PARTNER FEATURE: As the evolution towards 5.5G and 5G StandAlone takes shape, Mobile World Live sat down at Win Win Live with Yang Chaobin, Board Member, President of ICT Products and Solutions at Huawei and Pau Castells, Head of Economic Analysis at GSMA Intelligence to discuss the technology’s progress globally and the value it is providing for operators and adjacent industries.

According to recent GSMA Intelligence estimates, 5G connections surpassed the 1 billion mark globally at the end of 2022, with the network technology live in 90 countries, representing a 300 per cent growth rate compared to the previous year. More long-term, 5G is tipped to generate approximately $600 billion in terms of additional GDP value to the global economy by 2030.

And the advent and emergence of 5.5G will no doubt help contribute to 5G’s overall success. Indeed, for Yang Chaobin, 5.5G not only represents an evolution of 5G, but serves as a vital technological innovation as it protects operators’ investment ahead of the 6G era.

Indeed, even though many regard 5G in its infancy, the industry is already beginning to murmur about 6G, such is the fast-paced nature of the sector.

“With 5.5G, operators’ investment into current networks can be better protected and their networks will possess stronger capabilities, thus helping them better serve customers,” he said.

The bridge
A commercial launch of the next network technology is not expected until the end of the decade and Yang Chaobin believes 5.5G “is like a bridge between 5G and 6G”.

So, where does 5.5G sit today? Pau Castells, Head of Economic Analysis at GSMA Intelligence, explained most mobile operators around the world began deploying 5G using the non-standalone version of the technology, which leverages 5G protocols in the RAN but maintains a core 4G network.

“This was very important because it allowed operators to launch 5G services more quickly than if they had to deploy everything at once,” he said.

With the first stage of rollouts now complete in many countries, Pau Castells believes the focus is shifting to a next stage of 5G-StandAlone and 5G-Advanced, requiring operators to deploy a new dedicated 5G core network as well as more advanced protocols.

“Our global survey of operators indicates that 20 per cent of operators worldwide have begun 5G StandAlone deployments and 80 per cent of them will be beginning these deployments in the next three years,” added Pau Castells.

Reaching 10 Gb/s
The key question remains: what will push operators, enterprises and industries to adopt 5.5G? Yang Chaobin believes the biggest feature of the technology upgrade lies in an improved network experience, with 5.5G able to deliver uplink-capabilities that are 10-times better compared to current 5G offerings.

This will result in significantly higher efficiencies across a range of areas for consumers, such as immersive experience and across AI applications. In B2B scenarios, enterprises and industries have the potential for larger uplink data traffic compared to downlink, meaning operators can better serve them.

The IoT segment will also be boosted by 5.5G, with the number of connections increasing from 10 billion to 100 billion and “presenting operators with even more business opportunities”, he added.

Yang Chaobin further noted the uplink rate has been a weakness of 5G and must be addressed in the 5.5G era.

Reaching the 10 Gb/s experience will however not come easy. Yang Chaobin highlighted the need to ensure better collaboration between new frequency bands, such as 6GHz and mmWave and make them work effectively with Sub-6GHz that operators currently use.

“This is a key element for achieving 10 Gb/s experience. Based on Huawei’s technical verification, if we use the 400 M band with 6GHz, we can reach 10 Gb/s. The same is true for mmWave. It is technically feasible to use the large bandwidth of mmWave to provide a downlink rate of 10 Gb/s,” he said.

Solving the uplink rate issue will also mean operators are able to apply 5.5G on a large scale in enterprise and industry scenarios, with Supplementary Uplink (SUL) touted as the best technical solution.

Network experience aside, GSMA Intelligence’s Pau Castells believes 5G-Advanced will also trigger uptake of low latency and high reliability applications such as connected robots, and drones in manufacturing that have use cases across vital economic areas including logistics, health and transport.

Satisfy demands with 5.5G
Recent research conducted between GSMA Intelligence, Huawei and The Economist Group explored the impact of ICT investments on the global economy and showed the sheer scale of the impact of digital transformation.

Pau Castells said a large body of econometric evidence showed a strong link between ICT investments and economic, employment and productivity growth.

For example, over a 20 year period, on average, a 10 per cent increase in mobile adoption increased GDP by 1 per cent. This however increased 15 per cent when connections upgrade from one mobile generation to the other, from 2G to 3G, from 3G to 4G and 4G to 5G.

As a result, research showed that a total 7 per cent of all GDP growth of the last 20 years can actually be “attributed to the role and eruption of mobile and mobile broadband”.

Pau Castells noted that the overall benefits of 5G therefore did not only lie in the ICT sector, as it served as a key input to services across pretty much all sectors, including manufacturing, services and retail.

“They will all take advantage of Internet technology and be able to develop new services and products using new use cases such as enhanced mobile broadband, fixed wireless access, low latency communications, and massive IoT. All these benefits will increase if 5G connectivity is accelerated in the medium to long term, especially in emerging markets,” Pau Castells explained.

To that end, Yang Chaobin argued requirements from many customers across industries are becoming clearer in today’s market, such as the need for 10Gb/s speeds, improved downlink capabilities and emerging IoT.

“All of these requirements must be satisfied in the 5.5G era, rather than waiting for 6G”, concluded Yang Chaobin.