PARTNER CONTENT: Huawei launched a wide-reaching session ahead of MWC Shanghai 24 entitled Driving Shared Success with 5G-Advanced (5G-A), featuring speakers from China’s three leading mobile operators, HKT in Hong Kong, du in UAE and Oman Telecommunications.

The speakers outlined plans to drive the development of 5G-A, and take advantage of the enhanced capabilities.

The event saw the launch of Huawei’s 5G-A Pioneers Programme, which highlighted innovative mobile operators, numerous city showcases, business model upgrades, high-quality network construction, service innovation and joint efforts to develop the ecosystem.

David Wang, Huawei’s Executive Director of the Board and Chairman of the ICT Infrastructure Managing Board, kicked off the session entitled “5G-A: Paving the Way for Shared Success”.

He stated 5G-A networks are being deployed to meet network requirements in the AI era by delivering faster speeds, larger capacity and lower latency. “AI applications will soon make a considerable contribution to overall mobile traffic, driving the need for upgrades.”

Last week, 3GPP release 18, the first standards unveiled for 5G-A, was officially frozen, marking a milestone in the industry, Wang said.  After five years, 5G is the fastest growing mobile communication technology ever, with 261 5G networks around the world serving 1.8 billion users. The rate of user development he claimed is three-times that of 4G.

China celebrated the fifth anniversary of 5G licences being awarded two weeks ago, with the technology improving operators’ capabilities to serve both consumer and enterprise customers.

The country currently has 1.75 billion cellular customers, with 851 million 5G users (with compatible handsets). The number of IoT connections reached 2.33 billion.

Outside of China, the first wave of 5G deployments have seen rapid success, with just 20 per cent of 5G users accounting for 30 per cent of mobile traffic and 40 per cent of mobile service revenue.

But Wang acknowledged there is still a long way to go, arguing the move to 5G-A can protect existing investments, bring new business opportunities and broaden operators’ business scope.

China scale
China Mobile laid out plans to create more diverse applications to stimulate traffic growth, which slowed to 15 per cent a year between 2021 and 2023, after doubling annually for seven years.

Applications such as HD live streaming and immersive 3G games, which put more demand on the uplink capacity, have spurred the push to deploy 5G-A due to its significant uplink enhancement.

By improving its capabilities, the company aims to eventually deliver downlink speeds of 10Gb/s and uplink rates of 1Gb/s, noting 5G-A is a critical transition phase from 5G to 6G.

It also is exploring the use of mmWave spectrum to drive satellite terrestrial integration.

Since officially launching commercial 5G service in late 2019, the company quickly gained a world-leading position in terms of network scale, technological innovation and customer base.

In just over five years, the operator deployed 2.23 million 5G base stations, accounting for more than one-third of the world’s 5G base stations and covering more than 95 per cent of the population. It invested around CNY100 billion annual in its 5G network over that period. It has plans to deploy another 400,000 5G base stations this year.

The number of customers on 5G packages and using compatible handsets reached more than 500 million, with nearly 800 million on 5G packages. The large gap is due to the low price of 5G data plans in China.

With 5G-A on target to increase speeds by 10-times and significantly lower latency, the company backs the technology to incubate new use cases.

Diversified service innovation
China Telecom believes the move to 5G-A will “inject new impetus for 5G” with carrier aggregation and mmWave, enabling it to upgrade enhanced mobile broadband services in terms of latency, bandwidth, reliability, cost and power consumption. Of course, speeds also will improve.

It is targeting capturing 10 per cent of the delivery service revenue, assuming drones take a 50 per cent market share, generating some CNY120 billion a year.

Like other operators in China, the company is prepared to commercialise RedCap across its entire network, after extensive testing, with pilots completed in many enterprise segments.

Meanwhile, China Unicom declared its work on 5G-A started last year and is key to maintaining its position as a leading global network service provider.

The operator has plans to boost coverage of 5G carrier aggregation to more cities to improve the quality of 5G service and make it more affordable. It also is empowering diverse industries with innovative 5G AI applications to accelerate the growth of the ecosystem.

After five years of 5G commercialisation, monthly data usage is peaking, while the enterprise segment is demanding enhanced requirements, such as passive IoT and lower latency, which is driving its move to 5G-A.

The operator serves more than 10,000 private 5G network customers across different industries and has more than 33,000 large-scale 5G projects.

Middle East drivers
UAE operator du outlined its 5G-A roadmap, with a mission to be a global leader in mobile technology. After running trials in 2023, it started deploying 5G-A in Dubai this year, with the aim to cover all major cities by the end of 2025, and nationwide coverage in 2026.

Its 5G penetration was 31 per cent at end-2023, with 98.5 per cent population coverage.

The operator started working on the next generation in FWA, building a solution supported by 5G-A.

Oman Telecommunications began 5G-A trials in the middle of 2023, verifying the capability of passive IoT, RedCap and 10Gb/s download rates using mmWave and TDD carriers.

In phase one, to reach peak download speed of 5Gb/s, Omantel will preemptively enter into key scenarios from 2024-2025.

In phase two, Omantel aims to lead in 5G-A era from 2026-2028 with download speeds of 10G/s.

Moving to Hong Kong, the largest mobile operator in the territory turned to 5G-A to ensure uninterrupted service and manage spikes in network loads during major sports events, concerts and festivals.

It has deployed mmWave spectrum to support FWA traffic, which is projected to more than double over the next three years. The spectrum also is used for backhaul to add transmission diversity for telephone exchange, enhancing network stability and resilience.

The operator racked up 1.4 million 5G customers by end-2023, representing 41 per cent of its postpaid subscribers. The penetration more than doubled since December 2021.

The success of these mobile operators in 5G and clear vision about the future development path of 5G-A positions the pioneers to lead the industry in the future with improved capabilities and various new use cases, with the potential to drive revenue growth well into 2030.