Will 2024 be the year of advanced 5G?

As many companies presented their advanced 5G offerings at MWC, Huawei revealed a wave of products as part of its commercial launch of 5.5G.

5G appeared to have a slow uptake in its initial years, but it appears that the technology is entering a period of rapid growth, as many telecoms companies showed off powerful offerings at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).

At the massive event in Barcelona, various tech companies shared their roadmaps for the future, with AI unsurprisingly being one of the key topics across the event. But there was a notable buzz around the trajectory of 5G, with companies pointing to new concepts such as ‘advanced 5G’ – or 5G-A.

While previous MWC events pointed to 5G finally finding its footing, research presented by GSMA Intelligence suggests 5G has had the fastest uptake of all prior generations. As the technology soars, companies such as Ericson and Nokia have revealed plans to bring 5G-A to new regions.

Amid all the talk around 5G-A, Huawei revealed its plans to commercially launch its own form of advanced 5G – 5.5G – offerings in 2024, after testing them in more than 20 cities around the world. The Chinese tech giant is collaborating with operators and partners globally and showcased 5.5G as a potential gamechanger for various sectors.

What can 5.5G do?

Huawei said 5.5G can deliver 10Gbps download speed and 1Gbps upload speed, while supporting billions of connections to support the world’s growing demand for data and fast connection speeds.

Speaking at an event to media, Huawei VP of wireless solutions Eric Zhao said 5.5G will be able to “unleash our wildest imagination” through some of the services it will make possible.

“5.5G will upgrade IoT [internet of things] capability so IoT will develop faster and we will also expand more diverse types of IoT connections,” Zhao said. “Another example will be connecting industries.

“The high bandwidth, high reliability and low latency of 5.5G will make it possible for the wireless technology to become part of the core production. As a result, the digitalisation and intelligent transformation of manufacturers will be expected.”

Zhao also said 5.5G will help to boost connected vehicles – a growing market that is predicted to be worth more than $136bn by 2032.

The tech giant has been preparing for this commercial launch for some time and discussed the potential applications of 5.5G at last year’s MWC event. Huawei said multiple operators in China, the Middle East and Europe have verified 5.5G capabilities on their commercial networks. The company said these tests cover a wide range of scenarios, including smart connections for homes and stadiums.

At this year’s MWC, Huawei announced memorandum of understanding deals with various telecoms companies around the world to promote 5.5G technology applications, including Zain KSA in Saudi Arabia, Turkcell in Turkey and stc Kuwait.

It appears difficult to find a sector that Huawei isn’t aiming for with this commercial launch, as it unveiled 10 different “digital and intelligent transformation solutions” to help companies of all sizes and across various industries adopt 5.5G.

Huawei is also utilising AI as a way to boost the effectiveness and efficiency of its 5.5G offerings. The company revealed its own Telecom Foundation Model to help carriers maximise the value of their networks.

“The Huawei Telecom Foundation Model leverages Huawei’s strengths in intelligent technology and offers two types of applications: role-based copilots and scenario-based agents,” said Huawei board member and president of ICT products and solutions Yang Chaobin. “It will help carriers empower employees and improve user satisfaction, which will, in turn, improve network productivity.”

Finally, Huawei said 5.5G offers significant sustainability improvements thanks to the company’s ‘0 Bit 0 Watt’ capabilities. These capabilities mean that radio frequency networks can go into low-power modes during idle hours and can quickly turn on to handle user requests as needed.

Huawei claims its 0 Bit 0 Watt offering has been deployed on more than 30 networks worldwide and that it can reduce average daily energy consumption by up to 38pc while improving user experiences.

A counter to Open Ran?

Huawei also said its infrastructure can support various 5G frequencies without them interfering with each other. The company appears to be presenting itself as a one-for-all provider in terms of cellular network hardware.

But this type of offering appears to be putting Huawei on a different path to other companies looking at Open RAN technology, which has been presented as a way to let providers mix and match cellular hardware and software.

Speaking to one reporter, Zhao said that Open RAN equipment currently faces “several technical challenges”, such as cybersecurity risks and difficulties in quickly adjusting power levels for efficiency, unlike the 0 Bit 0 Watt Huawei offering.

Projects are still taking place worldwide to boost the potential for Open RAN technology. In Ireland, the Energise project was funded earlier this year. This project aims to reduce the energy usage of radio access networks and deal with the escalating demands of the telecoms industry. While last month, the US government committed $42m to further the development of a 5G Open RAN standard.

The long road to 6G

While the focus for many companies at MWC was on advanced 5G, some also pointed to the future with discussions around 6G. Huawei’s Zhao also described 5.5G technology as “highly harmonious to 6G” and that the developments are “preparing for the evolution of 6G”.

Some organisations predict 6G could be 100 times faster than 5G, with enhanced reliability and wider network coverage. This type of speed and coverage could unlock various concepts such as mixed reality, holograms and global automation, but the timeframe to get there isn’t clear.

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com, Zhao said the industry believes that “only after 2030” will we see 6G networks being deployed as “trials”.

“The industry has been preparing technologies and specifications,” Zhao said. “The 5.5G today is the industry’s efforts to make sure the journey towards 6G evolution can be smooth.

“Huawei is more than happy to work with industry, our customers and partners to continuously improve the spectrum efficiency and energy efficiency so that we can prepare for the future of 6G.”

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