that time and 
  • How much am I willing to pay for it (how many MB of my data plan am I willing to use?). 

This is one of the challenges that we cannot easily solve today, but technology is being developed to help in that process. The operators and device vendors are working within standardisation to develop technology which can provide such a converged service. However at this time there is still a rules mechanism behind it all which does not really describe how user input and preference is going to be captured.

In the last 10 years I have witnessed many battles within service providers when deciding what "one size fits all" service to offer everyone when deciding how to make service provider Wi-Fi available to their customers; all fuelled by my points above.

A lot of concepts are well designed and somewhat mature but deciding exactly what will be implemented in standards is currently ongoing.

In the following slides and video I introduce this whole concept of Network Convergence. The following content introduces the concept and then takes a detailed look at the ATSSS; technology being defined in 3GPP. I also have highlighted the technologoies you can get hold of today to try out network convergence.

I encourage you all to download the example technologies and try convergence for yourself. I'm eager to hear opinions of what technologies work best for each of you. And better still, what is not being provided which you think should be...

Looking forward to your feedback and answering your questions...

Ben Toner
Founder and Director, Numerous Networks

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