PARTNER CONTENT: China Unicom Beijing and Huawei completed a large-scale 5G-Advanced (5G-A) networking demonstration early this year, delivering continuous coverage and showcasing a range of advanced technologies and applications. The demo is providing insight and replicable experiences to help bring 5G-A into reality.

Yang Lifan, Deputy General Manager of China Unicom Beijing, suggested advanced technologies need to be used in large scale by industries, and 5G-A will be no exception. “Just as the prediction four years ago that 5G would be used primarily in B2B scenarios proved false. So too is the misconception 5G-A will be applied only in targeted scenarios.”

He insisted deployment scale and adaptability to common use cases will determine 5G-A’s vitality, adding the value of its 5G-A network project does not lie in specialised experiences nor the networking scale. “Instead, its value lies in facilitating a 5G-A experience with the minimum cost before deploying at scale.”

The 5G Capital innovation project, forged between the operator and Huawei to boost the reach, coverage and experience of 5G networks, aims to solve the most important problem encountered in large-scale 5G-A deployments: high-frequency discontinuous networking.

The network needs to integrate the advanced technologies of equipment vendors and the operational capabilities of operator networks, he stated, noting the advancement of social technologies, the level of network intelligence and the ability to optimise the network are vital.

The two companies initiated the 5G Capital project in 2020, with the pair working together to explore the 5G-A ecosystem. The 5G-A demonstration zone in Beijing Financial Street set a good example for the technology to go global and applications to be curated, said Cao Ming, President of Wireless Solution at Huawei.

Cao highlighted three significant factors of the demo: the delivery of 5G-A network capabilities such as a 10GB/s downlink peak rate; verification of key 5G technologies, including extremely large antenna arrays (ELAAs technology; and verification of the end-to-end capabilities of planning, construction, maintenance and optimisation of 5G-A networking.

With the 3GPP Release 18 standard about to be frozen and key factors of 5G such as technology and ecosystems increasingly mature, this year will mark the commercial launch of 5G-A. Many operators around the world are planning deployments. According to a GSMA Intelligence survey, half of all global operators are expected to roll out commercial 5G-A networks within two years of relevant standards being released.

What’s next?

Looking ahead to the likely opportunities and challenges 5G-A will present, Yang noted a successful mobile communication network must be available and accessible to customers; evolve with other industries, especially the IT sector; and must be economically feasible.

By these standards, he said 5G-A may still have many obstacles. For example, if single-point deployment is possible, will large-scale deployment be possible? How do we address deployment in outdoor scenarios? What about permanent and temporary indoor scenarios? Even if indicators are satisfactory in one specific area, what about the end-to-end process as a whole?”

“Even if the average latency continues to drop, what about the worst indicators? The higher the bandwidth, the more possibilities AI seems to have. These are questions 5G Capital aims to address.”

Rapid technological innovation across various industries is creating new requirements for 5G networks, forcing Huawei to develop and deliver new capabilities for operators, Cao stated.

Huawei is pursuing five innovation directions to meet the increasing network requirements: multi-band, multi-antenna, broadband, green and intelligence by providing ten-times network and multi-dimensional connectivity capabilities to accelerate the upgrade of connections among people, homes, things, industries and vehicles.

He said it collaborated with China Unicom Beijing to install MetaAAUs at numerous rural sites, achieving green gigabit networks. “In the next stage of 5G advancement, Huawei is committed to crafting innovative solutions that will help carriers improve efficiency by tenfold and achieve high profitability.”

New use cases

In the 5G era, Yang pointed out new applications revolve around AI and industrial control, which are creating new challenges for operators and vendors. “These areas hold the key for breakthroughs in 5G-A. We should never underestimate people’s dreams for a better life. Our business should align with the needs of social progress, and we must play our role in advancing it.”

In the 5G era, he noted China Unicom Beijing has taken the lead in providing cloud gaming services for customers, introducing innovative 3D and XR applications.

Meanwhile, the internet of vehicles (IoV) will connect hundreds of millions of vehicles to intelligent traffic cameras on roads, improving efficiency, control and reducing accidents. He cited data estimating IoV technology can prevent more than 95 per cent of accidents. “We have verified that IoV can reduce both traffic accidents and congestion by more than 20 per cent. This will promote the development of highly-reliable intelligent transportation.”

The cost of reduced capability (RedCap) modules fell in 2023. Some 10,000 factories are fully connected, with hundreds of applications in commercial use, covering 80 per cent of industry scenarios and reducing costs for local governments.

The use of 5G for commercial purposes advanced quickly worldwide in 2023, Cao said, noting 5G-A is now in the pilot phase for various industries and has set some standards for global commercial use. Examples of verticals using the technology include manufacturing and ports in Europe, mines in southern Africa, oil and gas in the Middle East and healthcare in Thailand.

He added the integration of 5G-A with industries has become seamless. “The technology significantly boosted economic development and the smart manufacturing industry in certain regions through infrastructure upgrades and industry innovation. In 2024, we believe the widespread commercial use and large-scale deployment of 5G-A will provide stronger support for governance, the economy and industry intelligence.”