The demand for global connectivity solutions by enterprise and wholesale users has amplified the need for robust and agile telecom networks to support and empower a country’s drive toward digital transformation and economic growth. 5G has seen its large-scale application globally in over 17,000 private line projects serving multiple sectors like manufacturing, port, mining, oil & gas and healthcare and delivering significant economic benefits throughout society. Moreover, industrial digitalization is positioned as the driver for a digital, intelligent economy.
Although we have already embarked on the 5G era, some legacy networks are still serving the needs of connectivity in some parts of the world. However, the inevitable adoption of 5G-powered applications will compel the phasing out of such networks sooner than anticipated. For instance, the UK is expected to discontinue all of its public 3G mobile networks by 2033 to facilitate the mass rollout of 5G.
Moreover, 5G New Radio (NR) and 5G Core (5GC) evolution is continuing in 3GPP toward 5G-Advanced (5G-A). This will ensure the success of 5G systems globally and expand the usage of 3GPP technology by supporting different use cases and verticals. The industry waits in anticipation for Release 18 in 2024, which will be dedicated to 5G standardization.
The vast network of interconnectivity enabled by Internet of Things (IoT) technology is gaining momentum. It is a catalyst for enhancing AI and ML capabilities, data analysis in real-time, industrial solutions, advanced security, edge computing, centralized connectivity, data management, etc., collectively enabling more efficient operations. This capability of the technology, which accelerated during 2020 amidst the COVID pandemic when remote interactions took precedence as a preferred way to keep safe and secure, has carried on with more vigor and gusto. As the digital ecosystem continues to evolve, more connected devices and the IoT will see greater demand for continuous innovation to build next-generation capabilities.
From immersive extended reality (XR) experiences to high-precision location, presence and timing technologies, 5G-Advanced is projected to transform what telecom networks can achieve. The combination of AI/ML data collection and analytics, coupled with the introduction of AI/ML technologies in CORE, RAN and network management, is expected to bring many benefits and new levels of interoperability.
“For mobile broadband communication, it (5GA) promises to bring about unprecedented growth opportunities and enable new service scenarios, applications and business models. One of the significant advantages of 5.5G is its ability to upgrade network capabilities by 10X and support a 10 Gbps experience, enabling 100 billion connections and native intelligence for numerous services,” says Huawei’s An Jian, the president of Carrier Network Business Group, Huawei Middle East and Central Asia.
Here in the Middle East, the UAE has adopted the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and robotics, for its industrial sector, most notably the aviation industry, making it a worldwide hub. The connectivity and ultra-low latency afforded by the 5GA are needed to propel sectors such as aviation and manufacturing, which are critical for positioning the UAE in the leading global arena. For instance, with improvements in industrial connectivity, regional aviation company Sanad Aviation Technologies was able to clinch a deal worth AED23.87 billion with Rolls Royce on the sidelines of the recently concluded Paris Air Show, reflecting the potential of tripling output in manufacturing aviation engines. Such remarkable achievements will require the support of solid connectivity along with the energy conservation capabilities that 5GA technology will provide.
Global Players at Work
Perhaps the most enthusiastic proponent of the 5GA has been the leading ICT equipment maker Huawei, among others.
At a recent event in Beijing, Huawei launched a 5G-Advanced Core promotion initiative alongside industry partners, including the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), 3GPP, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom and others. The group will pool its resources to promote industry consensus and commercial deployment of new core architecture in the 5G-Advanced era. They will also work on building an intelligent, convergent core network to connect everything and enable all services, helping implement the industry’s vision of an intelligent world.
To fully benefit from the value of 5G and better transition towards 6G, Huawei took the industry lead in putting forward the concept of 5.5G. In 2021, 3GPP officially designated 5G-Advanced as the second phase of 5G evolution, starting to standardize its components in Release 18. This latest package of 3GPP mobile standards marked a new chapter in the development of 5G technologies and standards around the world. As the engine of telecom networks, the 5G-Advanced Core will drive all service scenarios with comprehensively enhanced network connectivity.
New service requirements for 5G-Advanced, such as facilitating people’s expectations of videos shifting from 2D to 3D, call for enhanced connections that allow seamless transition from voice and video to intelligent interactions. These requirements stimulate the growth of new scenarios, content, and applications. To address all of these, the 5G-Advanced Core's network capabilities will need to be comprehensively strengthened, especially in terms of adaptive multi-mode connections and fully meshed networking. With intelligent management of topologies, experiences, and services, the 5G-Advanced Core will enable new video, new connectivity, and new calling services, taking service experiences to new heights and fueling the digital transformation of numerous industries.
For wireless 5.5G development, it is essential to have the right spectrum strategy. The U6 GHz spectrum is seen as a valuable asset for 5.5G, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) WRC-23, taking place in October and November in Dubai this year, will play a key role in determining its use for wireless communication. Operators should work with regulators and industry organizations to ensure that U6 GHz is designated as a wireless communication spectrum, which will enable its use for 5.5G and other future wireless technologies. This will require broad support from stakeholders and may involve negotiating with other parties that may also be interested in using the spectrum.
