Dec. 22, 2020

This is the second time COVID-19 has delayed the 3GPP 5G standards process this year. Earlier this year, in March, after all in-person Working Group (WG) and Technical Specifications Group (TSG) meetings were cancelled, 3GPP delayed the Release 16 Stage 3 freeze by 3 months out to June 2020. Since then, the 3GPP has been learning a lot about the inconvenience of running e-meetings involving hundreds of participants all over the world trying to reach consensus on each feature of a particular 5G network domain (e.g., RAN, core, transport, services, and terminals). To some extent, 5G is victim of its own success: the plethora of use cases 5G is expected to unleash has attracted so many verticals that their representatives are crowding the 3GPP meetings. In fact, in its news release, the 3GPP mentioned that “in the busiest groups, the stream of contributions can peak at over 1,000 emails a day.”

Acknowledging the magnitude of the ongoing COVID-19 surge, a consensus was reached at the December 14, 2020 3GPP meeting that remote working would be the norm until June 2021. That means no in-person 3GPP meetings during 1H21 and therefore no consensus to be reached on a busy Rel. 17 agenda. Indeed, the 3GPP made it clear that “only the timeline for the work has changed; the content of Release 17 remains as approved during the December 2019 TSG#86 meetings. With this revised timeline, the broader 5G industry can rely on an informed and well-considered schedule that takes into account the peculiar situation created by life during a pandemic.” Figure 1 illustrates the new timeline.

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