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As the first generation of 5G networks continue on their rapid deployment trajectory, the conversation is now focused on what the networks can actually do and how firms can use them to deliver business outcomes, yet at the same time, the mobile technology industry is prepping for the next generation of 5G, 5.5G or 5G Advanced, and its leading proponents assure that all of the promises that were made in 5G’s early days will be delivered through the new standard.
Data from the intelligence unit of mobile trade association the GSMA show 5G connections are expected to double over the next two years, expedited by technological innovations and new 5G network deployments in more than 30 countries in 2023 alone. Of the new networks to be deployed in 2023, it’s expected that 15 will be 5G Standalone networks.
As of January 2023, the GSMA calculated that there were 229 commercial 5G networks globally and more than 700 5G smartphone models available to users. The association adds that its forecasts also point to a significant period of growth in terms of mobile subscribers and enterprise adoption.
The data showed consumer connections surpassed one billion at the end of 2022 and will increase to around 1.5 billion this year – before reaching two billion by the end of 2025. This momentum confirms 5G as the fastest generational roll-out, when compared with 3G and 4G.
The study also forecasts growth will also come from key markets in APAC and LATAM, such as Brazil and India, which have recently launched 5G networks. India will be especially significant, with the expansion of services from Airtel and Jio in 2023 expected to be pivotal to the region’s ongoing adoption.
GSMA Intelligence predicts there will be four 5G networks in India by the end of 2025, accounting for 145 million additional users. It added that many of the new 5G markets scheduled to launch networks in 2023 are in developing regions across Africa and Asia. Today, 5G adoption in the sub-Saharan region sits below 1%, but the study forecasts this will reach over 4% by 2025 and 16% in 2030, largely thanks to a concerted effort from industry and government organisations to provide connectivity to citizens.
Yet as this roll-out is going on, the industry’s leaders – such as Qualcomm, Huawei, China Mobile, Zain and Ericsson – were using MWC to look into the future of new 5G wireless innovations that are strengthening the 5G foundation. 5G Advanced is seen as a key enabler of AR/VR services including the metaverse and massive internet of things, with its enhanced uplink connectivity and how it will take telecoms beyond current technologies bridging 5G, 6G and more.
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Tech provider Huawei suggested there would be five major characteristics of the 5.5G era: 10 Gbps experiences, full-scenario interconnection, integrated sensing and communication, L4 autonomous driving networks, and green ICT. It added that leading global operators, standards organisations and industry ecosystem partners are coming together to promote innovation and exploration for this 5.5G era, as it will create more new applications and business opportunities.
Taking to the show floor at MWC, John Gao, president of 5.5G domain at Huawei, noted that among the new service trends driven by the new standard was a shift in communications being content-centric to experience-centric; from a best effort to a deterministic experience.
A 5.5G network said Huawei would offer downlinks up to around 10 Gbps and uplinks in the gigabit ball park. Mobile data positioning accuracy would be at the cm levels and technology could sense speeds and distances of moving vehicles, something not possible with current 5G technology. To give an example, this would see an evolution from internet services to assisted smart driving, extended reality or cloud gaming, and AI content generation.
Tingfang Ji, vice-president of engineering in Wireless R&D at Qualcomm, declared the next generation of 5G would drive digital transformation across all industries. The new technologies being developed, he said, would take 5G to new, more diverse verticals and use cases, through a stronger, more capable wireless system foundation.