MWC 2024: Huawei looks to advance 5.5G opportunity

As 5G mobile networks celebrate five years of commercial availability, racking up over 1.5 billion users around the world, around a fifth of the marketplace, comms tech giant Huawei has revealed its plans to take advantage of the forthcoming 5.5G/5G Advanced networks that are due for launch in the latter part of 2024.

At its 5G Beyond Growth Summit at MWC Barcelona 2024, Li Peng, Huawei’s corporate senior vice-president and president of ICT sales and services, set the case as to how comms service operators that have achieved business success in 5G can take advantage of 5.5G to further unlock the potential of networks and create new growth opportunities.

Offering evidence as to what this revolution would look like and how it would happen, Huawei noted that, to date, users have proven willing to purchase mobile package experience upgrades if the networks are of high enough quality. The traffic generated by these users is expected to increase significantly. This, said the tech firm, has led to more carriers proposing strategic goals that include the construction of high-quality 5G networks.

Indeed, Huawei pointed to a number of carriers in the Middle East that had deployed Massive MIMO networks, and the optimal experience delivered by these networks have made the roll-out of 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) a success, currently connecting nearly three million households. In another example, Huawei highlighted a Chinese carrier that had launched a guaranteed uplink package to provide live streamers with smooth, high-definition live-streaming experiences.

“5G is on the right path to business success. 5G has already gained 1.5 billion users around the world. It took nine years for 4G to make this happen,” Li explained. “These users generate 30% of all mobile traffic and contribute to 40% of mobile service revenue. 5.5G is entering commercial use in 2024, and as 5.5G, AI [artificial intelligence] and cloud converge, carriers can unlock the potential of new applications and capabilities.”

Plotting out the future opportunities, Eric Zhao, Huawei vice-president and chief marketing officer for wireless solutions, emphasised that the industry was on a new 5G journey and that the age of 5.5G “is now”, offering the prospect of native 10Gbps connectivity, native green technology and native intelligence.

Zhao set out what he believes would be a feasible timeline and roadmap for the development of 5.5G over the next 10 years. The first 5.5G 3GPP standard, release 18, will be ready in the first half of 2024, with commercialisation ready for later in the year. All spectrum bands have been identified and terminal technology was mature.

The fundamental offer from the new standard was that there would be around 10x enhanced capabilities. In addition to 10Gbps downlink speeds, it would be able to support 1Gbps uplinks. Huawei predicts 100 billion 5.5G connections supporting what would be “ultimate” and “ubiquitous” experience.

Importantly, mainstream technology suppliers have now completed multiple rounds of iteration around 5.5G support. Qualcomm and MTK were both cited in terms of chipsets, while the device and terminal market was being spearheaded by Apple’s iPhone 15, the Samsung Galaxy S24, Vivo’s X100 Pro and Oppo’s Find 7.

There were already operators head of the pack and set up to take advantage. Zhao highlighted the fact that over 50 operators have mmWave networks ready to support 5.5G and some – including DNA Finland, VDF Spain, HKT Hong Kong and AIS Thailand – have already tested mmWave network for 10Gbps connections. He also referred to legacy spectrum combinations, particularly in China and the Middle East, which he said had abundant FDD and TDD spectrum.

Zhao also noted that there would be three new capabilities through 5.5G: harmonised communication and sensing (HCS); passive internet of things (IoT); and native intelligence. Explaining the importance of the “native” parts of the proposition, Zhao said the task would be to provide intelligence to the wireless networks. He cautioned that we believe that in the future as networks get more complex, it would be necessary to introduce intelligence to cope with the additional workloads and demands. This was, he added, why Huawei had identified now native intelligence as a key feature for its solution design.

Passive IoT is regarded as a potentially massive opportunity. In 2022, working with China Mobile in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, Huawei conducted field tests of a passive IoT running on a prototype 5G-Advanced network enabling large numbers of sensors to transmit data without the need for batteries.

With 5.5G, Zhao said Huawei would be able to upgrade IoT capability, with faster development and more diverse types of IoT connections. “[Enabling] industries, the high bandwidth, high reliability and low latency of 5.5G will make it possible for wireless technology to become a part of the core production. As a result, digitisation and intelligent transport will make an intelligent transformation of the manufacturers. 5.5G will be able to connect vehicles and upgrade [them] to become intelligent.”

Concluding, Zhao emphasised that Huawei was set for the revolution to come. Standards were there, spectrum was in place, terminals were mature, and so the business was ready.

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