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Will 5G Advanced deliver on the 5G promise?

Sylwia leads Opensignal’s Analysis team, responsible for developing data-driven insights and analyses. She was recently invited to moderate a session at the 5G Blitz Week, where industry experts convened to explore a pivotal question: Can 5G Advanced deliver on the 5G promise? Insights poured in from Anritsu, GSMA Intelligence, the Luxembourg Institute of Science & Technology, and UScellular, with keynotes from Rohde & Schwarz, and Zain Saudi Arabia. Below she highlights a few key takeaways from the session.

5G Has Not Delivered on Some Very Lofty Promises

5G Advanced, as described by the GSMA, represents the evolution of 5G technology beyond its initial deployment, promising enhanced capabilities and performance to meet the evolving demands of users and industries. While 5G Advanced holds the promise of delivering unmatched features, it is essential to address several challenges that lie ahead.

5G monetization remains a persistent challenge

Despite the rapid adoption of 5G networks, monetization remains a persistent conundrum. Unlike its predecessor, 4G, which successfully capitalized on the surge in data consumption demanded by video streaming, 5G has yet to find its equivalent breakthrough use case. While we are still waiting for that 5G ‘killer app’ that will help operators recoup 5G investments, 5G Advanced or 5.5G is already being discussed as the driver for the next wave of 5G innovation that will unlock ROI. 

5G performance and deployment vary widely

While 5G promises ultra-fast speeds and low latency, its actual performance varies across markets. In most markets, users see 5G speeds that are 3-6 times faster than 4G with users experiencing significant improvements in video streaming and multiplayer gaming. However, the maturity of 5G networks varies widely between markets. Some operators are ready to deploy advanced technologies like standalone access (SA) and mmWave for differentiated experiences, while others are at earlier stages due to spectrum and capital availability.

The interdependency between 5G SA and 5G Advanced

5G SA struggles to gain traction

Currently, most of the commercially available 5G networks are non-standalone (NSA), which means they rely on a 4G LTE network core. 5G Standalone (SA) networks – anchored on 5G core – are the foundation for fulfilling 5G's early promises, catering to enterprise needs for network slicing, low latency, and massive IoT capabilities. Some reward it with the moniker of “true 5G”. Additionally, 5G SA lays the groundwork for 5G Advanced features.

Despite its potential, operators' adoption of 5G SA has been lukewarm thus far. According to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), 49 operators have deployed, launched, or soft-launched 5G SA in public networks. For context, this is 8% of all operators GSA identified as having invested in 5G. Peter Jarich of GSMA Intelligence highlighted that there’s an air of optimism among operators regarding 5G Advanced,  with over half expecting deployment within a year after commercial availability.  

The 5G Advanced roadmap looks more promising

The finalization of 5G-Advanced standards by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) - standards organizations that develop protocols for mobile telecommunications - marks a significant milestone for the telecommunications industry. With the Release 18 standard expected to be completed this year, commercial deployments can commence from 2024 onwards as it takes between 6-12 months between standards being frozen and commercial developments. 

During discussions regarding the necessity of 5G Advanced preceding the advent of 6G, Adnan Khan of Anritsu highlighted its pivotal role as a stepping stone for the evolution of telecommunications technology. Since wireless technology typically operates within 10-year cycles, new technology generations are in the works and being discussed while “old” ones in this case 5G are still being deployed. The commencement of work on 6G aligns with these historical patterns, which means it coincides with the ongoing deployment stages of 5G Advanced. Moreover, learnings from 5G Advanced will influence the research and development of 6G guiding the identification and refinement of key aspects for further improvement.

5G Advanced Paves a Path to Top Line and Bottom Line Benefits to Operators

Unlocking the potential with use cases

Narothum Saxena, Vice President of Technology, Strategy and Architecture at UScellular, touched on the timing of when 5G Advanced can be commercially viable. With demand for data projected to skyrocket by 2030, the need for a robust network capable of accommodating increased load becomes paramount. He reflected that 5G has already opened the Fixed Wireless (FWA) market bringing enhanced connectivity and customer experience.

Looking ahead, 5G Advanced promises further benefits such as reduced joint communication and sensing (JCAS), ambient/passive IoT, and most importantly energy savings that reduce carriers operating costs. 

5G Advanced is set not only to introduce new business opportunities but also to bring about efficiencies. Instead of merely focusing on communication, 5G Advanced incorporates sensing capabilities, making networks more responsive and efficient. Ambient IoT allows seamless integration of IoT devices into everyday life, simplifying interactions and enhancing automation. This unlocks possibilities for applications like smart homes and intelligent transport systems, where devices work harmoniously to improve efficiency and convenience. 5G Advanced is also designed to be more energy-efficient, with a focus on reducing power consumption across the network. In fact, 5G Advanced is the first mobile standard built to take advantage of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning), to fully automate networks and reap energy savings benefits. This in itself can translate into lower Opex for operators. 

Delivering the 5G promise with RedCap

Alan Loh of Zain Saudi Arabia described how Zain is reaping the early benefits of 5G Advanced by adopting Reduced Capability (RedCap), a class of 5G devices specifically designed for customers who don't need the full capabilities of 5G. This allows them to migrate 4G FWA customers to 5G by providing them with affordable 5G CPE devices, while at the same time improving user experience and enhancing spectrum efficiency. Zain believes that with the rise of IoT and AI, RedCap's affordable devices open a greater market potential for 5G. They also see RedCap technology as a strong reason to switch to 5G SA now. 5G Advanced will build upon the innovations initiated in Release 17, focusing on expanding cellular coverage and enhancing reliability. 

The road ahead

Sebastien Faye, from the Luxembourg Institute of Science & Technology, stressed the importance of use cases and industry collaboration in driving the evolution of 5G Advanced. Additionally, the panel participants touched upon the critical consideration of spectrum, with recent developments in the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC23) paving the way for new spectrum allocations, and the integration of satellite technology (NTN), as key drivers fueling the 5G evolution. 

However, it's important to recognize that the journey toward 5G Advanced transcends mere technological enhancements. Addressing capacity and performance demands is one side of the coin, other priorities include spectral efficiencies and energy savings. In the current economic climate, these are not to be dismissed. 5G Advanced's true success will lie in its capacity to deliver incremental returns above and beyond 5G. This demands a holistic approach, encompassing not only technological innovation but also strategic partnerships, regulatory frameworks, and user-centric applications.