With more than 230 5G networks deployed worldwide serving 1+ billion end user devices, 5G has become the fastest-growing cellular standard of all time. However, there is an urgent need to prepare for the future to enable operators and enterprises to leverage its full capabilities. 5G Advanced (5.5G) is the next evolutionary step in 5G technology which will introduce new levels of capabilities, enabling operators to generate a return on their 5G investments.
The “10 Gbps Everywhere” Experience
Compared to conventional 5G, 5.5G represents a 10-fold improvement in performance across the board. This means that 5.5G networks will be able to provide ubiquitous 10 Gbps downlink and 1 Gbps uplink speeds while supporting 100 billion IoT connections – compared to just 10 billion with 5G. In addition, 5.5G is expected to deliver latency and positioning accuracy that are a fraction of the current 5G standard as well as significant reductions in overall network power consumption.
5.5G will provide enhanced connectivity and better user experiences. By leveraging the 10 Gbps downlink throughput and low milli-second latency, 5.5G will bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds. Although 5G already provides some immersive services, 5.5G will enable interactive immersive services, such as 24k resolution VR gaming, glasses-free 3D video and 3D online malls.
Benefits for Enterprises
In addition to enhanced connectivity, 5.5G will offer a broad range of new capabilities for enterprises. Counterpoint Research expects a surge in new private network applications as networks are able to leverage the technical innovations enabled by 5.5G. For instance, enterprises will benefit greatly from the 1 Gbps uplink capability, enabling, for example, high-precision AI-based industrial vision inspection, while enhanced positioning with sub-10cm accuracy – both indoors and outdoors – will enable a plethora of new Industry 4.0 applications.
In addition, 5.5G will support three rapidly developing IoT technologies: NB IoT, RedCap and passive IoT tags, an innovative, low cost location sensing technology. A promising application of passive IoT tags is HCS-based Millimetre Wave technology, an integrated sensing and communications technology, which enables centimetre precise positioning of objects, including pedestrians and personal items, livestock, autonomous vehicles, drones, etc. On the network side, enhanced AI/ML capabilities across the RAN, core and network management domains plus new power saving features will result in significant energy savings for operators.
Standards and Spectrum
Technical standards are the bedrock of the telecommunications industry and it is imperative that common standards are adopted worldwide. The standardization of 5.5G via 3GPP Release 18 is on-going. However, the industry must work together to ensure that Release 18 is frozen by the first quarter of 2024 as planned to enable 5.5G to be introduced from 2025 onwards.
Release 18 will be followed by Releases 19 and 20 after which the 3GPP will focus on 6G. Clearly, industry players need to collaborate closely over the next few years in order to define and maximise the technical innovations and capabilities of 5.5G and to ensure new services and use case scenarios are properly supported. This will help to maximise the potential of 5.5G for operators and extend its lifecycle.
Additional spectrum will be required to enable 5.5G to deliver its full potential. Re-farming of legacy 2G and 3G bands will free some lower band spectrum. However, this is not sufficient. More spectrum in the 6GHz and millimetre bands is necessary. With the WRC-23 radio conference taking place in November, it is essential that all stakeholders, including governments and regulators as well as operators and vendors, agree on the best spectrum strategy. Clearly, the 6GHz band should be a key 5.5G target band for the industry. In fact, the 3GPP has already licensed the 6,425-7,125MHz bands and Counterpoint Research expects that the upper part of this band will be identified as an IMT band at WRC-23. Millimetre wave is another key spectrum band for 5.5G and more than 800MHz additional millimetre wave spectrum will likely be needed to enable operators to deliver the 10 Gbps experience.
Networks and Devices
Networks and devices will need to be upgraded to enable 5G Advanced and this will involve further innovation with respect to 5.5G chipset technologies and devices.
5.5G will introduce a plethora of new devices with new capabilities beyond smartphones. Some of these will be full-capability devices while others will have reduced capabilities. For example, Red Cap devices only need to support a shortened set of specific capabilities, for example, video surveillance devices used for industrial quality control, process monitoring, sensing or tracking. However, all players, including chipset and device OEMs, must start working immediately to define the digital requirements for individual vertical use cases and applications in order to ensure that an ecosystem of suppliers is developed.
A significant recent development is the release of millimetre chipsets. For example, Qualcomm recently demonstrated its 5.5G Snapdragon chip, which offers 10 Gbps speed with 10CC carrier aggregation on millimetre wave and 5CC carrier aggregation on sub-6GHz frequencies. Similarly, MediaTek’s chipset offers downlink and uplink speeds of 7.67 Gbps and 3.76 Gbps respectively.
Upgrading Fibre to 5G Advanced
Achieving the “10 Gbps Everywhere” experience” will involve upgrading standards for fixed fibre broadband as well as for 5G RAN and Core. In fact, the evolution of Fibre Broadband 5G (F5G) to all-optical F5.5G has already progressed from proposals to specification design.
Performance improvements in fibre networks will be achieved by agreements on the use of key technologies such as 50G Passive Optical Network (PON) technology, Fibre to the Room (FTTR), etc. 50G PON is being standardized as the next-generation PON by the ITU-T. Together with technologies such as “uplink/downlink symmetry” and “multi-band in one,” this will pave the way for a smooth evolution to F5.5G. Last September, ETSI released its F5G Advanced White Paper and the standards body has been leading the formulation of F5.5G’s first release, Release 3, which will be frozen in first half of 2024.
The development of 5.5G and F5.5G will require a converged fixed/wireless IP network. Work on the definition of a new converged network – tentatively called Net5.5G – has already begun. Both the IETF and the IEEE are working on the first phase of Net5.5G standardization, but consensus is still needed on fixed/wireless bearer technologies such as 800GE backbone, 400GE MAN, etc. as well as on key aspects of other technologies such as WiFi-7, Segment Routing over IPv6 (SRv6), etc. before the new standard is released in 2024. With new capabilities, Net5.5G will enable operators maximise the potential of 5.5G and provide new opportunities for growth.
The increasing popularity of immersive experiences and the emergence of the metaverse coupled with the demands of enterprise digital transformation mean that 5G networks will soon be unable to support the expected exponential growth in traffic. With 6G around 8-12 years away, 5.5G is the next obvious evolution of 5G and next-generation consumer and B2B opportunities will only be possible if operators and enterprises upgrade to 5.5G.
However, a successful and timely upgrade to 5.5G will require all industry stakeholders – from technical standards bodies, operators, network and device manufacturers to policy developers and regulators – to work closely together and collaborate on key 5.5G enablers, including standards, spectrum, networks and device specifications, etc. Major MNOs will be required to pilot new 5.5G technologies and build business cases. In addition, Counterpoint Research believes that an industry consensus on the digital requirements of new use cases needs to be developed, particularly with respect to enterprise vertical uses cases, as well as a focus on developing a diverse ecosystem of players encompassing all verticals. Finally, closer collaboration between the mobile and fixed telecoms communities will be essential in order to ensure synchronization of standards between wireless and fixed networks.
 Harmonized Communications Sensing