5G Advanced Has Enormous Potential, Will Operators Seize the Opportunity?

5G Advanced has arrived, offering the most powerful tools and standards yet. However, its successful rollout will demand innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.

Jay Ian Birbeck

June 18, 2024

It's official: 2024 marks the beginning of the 5G Advanced era. With 3GPP on the brink of standard ratification, the stage is set for the commercial launch of 5G Advanced sometime this year.

It has been quite clear for some time that operators need to ready their networks for the expected upsurge in data from AI, automation, and XR. OpenAI's unveiling of Sora, a text-to-video model, just before MWC emphasized this point. This development alone has the potential to increase network traffic by a factor of 10.

In this context, the release of 5G Advanced is perfectly timed. 5G Advanced is a more intelligent network, designed specifically for rapidly growing sectors such as artificial intelligence and extended reality (XR), with the ability to handle much larger data flows at unprecedented speeds.

"5G Advanced is definitely a game changer because we anticipate that traffic data will continue to grow," stated Alan Loh, innovation solutions executive general manager at Zain KSA. "5G Advanced will allow this traffic growth and fulfill the required demand."

Dr. Philip Song, chief marketing officer of Huawei Carrier Business, echoed this, noting that "5G Advanced features big improvements in performance and capabilities. It supports more high-bandwidth, low-latency, and high-reliability services."

5G Advanced can support downlink speeds of up to 10 Gbps and uplink speeds of 1 Gbps. It can also support up to 100 billion devices. These astounding metrics will improve performance and reduce costs. Yet, for investment-shy operators, the real draw of 5G Advanced lies in its promising new use cases.

"It's not only about high performance; it's also about new solutions," said Loh. "And you really see that in RedCap and Passive Internet of Things (IoT)."

RedCap technology enables cost-effective, quickly deployable 5G Advanced chips and devices, significantly lowering the barrier to entry for 5G devices.

"5G RedCap can further penetrate the market with its lower price," said Alexander Wang, senior director of the Product Planning and Marketing Division of Unisoc (Shanghai) Technologies Co., Ltd. "We expect to see explosive growth of RedCap in the 5G ToB use cases, enabling 5G-based industrial interconnections to scale up."

Another groundbreaking innovation is Passive IoT, which connects devices to the 5G Advanced network via power-free tags. This technology could benefit wearables, medical devices, and smart grids. Additionally, the private line slicing capabilities of 5G Advanced allow 5G networks to undertake various roles typically associated with fixed networks.

With these innovations, operators will be able to exploit new commercial and business opportunities. For example, in China, Passive IoT and RedCap have notably enhanced efficiency in test factories, elevating inventory accuracy from 90% to 99%, according to Huawei.

But wait, haven't we been here before? Weren't smart factories and ubiquitous IoT part of the original 5G promise?

Yes, they were, and in that sense, 5G Advanced is completing unfinished business. "When we designed 5G, there was plenty of hype and many use cases. However, not all these use cases made it into commercial reality," said Alain Mourad, chair of the ETSI ISAC ISG and head of Wireless Lab Europe at Interdigital, emphasizing that 5G Advanced has a sharper focus on commercially viable use cases.

To enable those use cases, chipmakers like Qualcomm are ensuring a rapid adoption cycle by making many more products 5G Advanced compatible from the get-go. Qualcomm has announced its Snapdragon X80 5G Modem-RF system to lead this charge.

According to Qualcomm's Global Vice President Hou Mingjuan, the X80 chip is already commercialized, and smartphone manufacturers, automakers, and XR device makers will receive it in the coming months. "In the middle of the year or second half of 2024, many products and services powered by the X80 will be ready," said Hou.

However, the onus will be ultimately on operators to develop and profit from these new use cases, which requires a departure from traditional thinking. Loh believes that the most successful operators of the 5G Advanced era will be those who can revamp their approaches and organizational frameworks to seize rapidly emerging opportunities.

Vendors are eager to help operators ensure a return on their 5G Advanced investments.  Huawei, for example, is collaborating with 30 global operators to roll out 5G Advanced across various use cases.

And Huawei isn't alone. "We're working with operators, helping them partner with the right people in each of the verticals," said Daniel Mausoof, vice president of Technology & Solutions Mobile Networks, ME & Africa, Nokia. "We continue to drive that ecosystem with the right partnerships, bringing them together, and hoping operators across the world understand the benefits of 5G Advanced, opening up new cases for enterprises."

Benjamin Du, CEO of MeiG Smart, summarized the advantages: "First, 5G Advanced is faster, which means it can carry more 5G backhaul traffic and meet the high bandwidth requirements of 5G SMEs and homes. Second, with the development of AI, particularly AIGC, we will explore many new applications in the 5G + AI application scenario. Third, we will soon release some lightweight and low-cost solutions in the fields of 5G NR-Light and RedCap. These solutions can be applied in countries seeking lower-cost solutions, and expanding coverage to these countries will help promote the development of the 5G industry."

Ultimately, 5G Advanced is about much more than just adding capacity and speed; it offers operators unprecedented tools to expand their services. But success hinges on how well they leverage these tools. It's a worthy investment, provided operators can master its potential. Will they rise to the occasion?

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