An important technology milestone based on the newly-approved NSA 5G NR (New Radio) standard has been achieved by a group of mobile communications companies. Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies, in collaboration with AT&T, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, T-Mobile US, Verizon, and Vodafone, showcased 3GPP-compliant 5G NR multi-vendor interoperability during live demonstrations held in both the Ericsson Lab in Kista, Sweden and the Qualcomm Research lab in New Jersey, USA.

The successful demonstrations show the companies’ combined strength in carrying out timely trials that pave the way for commercial launches of 5G standard-compliant infrastructure and devices. Ericsson’s 5G NR pre-commercial base stations and Qualcomm Technologies’ 5G NR UE prototypes will enable operators to conduct live tests in their own networks.

“This milestone builds on years of researching and developing 5G technology as well as on leading and contributing to the standardization work,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Business Area Networks at Ericsson. “By working closely with our key partners in early trials and fine-tuning our global portfolio, we ensure that we can bring the standard-compliant technology to the benefits of our customers and their customers.”

The over-the-air Interoperability Development Testing (IODT) was conducted for lower layer data connections operating at both 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands. These just standardized layers are the fundamental building blocks of 5G NR. NSA 5G NR will use the existing LTE radio and evolved packet core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while adding a new 5G NR radio access carrier to enable certain 5G use cases starting in 2019.

“Achieving multi-vendor interoperability based on the global 5G NR standard is a true testament to our continued 5G leadership, delivering fundamental contributions to the 3GPP standard and driving toward the launch of standard-compliant commercial networks and devices starting in 2019,” said Cristiano Amon, Executive Vice President, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “As we did in both 3G and 4G, we are excited to collaborate with Ericsson as an industry leader to accelerate the path to 5G globally.”

From an operator perspective, Marachel Knight, SVP Wireless Network Architecture Design at AT&T said, “The network of the future is being built – and it’s happening fast. We’re proud to be one of the top North American wireless carrier contributors into 3GPP’s work on 5G standards and to be part of the group of companies that advocated for standards acceleration earlier this year. We’re excited to be a part of standards-based interoperability testing as this helps speed up development of 5G devices and hardware and helps pave the way to launch standards based 5G NR service as soon as the end of 2018.”

Dr. Hiroshi Nakamura, Chief Technology Officer at Japanese telco NTT DOCOMO, added, “We are very pleased with this initiative and believe early IODT is a key to enable a strong and robust ecosystem. NTT DOCOMO has worked on 5G trials with Ericsson for years. We can accelerate co-creation of new services and businesses with vertical industry partners.”

Arnaud Vamparys, SVP Radio Networks at French telco Orange, said the company “welcomes this first 5G NR Interoperability between Qualcomm and Ericsson.” Vamparys added, “As sponsor of NGMN Trial and Testing Initiative, Orange supports key industry collaboration towards 3GPP standard-compliant trials. Orange is committed to roll-out 5G multi-service connectivity in the future therefore leveraging its potential to cover a large variety of uses.”

South Korean telco SK Telecom’s Jinhyo Park, EVP, Head of ICT R&D, noted that the company is “proud to be the first operator to initiate a discussion of early 3GPP-compliant trials with Ericsson and Qualcomm in 2016, which eventually led to this industry-first successful joint demonstration.” Park added, “We believe this is a meaningful industry collaboration bringing global 5G players together. We will continue to drive the 5G ecosystem to work on global standards and to enable early 5G commercialization.”

Mike Wright, Group Managing Director Networks at Australian telco Telstra, said the company “has been working to accelerate the introduction of 5G in Australia and this interoperability testing is a significant milestone towards commercialization. The strength of the 3GPP ecosystem is in the rigorous analysis to ensure devices and networks are fully tested together, so that our customers can purchase a 5G device in the future and have it work effortlessly on Telstra’s mobile network.”

Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone’s Head of Group R&D, said, “This first multi-vendor interoperability test of 5G within days of the completion of the 3GPP standard paves the way for Vodafone to trial commercial grade equipment in the coming year. 5G has the potential to provide up to a ten-fold improvement in cost efficiency to help us meet the growing demand for mobile data from Vodafone customers. The capabilities delivered by 5G will also help create the Gigabit societies of the future.”