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5G new radio (NR)

Contributor(s): Lee Badman; Laura Fitzgibbons

5G new radio, or 5G NR, is a set of standards that replace the LTE network 4G wireless communications standard. An important goal of 5G NR is to support the growth of wireless communication by enhancing electromagnetic radiation spectrum efficiency.

5G NR is designed to support fiber-equivalent bandwidth transmissions required for hungry applications like streaming video, as well as low bandwidth transmissions used in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications at massive scale where needed. 5G NR will also support transmissions with extremely low latency requirements -- an important consideration in vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communications.

Similar to its predecessors, the 5G NR standard was created by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a coalition of telecommunications organizations that create technical standards for wireless technology. The first iteration of 5G NR appeared in 3GPP Release 15.

How does 5G NR work?

5G NR employs a raft of new engineering techniques that move more data through the core network faster and revolutionize the discrete operations of the air interface, which is the client device's interaction with the network provider radio hardware. Some of the improvements that 5G NR introduces include the following:

  • diversity of spectrum that ranges from several hundred kilohertz to millimeter wave (mmWave) to enable various use cases, cell sizes and data rates;
  • modulation -- new orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing methods -- and channel coding techniques;
  • frequency reuse algorithms even in dense environments;
  • massive MIMO and evolved beamforming capabilities; and
  • slot time operations developed to deliver ultra-low latency communications.

All of these capabilities are underpinnings of 5G NR's significant gains in capacity, throughput and coverage.

Primary requirements for 5G NR

The standards necessary for a connection to qualify as 5G NR include several performance and connectivity requirements. Some of these requirements include the following:

  • The connection must support wireless mobile connections.
  • Connectivity must support the internet of things (IoT), a concept that includes all of the various devices and wired or wireless connections that make up a user's digital experience, as well as sensor-type headless client devices.
  • It must implement a lean signaling This means signals are only switched on when needed, lowering the overall processing power required of the client devices.
  • The connection must use adaptive bandwidth, which allows devices to switch to a low-bandwidth and lower power whenever possible, saving energy for when higher bandwidths are necessary.
  • 5G NR should also enforce strict data transmission requirements. By forcing all users and connections to respect specific rules, the entire network is faster and more efficient.

Benefits of 5G NR

The benefits of 5G new radio over even the best LTE networks include the following:

  • larger wireless area capacity;
  • increased energy savings per device;
  • lower period of time between updates, or average service creation time cycle;
  • improved links connecting larger number of users;
  • improved technology for maintaining the quality of a connection over a broad geographical area;
  • enhanced speed and data rates, meaning more bits are processed over a unit of time; and
  • improved efficiency in data sharing.

5G NR spectrum

The 5G NR standard supports a number of low, mid and high frequency bands. They are broken into frequency range 1 (FR1), which includes frequency bands that are less than 6GHz; frequency range 2 (FR2), which includes bands with a low range combined with a high bandwidth; and mmWave.

The bands supported by 5G NR also include licensed spectrum and unlicensed spectrum 5G NR-U, which include bands than can be accessed by anyone. This wide diversity of spectrum slices is unique to 5G NR but helps to meet the demands of the spectrum-intensive technology.

5G and LTE: Key differences and bridging the gap

As LTE's incumbency begins to yield to 5G, it's important to understand how the two technologies compare.

5G NR network architecture will diverge from LTE's tower-centric model somewhat because the higher frequencies in use will require high quantities of smaller pole and building-mounted nodes to get the network to users. While carrier mobile networks go through the rigors of updating their infrastructures for 5G NR, consumers and businesses can follow the progress at a number of websites.

For private 5G NR deployments, Citizens Broadband Radio Service will provide a compelling option. It's also worth noting that 5G networks need compatible clients to truly take advantage of the new technology's promise, and we are just starting to see 5G client devices. Lastly, 5G NR will develop in phases, just as 4G/LTE did. So, not all 5G NR networks will be the same from a capability and capacity standpoint at any given time.

This was last updated in September 2020

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