In addition to U6 GHz, mmWave is another spectrum that is being considered for 5.5G. This high-frequency band has the potential to provide ultra-high data rates but also requires significant infrastructure investments due to its limited coverage range. Operators should evaluate the potential benefits and challenges of using mmWave for 5.5G and plan their network strategies accordingly.
Recently, Nokia announced the launch of an enhanced portfolio of next-generation RAN solutions, which they claim deliver twice the performance with 50% energy use, helping customers meet their ESG targets. The future-ready AirScale baseband portfolio supports ultra-high capacity to handle exponential increases in traffic growth. Meanwhile, its MantaRay solutions portfolio helps customers leverage the power of artificial intelligence in their mobile networks, supporting the long-term network evolution to 5G-Advanced and beyond.
How Can Operators Monetize 5G-Advanced?
While 5G has been instrumental in enabling new service scenarios, applications and business models and has paved the way for unprecedented growth opportunities, there are growing demands to cater to new consumer and industry digital transformation needs. The evolution towards 5.5G or beyond is likely to bring more advanced capabilities, higher speeds and greater connectivity to support the growing number of connected devices and emerging applications. Below are some considerations that warrant closer observation.
Ubiquitous Gaming: Mobile XR and cloud gaming both need short set-up times and power efficiency to be available anywhere, anytime, on compact devices with small batteries.
Industrial Operations: Autonomous operations, including autonomous vehicles, robots and drones, as well as monitoring and quality control, demand the frequent and efficient transmission of small data packets to support network performance.
Asset Tracking: 5G-connected tags for asset tracking require minimum energy consumption and ultra-low latency.
Indoor and Outdoor Positioning: New capabilities such as carrier-phased positioning to locate connected devices can improve the accuracy of wireless cellular networks with centimeter-level accuracy.
Real-Time Financial Transactions: Contactless payment has been at the core of digital finance. 5GA connectivity delivers the security and agility needed for such crucial activities.
Wearable Devices: It is estimated that there will soon be over 100 billion IoT connections around the world, making three major technologies vital: RedCap, NB-IoT and Passive IoT that will be connected to personal devices.
Urban Mobility: Both ultra-high-speed trains and autonomous public transport will require next-generation signaling and communications systems that are connected to smart grids for maximally efficient operations.
How Can Network Operators Approach 5GA?
Network operators must be the enablers for people and businesses to reap the benefits of the latest technology, whatever that may be. “The move towards the 5.5G era will be a collaborative effort of industry players to create a better, intelligent world together. It promises to unlock new opportunities for growth and innovation across various industries,” reiterates Huawei’s An Jian. When it comes to 5G-Advanced, operators have to exercise stringent revenue and cash-flow management through proper strategies put in place through the following:
Focus on Innovation: Investment in the latest software, hardware and talents, along with digital-age management practices, can help mobile operators achieve breakthrough cost savings and capital intensity while maintaining or even increasing their scale. Managing networks with next-generation technologies can cut the capital spending and operating expenses of wireless operators. Digitalization can support the streamlining of business functions and customer service operations. Upgrading the platforms and network elements that do not support the full capabilities of the existing technologies should remain a constant feature.
Leverage Data: Advanced analytics can help mobile operators determine which capital investments will benefit their network operations the most. Operators can look through ample data about where, when and how much subscribers' behaviors and device use patterns change in less time. This practice will ultimately result in better subscriber retention management.
Enhance Industry Collaboration: Collaboratively developing know-how and best practices for upcoming technologies through multi-vendor interoperability of service providers, transport network solutions, etc. Testing and validation of various integration points between IT and network systems for new technology-based changes are key.
Looking Towards 6G
Judging by the principles of technological shifts, even the current transformation taking place will start to face challenges beyond the capacities of 5G and 5G-Advanced (5G&B). Industry players are already talking about 6G technologies to provide an efficient, human-friendly and sustainable society through ever-present intelligent communication. In the era of the “network of sensing,” 6G wireless communications will become the mainstay for running huge bitrates (terabits per second) with less than 1 ms latency, connecting people to many possibilities. Along with AI and AR/VR, many future data-intensive applications and services are expected to demand a higher data rate (+1 Tbps) and an extremely low delay (0.1 ms). These will include pervasive edge intelligence, high-precision manufacturing, holographic rendering, ultra-massive machine-type communications and MR-based gaming. Furthermore, deployment of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is already underway in different parts of the world as the IP address space in the current version, IPv4, begins to narrow rapidly as more connected devices are linked to the digital grid. Until humanity arrives at that point in time, 5G-Advanced promises unimaginable opportunities for both enterprise and consumer segments. Such achievements, however, will require the constant fostering of industry partnerships to maximize the systematic and reliable 5G capabilities that are essential for the increasingly intelligent world that we live in.