While much of the world still waits patiently for their first taste of 5G, Huawei is already eyeing the technology’s long-term evolution
In most countries around the world, 5G is still very much in its infancy. With limited deployments, often heavily supported by existing 4G spectrum, only a very small number of customers get to enjoy the blisteringly fast speeds that are being so vaunted by 5G proponents.
Nonetheless, 2020 saw 5G deployment scale up rapidly. According to the GSA, there are already 122 active commercial 5G networks in 49 countries, while almost 300 operators are investing in 5G. In China alone, China Telecom and China Mobile combined had around 250,000 5G subscribers at the end of last year. Similar growth is or soon will be happening in markets around the world.
The economic imperative for 5G evolution
The increasingly rapid adoption of 5G we are seeing globally is expected to translate into a monumental boost for the world’s economy, as 5G brings with it myriad of potential for new services and industrial applications. In 2020, research from STL Partners forecast that 5G-enabled technology would grow the global economy by $1.5 trillion by 2030, primarily through impacting key industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and transport and distribution.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, this economic boost is needed now more than ever. Last year, a study by Analysys Mason estimated the impact of the pandemic on the telecoms industry over 2020 at $43 billion, suggesting that revenue would not rebound to exceed pre-Covid levels until 2023. It is clear that operators need to realise the true economic value of 5G as quickly as possible.
Key to realising these economic benefits of 5G, for both operators and society at large, is to realise that 5G development is a process. The transition from 3G to 4G was not instant, but a long process of technical evolution, and the same will be true for 5G. The technology will need to be nurtured and moulded as it matures, and the industry needs to come together to achieve this next step.
But what will 5G development look like?
For Huawei, who are working to define what they are calling 5.5G, this evolution should be understood best through identifying the ways in which 5G can create a future where everything is intelligent and connected, and allows us to interact more seamlessly with the virtual world. This means a focus on enhancing the IoT, transitioning from video to holographic interaction, and laying the groundwork for autonomous vehicles and drones.
Working together with industry, 5.5G seeks to fully utilise the spectrum below 100 GHz, making use of the latest technologies in the industry, such as AI and sensing, to enrich and expand 5G application scenarios and overcome current limitations. From Huawei’s perspective, 5.5G will encompass three new scenarios for which the industry needs to jointly define and prepare.
Unleashing the IoT
The low latency and high reliability of 5G makes it ideal for massive IoT applications, with enormous potential for helping to unlock Industry 4.0 and smart cities. However, there still remain technical challenges in this area, particularly in uplink throughput, and in future the IoT’s requirements will increase even further, especially when it comes to collecting more data in the uplink.
In the first new scenario laid out by Huawei, which they term Uplink Centric Broadband Communication (UCBC), the industry must work towards greatly enhancing the capabilities of machine vision and data collection, allowing for massive broadband IoT, as well as rapid video uploads in an industrial setting.
Extended reality everywhere, for everyone
Huawei’s second scenario is all about novel user experience with extended reality (XR). 5.5G must support the wide deployment of various XR technologies, allowing users to interact with the virtual world instantly, anywhere – something which can not be achieved consistently with current 5G. This will require a 10-fold increase in bandwidth with reliably low latency, which Huawei are terming Real-Time Broadband Communication (RTBC).
Realising connected vehicle ecosystems
The final scenario deals more closely with yet another 5G possibility that has not yet come to pass with current technology – a comprehensive upgrade to the IoT that will make autonomous vehicles a reality. The mobile network must be expanded to fit the needs of connected vehicles and unmanned air vehicles (drones), combining high reliability with precision positioning data. Huawei call this Harmonised Communication and Sensing (HCS).
Industry unity critical for 5G evolution
5G can undoubtedly change society as we know, from unlocking new experiences to revolutionising the industrial world. But without industry collaboration, this process will be slow at best and, at worst, completely disjointed.
Speaking at the 2020 Global Mobile Broadband Forum, at the end of last year, David Wang, Huawei’s Executive Director, expressed his desire to work together with the telecoms industry at large to build on the current foundations presented by the International Telecommunication Union and work towards 3GPP Release 18.
“5.5G is our vision for the industry. It is an enhancement and extension of the three standard 5G scenarios defined by the ITU: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine type communications (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC),” he explained.
"Unified standards and industry collaboration are the core DNA that shapes the success of the global wireless communications industry. The development of 5.5G requires collaboration between all parties up and down the value chain."
There are still many challenges that need to be overcome when it comes to delivering 5.5G, including increasing spectrum efficiency and further leveraging AI to handle complex networking operations – all of which can only be achieved through industry-wide cooperation.
During the 5G Advanced Summit at MWC Shanghai 2021, industry experts will explore 5G advanced visions and much more technology innovations!
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