Chinese equipment vendor Huawei is trumpeting its 4.5G credentials ahead of this year's Mobile World Congress, today setting a target of capturing 60 commercial 4.5G customers by the end of this year.
During a press conference in London on Tuesday, the operator unveiled a new lineup of 4.5G products under the brand name of GigaRadio, including a blade remote radio unit and active antenna unit.
The company claims the radio equipment is about 20% smaller and 50% faster than other products in the market and potentially supports 1Gbit/s connection speeds -- way in excess of what is considered possible over today's 4G networks.
Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. 's 4.5G announcements followed a flurry of news about 5G developments, with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) saying it plans to start trials of 5G technologies later this year and Sweden's Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) claiming it has already signed test agreements for 5G with nearly 20 operators. (See Ericsson Has Inked Nearly 20 5G Test Agreements and AT&T Lights Fire Under 5G, Plans 2016 Trials.)
Asked about its own 5G activities at today's press conference, Huawei insisted the technology is still several years away and that operators will need something far more capable than 4G in the meantime.
"We will have to wait for five years or even longer [for 5G]," said William Xu, Huawei's chief marketing strategy officer. "That is why Huawei has proposed 4.5G."
Xu told conference attendees that besides boosting connection speeds, 4.5G will be able to support around 100,000 connections per cell site, compared with just 2,000 when it comes to 4G. "More importantly, 4.5G can increase capacity based on the current spectrum resources in the hands of the carriers, which ushers in more business opportunities," said Xu.
The inclusion of an enhanced voice service codec with 4.5G technology should also lead to improvements in call quality for customers, according to Huawei.
Qiu Heng, Huawei's president of wireless marketing operations, said this year will see an explosion of interest in 4.5G technology. "We predict Huawei will have 60 commercial networks on 4.5G in 2016," he told reporters and analysts.
While Huawei has yet to announce any customers for GigaRadio, it noted that leading operators in nine markets had already taken 4.5G steps -- those countries being Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Norway, Singapore, Turkey and the UAE.
"Because it is an evolution from the existing network, operators can reuse equipment to achieve a higher return on investment with 4.5G," said Qiu Heng.
Last year's decision by the 3GPP to standardise 4.5G as LTE-Advanced Pro could help to fuel additional interest in the technology among equipment vendors and service providers.
Indeed, some services marketed under the 5G umbrella between now and 2020 -- when the first 5G standards are widely expected to appear -- are likely to be based on 4.5G technology.
Qiu Heng believes 4.5G will be capable of supporting emerging video and virtual reality services and able to cope with a surge in data traffic over the next few years.
By 2020, Huawei reckons the average mobile customer will be using about 5GB of data on a monthly basis and predicts there will be around 3 billion "connected things" on cellular networks. "The answer to this vision now is 4.5G," said Qiu Heng.
Beyond this date, it expects 5G technology to provide connection speeds of up to 10 Gbit/s and much lower latency than is possible with 4G-based technologies.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading