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5G New Radio (NR)

What is 5G New Radio (NR)?

5G New Radio, or 5G NR, is a set of standards that replace the fourth-generation wireless (4G) LTE network communications standard. 5G NR is the specification for fifth-generation wireless (5G) networks, describing how 5G products like smartphones transmit data with 5G NR network infrastructure like a 5G-enabled base station. Data transmissions using 5G NR are faster and have less latency when compared to previous 4G standards.

An important goal of 5G NR is to support the growth of wireless communication by enhancing the amount of data transmitted over a given spectrum (the electromagnetic radiation spectrum efficiency) for mobile broadband.

5G NR is designed to support fiber-equivalent bandwidth transmissions required for data-intensive applications like streaming video, as well as for low-bandwidth transmissions used in machine-to-machine communications at a massive scale.

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 works using the same radio access technology as 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks use -- orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDM). 5G NR, however, uses newer techniques such as QAM, beamforming, and other new features that increase the efficiency of a network and lower latency.

The frequency of the electromagnetic waves used in 5G NR varies along the wireless spectrum in defined sub-6 and millimeter wave (mmWave) frequency bands.

5G NR employs new engineering techniques that move more data through the core network faster and update 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 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.
  • Beamforming, a signal processing technique in 5G NR, to improve signal quality and coverage.
  • Massive multiple input, multiple output capabilities.
  • Slot time operations developed to deliver ultralow-latency communications.

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

Primary requirements for 5G NR

In order for a connection to qualify as 5G NR, several performance and connectivity requirements must be met. Some of these requirements include the following:

  • The connection must support wireless mobile connections.
  • Connectivity must support the internet of things, a concept commonly referred to as IoT 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 design. This means that signals are only switched on when needed, lowering the overall processing power required of the client devices.
  • The connection must use adaptive bandwidth, which enables 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, it makes the entire network faster and more efficient.

Benefits of 5G NR

The benefits of 5G New Radio over even the best LTE networks include the following:

  • Larger network capacity.
  • Increased energy savings per device.
  • Shorter time between updates -- reducing average service creation time cycle.
  • 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.
  • Improved efficiency in data sharing.
  • Improved latency over 4G.

5G NR deployment modes

As is often the case with new wireless technology rollouts, there are various ways that 5G NR can be brought to life at a given site. Which deployment mode to use depends on several factors, including the existing infrastructure, whether or not a greenfield project is in play and what client types are expected in the 5G NR service area.

The three main 5G NR deployment modes are the following:

  1. For standalone mode, the full 5G technical paradigm is deployed. No residual 4G technical underpinnings are involved. And, if the clients can take advantage of the deployment, then all 5G benefits are realized.
  2. In nonstandalone mode, a site is essentially a hybrid. Some 4G network infrastructure stays in place. While the radio frequency side of 5G NR presents benefits, what it uplinks into means a lesser overall experience, compared with standalone mode. This model permits carriers to phase in full 5G architecture at sites, enabling them to tout their 5G progress.
  3. In the third deployment mode, dynamic spectrum sharing, the same frequency can do time-sliced duty in both 4G and 5G modes, using advanced antenna and transceiver processing. This means no single spectrum band has to be dedicated to just 4G or 5G.

5G NR spectrum

The 5G NR standard supports a number of low-, mid- and high-frequency bands. They are broken into frequency range 1, which includes frequency bands that are less than 6 gigahertz; frequency range 2, which includes bands with a low range combined with a high bandwidth and mmWave. Frequency range 2 is 24-71GHz.

Many 5G deployments use the sub-6 frequency of 450MHz to 6GHz for its longer transmission distance and ease of deployment. Although the mmWave region has a higher bandwidth and lower latency, mmWave also has limited penetration of physical objects like walls and has a shorter wavelength.

The bands supported by 5G NR also include licensed spectrum and unlicensed spectrum 5G NR-U, which include bands accessible by anyone. This wide diversity of spectrum slices helps to meet the demands of the spectrum-intensive technology.

5G and LTE: Key differences and bridging the gap

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

5G NR network architecture diverges somewhat from LTE's tower-centric model because the higher frequencies in use 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 provides 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 more 5G client devices are being sold. Lastly, 5G NR continues to 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.

advancements in 5G NR diagram
While 4G and 5G NR share some features such as HARQ, TDD and MIMO, 5G NR makes more advancements, integrating new technologies.

5G NR brings advancements in cellular technologies not found in 4G. These advancements deliver impressive benefits and fulfill the ultimate goal of being ultrareliable. Some of the advancements include the following:

  • Flexible numerology is a complex engineering concept that enables dynamic adaptation of time slots and subcarrier spacing to achieve low latency for applications that need it, as well as provide coexistence between LTE and NR where required.
  • Beamforming is a technique of aiming wireless signals in the direction of a device to extend the range of mmWave networks.
  • Hybrid automatic repeat request (HARQ) is occasionally mentioned in 5G NR discussions. HARQ works at the lowest network layers to adaptively optimize forward error correction and retransmit functions for lower bit error rates.
  • Time-division duplexing (TDD) is a technique in which uplink and downlink functions happen on the same frequency. As expected, in 5G NR, TDD has been retooled for speed and flexibility.
  • Preemptive scheduling enables higher-priority data to overwrite lower-priority data, lowering latency.
  • Inactive state is a power-saving enhancement in 5G NR that augments 4G's idle and connected. At its simplest, the new inactive state reduces load on the control plane at scale, where many devices need to come out of sleep mode to transmit data.

Wireless networking improves from generation to generation. Learn more about the basics behind 5G in this article.

This was last updated in December 2023

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