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3GPP vs. IEEE: Did standards bodies miss an opportunity to align 5G and Wi-Fi?

Cellular is increasingly expanding into unlicensed Wi-Fi frequencies

The 3GPP has finalized the non-standalone and standalone 5G New Radio (NR) standards and is further defining the next generation of cellar to align with IMT-2020 performance requirements. Wi-Fi is simultaneously following a develop roadmap, laid out by the IEEE,  meant to continually increase capacity and better serve high-density deployment scenarios to enable internet of things-type applications. Two industry watchers say 3GPP and IEEE missed an opportunity to align the standards despite the overlap between the two access technologies.

Adlane Fellah is the CEO of analyst firm Maraverdis, which he founded in 2002 to help wireless infrastructure interests make strategic decisions regarding product development, network deployment and investment decisions. He said IEEE and 3GPP should have worked together more closely to align 5G and Wi-Fi. “A significant opportunity was missed when the 5G standards process was kicked off—talks about integrating IEEE/Wi-Fi contributions into the 3GPP process came to nothing, and the chance of a single, multi-RAT platform was lost once again.”

He said the same dynamic around LTE and WiMax could happen again—”both approved as IMT-Advanced standards, but only LTE gained significant market adoption.”

Fellah continued: “So it remains unclear how close Wi-Fi and 5G may come. Wi-Fi’s roadmap has several points in common with that of 5G, and in some aspects of wireless connectivity, it has moved more quickly than 3GPP – in using millimeter wave spectrum commercially, for instance…or in supporting neutral host systems…There is no indication that IEEE will submit one of its 802.11 specifications to be recognized as an IMT-2020 technology, and it is likely that 3GPP’s 5G will be the only candidate to be an official next generation wireless standard. Even if 802.11-based technologies were submitted, the industry weight behind 3GPP is huge.” 

Bob Horvitz, a long-time telecom industry consultant who is currently working with Sweden’s Stiftelsen Institute for Management, Innovation and Technology (IMIT), a consortium of Swedish academic organizations comprising the Institute of Management, Chalmers University, Stockholm School of Economics, the Royal Institute of Technology and the Lund Institute. Horvitz co-authored a recent report prepared for the European Commission titled “Fixed and Mobile Convergence in Europe.”

Horvitz observed the “IEEE/3GPP relationship is not progressing optimally. In fact that’s why we highlighted it in our report.  But relationships between standardization bodies and regulators are likewise competitive and/or complementary. I generally favor regional solutions – provided not only by standards bodies but by EU institutions like BEREC and RSPG.  This is also discussed at length in our report, mainly in the context of harmonizing QoS indicators. The easiest summary is that there should be regional harmonisation of measurement protocols. But it may or may not be necessary to have the same target values or benchmarks everywhere. Reasonable people can also disagree about the optimum degree of uniformity (harmonization) vs. regulatory independence. I think Europe has a good mix now—the policy framework is really well developed even though institutional structures at the regional level are still a hodge podge.” 

To learn more about the relationship between 5G and Wi-Fi, check out our upcoming webinar on the topic.


Sean Kinney, Editor in Chief
Sean Kinney, Editor in Chief
Sean focuses on multiple subject areas including 5G, Open RAN, hybrid cloud, edge computing, and Industry 4.0. He also hosts Arden Media's podcast Will 5G Change the World? Prior to his work at RCR, Sean studied journalism and literature at the University of Mississippi then spent six years based in Key West, Florida, working as a reporter for the Miami Herald Media Company. He currently lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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