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Until now, 5G has been launched in 50% of countries worldwide, and it is on course to serve two billion connections by 2025. As the next milestone of the 5G era, 5G-Advanced is the necessary bridge between 5G and 6G, supporting numerous IoT devices and services. With continuous evolution, 5G-Advanced will position itself as a solid foundation for wireless capabilities and thus allow 5G to expand into more diversified verticals.

During MWC 2023, discussions on what’s next for the 5G era got fully underway. Leading operators and industry players, including China Mobile, Orange, Zain, Ericsson, Huawei and Qualcomm, are among the 19 operators and industry partners who have come together under the banner of the 5G Futures Community to promote the adoption of 5G-Advanced.

Opening Session 2 of the 5G Futures Summit, entitled “To infinity and beyond with 5G-Advanced,” GSMA CTO Alex Sinclair said that with the 3GPP Release 18 due in June 2024, “5G-Advanced is almost upon us.”

There are a multitude of 5G advancements in the specs, including mobility enhancements, global connectivity, enhanced uplink, support for non-terrestrial networks, sub-designated position, extended reality, time-sensitive communication, IoT verticals and improved sustainability by using AI and ML data-driven designs, among others.

The Evolving 5G-Advanced Journey

Dr. Xiaodong Xu, chief specialist of China Mobile, stated their commitment to the deep convergence of the innovation and industry chains. At the end of 2022, China Mobile, together with over 60 industry partners, released the 5G-Advanced “Innovation Chain-Industry Chain” Convergence Action Plan Yearbook, which details the latest innovations across ten key 5G-Advanced technologies, including the verification of technologies like X-Layer, the industry's first cross-layer collaboration technology for XR, Harmonized Communication and Sensing (HCS) and eIoT (Passive IoT).

“Based on the 5G commercial experience and service development chain, we find that there are three main driving forces for 5G evolution: low cost, low complexity and creating higher primary demands,” said Dr. Xu. “In the future, China Mobile will accelerate the streamlining of key links, strengthen its innovation engine and promote the development of 5G-Advanced, in pursuit of a sustainable future.”

Additionally, Bernard Despres, Orange's vice president of core network, automation, security and E2E services, shared his thoughts on the key areas for continuous 5G-Advanced innovation that the company will continue to explore in preparation for the commercialization of 5G-Advanced. These include 6 GHz large-bandwidth new spectrum, uplink enhancement, multi-scenario IoT (RedCap and Ambient IoT), XR immersive experience, drone sensing, energy saving and AI.

“5G is a journey that will not only be a revolution but a continuous rollout of innovation that will improve the industry,” Despres pointed out.

Both Despres and Xu mentioned 5G-Advanced’s potential for IoT, mentioning integrated sensing and computation as well as intelligent, persistent and advanced energy efficiency in industrial verticals.

“Looking ahead to the future, China Mobile will continue to promote the real innovative deployment of 5G-Advanced in terms of a top-level design, technology research, standard setting, industrial promotion and application innovation, together with our partners,” concluded Xu.

Highlighting another potential for 5G-Advanced use cases, Alan Loh, executive general manager of innovation and solutions at Zain KSA, expressed how this technology will benefit AI innovation. AI is one of the fastest-growing fields of research and development, with applications ranging from self-driving cars to personalized healthcare.

However, in advancing AI, there is a need for large amounts of data to train machine-learning models. This is where 5G-Advanced can make an enormous impact thanks to its ultra-high bandwidth and low latency.

He also spoke about how 5G-Advanced is likely to address issues of energy consumption and network management efficiency, “helping operators cope with climate change and sustainability challenges."

“We believe that the combination of AI and 5G-Advanced technology is the game changer for the mobile industry, and we are excited to be at the forefront of this innovation,” Loh concluded.

5G-Advanced Opens New Trends and Opportunities

From the equipment vendors and chip manufacturers’ sides, 5G-Advanced involves mobile broadband evolution and further vertical expansion, new value in commercialization and enhanced devices.

Sibel Tombaz, head of 5G RAN, business area networks at Ericsson, commented that XR has the potential to become one of the most high-value application scenarios of 5G-Advanced. Using network-slicing technology, she believes that 5G-Advanced can achieve an outstanding network experience with a consistent uplink/downlink rate and low latency.

Adding to that, Tingfang Ji, vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, also touched upon how 5G-Advanced evolution will expand wireless ML to the end-to-end system across RAN, device and air interface. He also pointed out that there “is a balance of what we should drive for in 5G-Advanced”.

Ji noted the recent release of the Snapdragon X75 5G Modem-RF System, which is the industry's first 5G-Advanced ready system that can support a 10 Gbps user experience. 5G-Advanced is the necessary bridge between 5G and 6G and, with continuous evolution, can be the solid foundation for wireless capabilities, allowing 5G to expand into more diversified vertical fields.

John Gao, president of the 5.5G domain at Huawei, spoke about accelerating the 5G-Advanced industry to build a better, intelligent world.

“Every 10 years in the mobile industry, there will be a new generation,” stated Gao. For 5.5G, he noted four key service trends: ToC/ToH, IoT, ToB and ToV.

Consumers nowadays are shifting from being content-centric to consumer-centric. 3D cloudification and AI upgrades are needed for online gaming, cloud gaming and content generation. Moreover, at home, operators start to offer speed-based packages as people demand a guaranteed experience: “From volume-based onto speed-based QoS.”

Higher requirements also appear in the IoT, campus and vehicle connections. In IoT, the Passive IoT evolution extends partial-scenario into all-scenario coverage. In addition, in the campus scene, it is mandatory to improve connectivity to deliver factory automation, flow monitoring and edge AI.

Even smart vehicles are set to utilize more smart-assisted driving for situational awareness and traffic management.

Gao confidently emphasized how 5G-Advanced enhances 10x capability and opens new opportunities. ELAA improves coverage for higher frequency bands, with 10 Gbps downlink capability improved by upper 6 GHz and mmWave. “We need the technology to support ubiquitous coverage with a reasonable cost,” said Gao.

In terms of spectrum, Gao conveyed how spectrum decoupling improves utilization efficiency and how smart slicing and layered QoS provide elastic performance. Multi-band Serving Cell (MBSC) improves spectrum efficiency, while Flexible Spectrum Access (FSA) is used for uplink experience improvement.

Applicable to the abovementioned service trends, smart slicing enables 10,000+ parameters across 10+ bands in various channel states. “We believe that 5.5G can provide deterministic channels for the customer,” and the layered QoS brings that to life.

Gao affirmed that 5.5G extends into the all-scenario IoT with ultra-low-cost UE, passive tags, dedicated spectrum and massive connectivity. Passive IoT brings extra value to industrial use cases such as asset inventory, tracking logistics and temperature monitoring. Smart transportation and integrated sensing and communication are also empowered by 5.5G, as Gao explained to all.

To end his presentation, Gao stressed the importance of further cooperation to best enable “5.5G industry acceleration.”

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