The 5.5G is all set to become a reality over the next two-to-three years and will last till 2030, when commercial 6G networks are likely to be launched. This was revealed during a panel discussion on 5.5G and Intelligent World 2030 at the recently held Huawei MBBF 2022.
The 3GPP Release 18, which will give out specifications for 5G Advanced or 5.5G deployment, is likely to be finalized in 2024Q1. This will pave the way for the first 5.5G commercial deployments in 2024, as predicted by Alex Sinclair, CTO at GSMA.
“While 5G will meet the basic coverage and bandwidth needs, 5.5G will be required to support new and innovative use cases and the specific needs of the consumers and enterprises. It will be a bridge technology between 5G and 6G and will provide a downlink speed of 10 Gbps and an uplink speed of 1 Gbps. It will also be able to support 100 billion Internet of Things (IoT) connections and become natively intelligent,” said Gao Quanzhong, 5.5G General Manager at Huawei Wireless Network, during the panel discussion.
Around 230 service providers worldwide have launched commercial 5G services. The telecom industry has already installed more than three million 5G base stations to cater to more than 700 million users. Even as the 5G ecosystem expands, it will soon not be enough to meet the growing demands of subscribers and enterprises.
5.5G is needed not just to support innovative use cases but also to enhance user experience and drive the services’ uptake. For instance, new-age use cases like metaverse, Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) and 5G to business services demand high uplink speed and high-precision positioning, which is not possible with 5G. Further, the growing popularity of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) based use cases means that current 5G networks will not be able to meet the ever-increasing needs of consumers.
Further, the digital transformation of enterprises in all geographies will require networks that support use cases like digital twins and increased usage of robotics applications, which cannot be supported by 4G or 5G. 5.5G will be able to address this gap since 6G is likely to become a reality only by 2030.
A key use case of 5.5G is metaverse which promises to open up new and exciting revenue opportunities for the carriers. “While Metaverse means different things to different people, there is no denying that 5.5G is extremely important for the growth of the metaverse ecosystem,” says the Metaverse expert Moon Jerin, Aeindri CEO. 5.5G will also drive the digital transformation of enterprises from different business verticals
Another reason why 5.5G is crucial is that it will allow service providers to offer new and hitherto unknown use cases to their users and enterprise customers. “It [5.5G] will enable service providers to offer a better quality of network which will not only drive usage but also lead to the emergence of new applications,” says Walid Mathlouthi, Head of Future Networks & Spectrum Management, ITU.
The panellists also called upon strong collaboration and partnership between the industry stakeholders to develop the 5.5G ecosystem. Further, there is a need for the standards to be open to ensure compatibility and interoperability between the systems. This will go a long way in promoting collaboration.
Strategies to drive 5.5G ecosystem
A crucial component required for the growth of the 5.5G ecosystem is regulatory support. “The regulators need to consider assigning spectrum of ultra-wide bandwidth for 5.5G networks. In 5.5G, the spectrum bands, which were difficult to use in the past, will now become helpful. Further, the industry needs to start working on developing devices for 5.5G to unlock the full potential of this technology,” says Gao Quanzhong during the panel discussion.
Technology innovations are key to help service providers transition from 5G to 5.5G. For instance, an Extremely Large Antenna Array (ELAA) enables high-band networks to provide the same coverage as C-band so that service providers can deliver 10 Gbps to all users, irrespective of their location. Furthermore, ELAA Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) is also important as ultra-large bandwidth is essential to mobile networks, requiring all sub-100GHz resources, including FDD spectrum, C-band, 6GHz and millimetre Wave (mmWave) to be fully utilized. Higher performance terminals are also necessary to achieve 10Gbps downlink and 1Gbps uplink by providing more transmitters and receivers.
As the number of 5G networks and subscribers continues to grow worldwide, service providers will need more than 5G to address the growing requirements.