Operators across the world are betting on innovation to get the best value out of 5G deployments and create new business cases for futuristic services

Telemedicine, telecommuting, e-education, and e-health—though these concepts have been around for over a decade, they took flight only in the past year. This is true in part to the innovations in mobile networks and the accelerated digitization due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to GSMA’s State of Mobile Internet Connectivity report, almost half of the world’s population – 3.8 billion people – uses mobile internet. GSMA has analyzed more than ten types of services, such as online video, education, healthcare, and shopping in low- and middle-income countries where mobile Internet adoption is slow. The report says that over 70% of half of the services are carried on mobile networks, while the other half has seen rapid growth in the past two years.

As technical innovation continues in the 5G era, Edholm’s law continues to hold true as more carriers are able to build gigabit mobile networks by using technologies such as C-band Massive MIMO. Edholm’s law says that the bandwidth and data rates double every 18 months, and this continues to be the case since the 1970s. 

"This rapid development happens for one fundamental reason, that is, sustained 5G innovation is a common pursuit across the entire industry chain. In the past few years, carriers have innovated in services, terminal vendors have innovated in new forms and applications, system device vendors have innovated in systems, algorithms, and solutions, and industry users have innovated in industrial applications. All these push forward the progress of 5G," said Ritchie Peng, President of 5G Product Line, Huawei. 

Better user experience

The experience of consumers using 5G mobile phones has also greatly improved. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, for example, conducted drive tests in several major cities across China. The results show that 5G can achieve an experienced rate of nearly 1 Gbps, which is over ten times higher than LTE rates anytime and anywhere.

"China has done well in 5G. The reason is the extensive deployment of Massive MIMO on TDD mid-band to build a high-bandwidth fundamental network that provides seamless coverage. Massive MIMO is a major achievement in system innovation. Last year, Huawei launched a Massive MIMO product which weighs around 25 kg and consumes 15% less power than earlier devices," Peng explained.  

China has seen some notable progress in 5G after one year of commercial adoption. Nearly 0.8 million 5G sites have been deployed, and over 80% of them use Massive MIMO. 5G is accessible in more than 300 cities and counties, and the number of 5G users is close to 200 million. 5G mobile phone shipments have stably maintained above 60% since June 2020.

The 5G simplified site allows some customers to quickly deploy 5G Massive MIMO at sites that cannot have more antennas installed.

Giving an example of this from Europe, Peng spoke about Swiss operator Sunrise. "Sunrise in Switzerland is one of the earliest carriers in Europe to carry out 5G C-band construction. When deploying 5G Massive MIMO, it soon found that it was short of space to install antennas. This is common in many European regions. In Switzerland, nearly 90% of sites can have only one antenna, and it would take six-to-nine months to approve a request for increasing the original antenna installation height by 10%. To solve the customer’s problem, Huawei developed the world’s first Blade AAU, which allows the customer to deploy Massive MIMO with traditional antennas," Peng said. Currently, over 50% of Sunrise’s Massive MIMO sites are deployed using Blade AAU. And because of this, Sunrise has quickly brought 5G coverage to 90% of the country’s population. 

Uplink enhancement using SUL spectrum

In 2020, the rapid development of social media, short video, and live streaming had created immense pressure on the uplink capabilities of 5G TDD. This is also partly because TDD networks are comparatively weak in the uplink. 

Huawei proposed Superior Uplink or SUL in 2017. This time, SUL phased out TDD as the enhanced uplink solution for UEs at cell edges. In 2019, to further improve the uplink experience, Huawei proposed key technologies of SUL, including TDM-based scheduling between TDD and SUL, to improve uplink coverage and capacity at or near the cell center. In a test of carrier T, SUL improved the uplink experience remarkably. 

"As industrial applications began extensive exploration in 2020, machine vision poses high requirements on uplink bandwidth. SUL helped achieve gigabit in the uplink, and the effect has been tested in some scenarios. SUL proves that sustained innovation can improve network capabilities and meet service requirements," Peng said. 

As for industrial applications, Huawei and carriers came up with a couple of key services, such as video upload, remote control, machine vision, and positioning. We developed corresponding solutions to meet these service requirements. "For example, we provided Super Uplink for gigabit uplink at ports, ultra-low latency for remote control in steel scenarios, and high-precision positioning at factories. This way, network capabilities are differentiated, and on-demand deployment is realized," Peng said. 

Multi-dimensional capabilities to drive 5G innovations

1+N will be the future trend in the 5G era, Peng augured. "1 means a high-bandwidth network capable of Massive MIMO to deliver seamless coverage. This year, Huawei will launch enhanced Massive MIMO, Blade AAU Pro, and ultra-broadband FDD Massive MIMO products. Multi-dimensional capabilities will be developed, including ultra-broadband, multi-sector, and multi-band integration solutions to simplify 5G network deployment." Besides, in addition to 5GtoC services, automation will be further expanded to 5GtoH and 5GtoB to empower carriers to provide capabilities required for digital transformation across a wide range of industries.

Operators worldwide are betting on innovations in industries, applications, and terminals to expand 5G networks’ capabilities and make them all-pervasive in 2021 and beyond.