March 30, 2016 | by Wayne Smith

3GPP Release 13: The Final Stage for 4G Networks

The 3GPP published Release 12 in 2014, and it is scheduled to publish Release 13 in early 2016. These Releases are not only enhancements to 4G technologies, but they constitute a bridge to the future 5G wireless technologies. As I mentioned in a recent article, Release 15 will probably constitute the first release of 5G wireless specifications. However, it is important to note that certain groundwork requirements for the Internet of Things (IoT), and 5G networks are being addressed in Releases 13 and 14. Concepts such as large scale carrier aggregation, very large MIMO support and Machine to Machine (M2M) capabilities are being enhanced in Release 13. The immense fanfare given the IoT and the IMT 2020 initiatives has really overwhelmed the attention that Release 13 would normally receive. In this article, I will briefly touch upon five of the more important developments that will be addressed by Release 13.

Although work on 5G has already begun, it does not mean that 4G is going away anytime soon. No US wireless network provider has really fully implemented 4G as of this date. The implementation of the evolved 4G standards will continue for several years after the 5G specifications are released in 2016. In fact, 4G technologies will be in use in the US beyond 2025. Here are some of the key features of Release 13.

Machine to Machine

Release 12 defined the original specifications for M2M communications in preparation to address the needs of the IoT. Release 13 expands on this development to cover low power end devices. Included are specifications for narrow bandwidths, low power use, ultra-long battery life for end devices and new transmission modes.

Carrier Aggregation

Release 10 defined the specifications for the aggregation of up to 5 component carriers. Release 13 will expand on this technology to 32 component carriers plus address the capability to aggrecegate more carriers in different frequency bands including unlicensed LTE.

LTE – Unlicensed Spectrum

LTE – unlicensed spectrum, also referred to as License Assisted Access (LTE – LAA) is said to be a priority. This is being pushed to meet the needs of rapidly growing end user traffic and volume demands. The specifications will be addressing the management between a licensed primary cell and an unlicensed secondary WiFi cell. The objective will be to create a well behaved coexistence between LTE-A and WiFi access points.

Improved Spectral Efficiency

Improving spectral efficiency is always a high priority. There is considerable work being done to address extending antenna support from the current 8 MIMO ports to 64 MIMO ports as well as implementing new beam-forming technologies.

Device to Device (D2D)

One can also expect to see enhancements to D2D specifications published in Release 12. D2D functions are focused on Public Safety and possible mission critical private enterprise needs. This is often referred to as Mission Critical Push to Talk (MCPTT). There is considerable support to make D2D a robust and effective public safety communications system that will eventually replace the multitude of proprietary public safety radio systems currently in use.

Of course, Release 13 will address several other key technologies in the ever-evolving 4G networks.