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There’s been a bit of chatter about unlicensed spectrum since the Wi-Fi Alliance released its coexistence test plan in September and the FCC certified the first devices in February. T-Mobile this week said it is already turning up the technology on its 4G network – it’s live in a handful of locations across the country and more rollouts are on the way. Verizon is also expected to get in on the LTE-U game soon.

All that action is going on in LTE, but it turns out 3GPP is also studying unlicensed spectrum bands for use with 5G New Radio.

Approved at 3GPP’s March 2017 RAN meeting in Croatia, the Qualcomm-led study seeks “to determine a single global solution for NR-based access to unlicensed spectrum, to be compatible with the NR concepts.” The item will tackle both licensed-assisted and stand-alone formats, with an eye to unlicensed bands both below 6 GHz all the way through 60 GHz. Other elements studied will include initial access, channel access, scheduling/HARQ, and mobility, including connected, inactive, and idle mode operation and radio-link monitoring and failure.

Of course, coexistence between NR-based operation in unlicensed and LTE-based Licensed Assisted Access will also get some attention, as well as coexistence with WiFi services.

The study is expected to run through early 2018, before the results are handed off to 3GPP for review in June 2018. Though Qualcomm is leading the work, supporting members of the study include Ericsson, Nokia, T-Mobile, Verizon, Samsung, Broadcom, and Blackberry, among others.

In a Wednesday blog post, Qualcomm noted the use of unlicensed spectrum on a standalone basis – especially for 5G – opens the door to new deployment scenarios, including “local area networks in dense deployments, so-called private IoT networks for enterprises or Industrial IoT (explicitly called out in the project descriptions in 3GPP), neighborhood networks, and neutral host deployments (where one deployment serves multiple operators). Examples where such private IoT networks can be deployed are anything from factories, ports, and mines to warehouses and smart buildings.”

“This study will eventually result in expanded functionalities for 5G in future 3GPP releases that are part of our 5G NR Spectrum Sharing vision, or NR-SS for short,” Qualcomm’s Senior Director of Technical Marketing Rasmus Hellberg wrote. “We still have more work to do, but we are working meticulously to ensure that 5G NR will support all spectrum types, including new exciting spectrum sharing paradigms enabled by NR-SS, so that a wider ecosystem can enjoy the benefits of 5G.”

For more on other news out of 3GPP’s March RAN meeting, including an acceleration of 5G NR Specs, click here.

A glimpse at what 3GPP is looking at for the future beyond Release 15 can be found here.

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