The sad irony of 3GPP’s Rel-17 delay

Industry News

The standards body at the forefront of advances in mobile technology is still reliant on face-to-face meetings in order to actually get stuff done.

3GPP revealed this week that it expects to know by December whether it will have to push back the freeze date of Release 17 (Rel-17), the upcoming update to 5G. The reason is that by then, it hopes to have a better idea of when it will be able to resume in-person meetings.

At the moment, 3GPP is currently projecting a six-month delay. This outlook seems to be based – in part – on the assumption that all of its meetings in the first half of 2021 will have to take place virtually, which is not sufficient to get Rel-17 over the finish line.

“Although tremendous progress has been achieved under e-meetings, at the working group and also plenary level, it has become clear that the same rate of work cannot be achieved as would have been possible in a face-to-face environment,” said 3GPP, in a statement.

The irony here of course is that mobile technology – particularly 5G – is supposed to enable a seamless transition from in-person working to remote working.

3GPP said it hopes that the next three months “will bring clarity as to whether 3GPP can start to plan for getting back to face-to-face meetings” later next year.

From a UK perspective at least, the outlook does not look at all promising.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson told the nation this week that those who are able to work from home, should work from home. It’s a reversal of the government’s recent policy that encouraged staff to get back into the office so they could buy expensive coffee and sandwiches, and so that their employers didn’t do anything drastic, like deciding not to renew a lease on a shiny and expensive office building.

In France, where 3GPP shares its home with standards body ETSI, current policy is that staff who can return to work, should. However, the country is in the midst of a second wave, so there is a possibility that that policy could be changed.

Balazs Bertenyi, who heads up one of 3GPP’s working groups, warned that “if e-meetings need to carry on beyond June [2021], the delay could be greater than the six months currently being projected.”

Delaying the release of a 5G update could have knock-on effects for the whole mobile ecosystem, particularly the satellite industry, which has been included in Rel-17 as part of 3GPP’s work on non-terrestrial 5G networking.

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