In a blog for Mobile World Live last month, I highlighted the importance of 5G-Advanced to the mobile ecosystem over the next few years and what I hoped to learn about it at MWC23 Barcelona, particularly at the 5G Futures Summit and it’s To Infinity and Beyond with 5G-Advanced session.

Now, with the session just complete, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what we did, indeed, learn.

But, first a recap of my message from the last blog.

While we just reached the first billion 5G connections at the end of 2022, we know 5G-Advanced will be a major industry focus in 2023 given the confluency of multiple dynamics: 5G-Advanced standards getting frozen later this year, demand for network technology upgrades on the route to 6G, and the potential of 5G-Advanced to represent a network disruption that vendors and operators will want to drive forward.

Against this backdrop, we had high hopes for what MWC23 would teach us. With that in mind, what were my top five takeaway from the session?

  • 5G-Advanced and the 5G Evolution. It might be tempting to think of 6G as a long-term destination for mobile networks with 5G-Advanced a stop along the way. Session speakers, however, were keen to position 5G-Advanced as an integral part of the 5G evolution. You saw this in an Orange reference to its non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) launches, with 5G-Advanced being a natural extension, along with Qualcomm’s positioning 5G Advanced on the Path to 6G. Summing this up was an observation by Huawei that “as 5G reaches maturity, new trends emerge.” While obvious on its face, it provides another reminder that 5G-Advanced is more than just a new technology, it’s part of the 5G story many operators have already embraced and central to executing on the broader 5G promise.
  • Services, Trends and Experience. When GSMA Intelligence went out to operators in 2022 to understand how they think about their networks, user experience emerged as a top strategic priority with expectations around service reliability being the top customer demand shaping their network planning. It wasn’t particularly surprising, then, to hear experience factor into much of the 5G-Advanced discussion. Putting aside the title of Orange’s presentation (5G Advanced Experience) or a reference by Huawei to “multi-dimensional and deterministic services”, Zain captured the linkage best. With 5G-Advanced enabling new AI use cases, the Saudi operator argued a world of new experiences could be unleashed. Regardless of what those experiences are, it was another argument to look at 5G-Advanced as more than just a set of technologies but to see it as a tool for delivering end-user value.
  • AI in Focus. Of course, no matter what we hope 5G-Advanced will deliver, it does represent a set of technologies, with two getting a lot of attention in the session. Let’s start with AI. To be sure, Zain’s argument 5G-Advanced will enable new AI-driven use cases was compelling. But the connection between AI and 5G-Advanced goes deeper. As Qualcomm explained, 5G-Advanced represents 5G and AI working together, supported by a Release-18 scope which includes AI/ML-enabled air interface design and an extension of ML to the RAN, device and air interface layers. Put simply, 5G-Advanced will support the rollout of new AI applications, but also will require AI for its own operation.
  • IoT in Focus. Support for massive IoT was central to the original argument for 5G. But, expectations from Huawei, Orange and Qualcomm all serve to show there is more work to be done, and it’s not just about scaling or densifying deployments. Rather, the enhancements coming from 5G-Advanced promise new features and capabilities: Reduced Capability 5G IoT (RedCap) for cost and efficiency gains, new sensing and positioning capabilities, ambient power IoT. Together, the promise is to push IoT to support new use cases as well as extreme scale.
  • Something for Everyone.  While IoT and AI were broad, cross-cutting themes across many of the presentations during the session, many other specific aspects of what 5G-Advanced will bring got airtime as well. Non-terrestrial networks including drone and satellite integration. Improved uplink performance. Automation and power saving. Myriad new radio innovations. Linking up services, experience and technology, these represent more than a random assortment of standards and specification inclusions. They represent a broad set of capabilities aimed at enabling a broad set of new services.

Encouragingly, if not surprisingly, the session provided a positive outlook for the prospects of what 5G-Advanced can deliver. Here, however, it’s important to commend Huawei for noting “further cooperation is needed” and to recognise the support of the 5G Futures Community in supporting the technology. After all, without continuing spectrum allocations, support for refarming, trials and interoperability testing, we won’t be able to execute on the 5G-Advanced promise. It’s one reason to look forward to the 2024 edition of the session and the progress we’ll (hopefully) see.

– Peter Jarich – head, 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.