5G Advanced: Executing on the 5G promise
The pace of 5G network deployments has accelerated in recent years, and take-up of this next generation of mobile technology has also been correspondingly buoyant. Various analyst reports say consumer connections surpassed one billion at the end of 2022 and are expected to increase to around 1.5 billion in 2023.
GSMA Intelligence says there were 229 commercial 5G networks globally and over 700 5G smartphone models available to users as of January 2023. What’s more, the deployment of standalone (SA) 5G networks — in other words, 5G networks that are not anchored to a 4G core, unlike 5G non-standalone (NSA) — has been rising, albeit modestly.
According to the January 2023 update from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), at least 32 operators in 21 countries and territories are now understood to have launched public 5G SA networks, although some reports put the number at more than 40.
Now, alongside 5G NSA and 5G SA, there’s a new kid on the block: 5G Advanced. As its name would suggest, this is the next stage in 5G technology, as well as a steppingstone to the 6G technology that is expected to emerge from 2030 onwards.
According to Peter Jarich, head of GSMA Intelligence, 5G Advanced will be a major industry focus in 2023, kicking off “a second wave of 5G” that will be “central to executing on the broader 5G promise”.
But what is 5G Advanced, and how will the “advances” it brings benefit enterprises beyond current 5G technology? According to Counterpoint Research, 5G Advanced (also known as 5.5G) is the “next evolutionary step in 5G technology that will introduce new levels of capabilities, enabling operators to generate a return on their 5G investments”.
GSMA Intelligence adds that by focusing on uplink technology, 5G Advanced “will improve speed, coverage, mobility and power efficiency, and support a new wave of business opportunities”.
“Subtle, but far reaching”
The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) – an umbrella standards body which develops protocols for mobile telecoms – is currently working on Release 18, which is the first release for 5G Advanced and currently due to be finalised in early 2024.
Release 18 will be followed by Releases 19 and 20, after which the 3GPP is expected to focus on 6G.
John Marcus, principal analyst for enterprise services at GlobalData, notes that Release 18 will be focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning, which, he says, could help optimise networks through increased automation of operational tasks.
5G Advanced will also focus on energy efficiency, enhanced coverage, improved positioning, and other core infrastructure improvements.
“Additional focus areas that might impact on enterprise services include enhanced mobility support (for service continuity between cell handovers), and multicast and broadcast, increasing the efficiency of 5G connections for TV broadcasting, live video, and public safety use cases,” Marcus says.
The annual Mobile World Congress event provides a useful window into mobile technology progress, and this year talk of 5G Advanced, as well as smatterings of 6G, was all around.
During a panel session that focused solely on the topic, Aayush Bhatnagar SVP technology at Jio Platforms, made one thing clear: “Whether it is Industry 4.0, whether it is edge computing, whether it is extended reality or V2X, no matter what the industry vertical is, 5G Advanced is contributing in ways which are subtle but far reaching and the standardisation directions in this provenance are very important, because for the very first time, the network is trying to enhance itself to support these wide variety of use cases.”
According to Bhatnagar, Releases 18 and 19 are “where the fun begins… because for the very first time we are seeing a lot of focus on UAV [unmanned aerial vehicles] what the network should do to support drone‑based services, what the network should do for having robotics as an integral part and parcel of use cases, and also moving beyond narrowband IoT and having even far lower power devices.”
Firms advancing with 5G A
The industry’s biggest technology players are already pushing ahead with 5G Advanced developments. For example, Qualcomm has released Snapdragon X75, which it says is the first wireless chipset to come with support for 5G Advanced.
China Mobile and Huawei said they started working together on 5G Advanced developments in 2021, focusing on XR, high uplink, passive IoT, and integrated sensing and communications. In 2022, they released a series of 5G-Advanced applications via GSMA Foundry, a cross-industry collaboration and business development environment.
During MWC, there were presentations on 5G Advanced from operators such as AT&T, China Mobile, du, Hongkong Telecom, Orange and Zain, as well as vendors Ericsson, Nokia, NVIDIA and Qualcomm.
Dr Sibel Tombaz, head of product line 5G Radio Access Network at Ericsson, provided an interesting view by describing how networks must evolve from “being a machine to being an organism”. “And what does an organism do? …[it] adapts to the environment. It learns and it changes … it’s also intent based [and it’s] very energy conscious,” she said.
From AI to IoT and XR
Counterpoint says 5G Advanced will offer a broad range of new capabilities for enterprises, including new private network applications.
“For instance, enterprises will benefit greatly from the 1 Gbps uplink capability, enabling, for example, high-precision AI-based industrial vision inspection, while enhanced positioning with sub-10cm accuracy – both indoors and outdoors – will enable a plethora of new Industry 4.0 applications,” the research firm notes. It adds that 5G Advanced will support three IoT technologies: NB IoT, RedCap (a new tier of reduced capability devices, also known as NR-Light) and passive IoT tags, a low-cost location sensing technology.
From Counterpoint’s point of view, the increasing popularity of immersive experiences and the emergence of the metaverse, “coupled with the demands of enterprise digital transformation” mean that 5G networks will soon be unable to support the expected exponential growth in traffic.
“With 6G around 8-12 years away, 5.5G is the next obvious evolution of 5G and next-generation consumer and B2B opportunities will only be possible if operators and enterprises upgrade to 5.5G,” it added.
The next step will require mobile operators to pilot new 5.5G technologies and build business cases. Indeed, GSMA Intelligence says its research shows half of operators expect to support 5G Advanced commercial networks within two years of its launch.
However, Counterpoint claims that an industry consensus on the digital requirements of new use cases needs to be developed, “particularly with respect to enterprise vertical uses cases, as well as a focus on developing a diverse ecosystem of players encompassing all verticals.”
In conclusion, Jarich says that while AI and IoT were “broad, cross-cutting themes” across many of the presentations at MWC, many other specific aspects of 5G Advanced were discussed, ranging from non-terrestrial networks including drone and satellite integration, improved uplink performance, automation and power saving, new radio innovations, and more.
“Linking up services, experience and technology, these represent more than a random assortment of standards and specification inclusions. They represent a broad set of capabilities aimed at enabling a broad set of new services,” he says.
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