During MWC Barcelona 2024, China Mobile, GTI and the GSMA hosted the GTI Summit 2024.

The second part of the summit, the 5G New Calling Industry Development Forum 2024, offered important insights and discussions into the current state of 5G New Calling and its outlook. Speakers from some of the companies driving progress (for example China Mobile, Huawei, the GSMA, 3GPP and iFLYTEK) provided an update on developments and opportunities. The scale of attendees who participated was certainly an important sign of a growing interest in this emerging technology.

What is 5G New Calling and why does it matter?
In simple words, 5G New Calling is an enhanced mobile voice/video service employing 5G network technology (and 5G-Advanced in the future) and the IMS data channel to enhance or even transform the user experience of voice/video calls. Think about the ability to use real-time translation while making a voice call or to enjoy fun/immersive calling through personalised avatars, or even the possibility to share content or access interactive menus from a restaurant or call centre: these are only some of the prominent features 5G New Calling is expected to deliver.

Mobile voice services have been around for more than three decades, but they have been heavily disrupted by the growth of OTT voice services in the last ten years or so. Against this background, it is natural to ask why a new technology for mobile voice services is coming only now. The superior network capabilities brought by standalone 5G networks (in terms of bandwidth, speed, latency and overall network performance) compared with 4G networks, enables better provision of high-definition and immersive audio and video communications.

Key takeaways from the forum

  • Still in the early days. It is fair to say 5G New Calling is still in its infancy. However, it is capturing growing attention from a diverse range of ecosystem players (for example operators, OEMs, network vendors and chip manufacturers) and end-user enterprises keen to explore how to develop the technology and how to capitalise on its benefits.
  • China leads. The Chinese ecosystem is moving much faster than in other regions, unsurprisingly given China has been making faster progress on 5G in terms of rollout, customer adoption and service innovation. China Mobile has already reached more than 4 million 5G New Calling users, having launched commercial services in late 2023. The operator also pointed out New Calling+ (an evolution of 5G New Calling) is one of the innovations and commercial practices it is promoting for 5G-Advanced.
  • Standardisation is a key enabler. ETSI highlighted the evolution of IMS data channels in 3GPP Rel-18 (March 2024) and onwards (Rel-19) will enable new features for 5G New Calling.
  • User experience has to be excellent. The voice market is highly competitive, with OTT players taking a major share of the traffic. To compete with large-scale OTT services, 5G New Calling needs to provide a superior user experience alongside innovative features and services for consumers and enterprises.
  • A diverse range of use cases. 5G New Calling applications span the consumer and enterprise markets. As with every new technology, there will be early use cases and new use cases that will be developed over time once the service becomes mainstream. To that end, Huawei highlighted three main categories: calling as an appearance; calling as an agent; and calling as an app platform.
  • A phased approach makes sense. Global deployments will likely happen in stages, with regions progressing at different speeds. China Mobile highlighted two stages of deployments: a first stage called intelligent video calling, which enables fundamental features (for example fun calling, smart translation, call subtitles, visualised voice calling and celebrity calling); and a second stage called new calling mini-apps which will focus on offering enhanced business functionalities and richer user experiences (for example remote assistance, content sharing and intelligent customer service). Integrating AI technology will be key across both stages.
  • Building a wider ecosystem is essential. One of the main highlights of the summit was a joint innovation initiative which called on global operators; network equipment manufacturers; terminal and chip vendors; providers of audio, video and AI technology; and industry partners to work together to promote the development of 5G New Calling and create enhanced user experiences for consumers and businesses. During this, representatives from China Mobile, China Broadnet, Huawei, Oppo, Honor, Vivo, ZTE, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Unisoc, iFLYTEK, MediaTek and WIT shared the stage.
  • A new possibility for voice monetisation. 5G New Calling could add new opportunities to monetise 5G, but achieving scale is key. There are two components to this: China on its own is a big market (nearly 1 billion 5G connections expected by the end of 2024) and it certainly brings scale; but wider acceptance of the service is needed to make 5G New Calling a truly global story.

What do consumers think?
In December 2023, GSMA Intelligence conducted a consumer survey across eight major developed markets (China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US) to assess consumer interest in more immersive or interactive voice or video calling services and the features that are most appealing to them. Some of the key findings of this survey are as follows:

  • A fair share of interest. On average,30 per cent of consumers find more immersive or interactive voice or video calling in the 5G era either extremely or very appealing. This sentiment is strongest in China (56 per cent), followed by in the US (33 per cent) and South Korea (30 per cent). In the four European markets the average score was 25 per cent. For younger adults, the average was 42 per cent across the eight markets, suggesting (as expected) that this population segment represents an early addressable market for some of the 5G New Calling features.
  • All features matter. Consumers ranked real-time translation as the most appealing feature in all markets except in the US, where it ranked second. Content sharing ranked second, followed by the ability to access a web browser view while on a voice call. Interactive communication with businesses (for example restaurants, banks and call centres) ranked fourth. Overall, all six features we asked about registered a level of appeal of around 30 per cent to 50 per cent, suggesting broad interest among consumers.

GSMA Intelligence will continue to analyse developments and market trends for 5G New Calling that could help the mobile ecosystem navigate the learning curve and get relevant insights that can support business decisions.

Pablo Iacopino – head of research and commercial content, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.