By helping to support a step by step network evolution path, soon to be standardized 5.5G (5G-A) technology will represent a milestone in mobile communications. This is "turning uncertainty into certainty" for operators and making 5.5G (5G-A) an optimal business choice.
Key iconic technologies emerge with each 10-year cycle, notes Dr Philip Song, Chief Marketing Officer at Huawei CNBG. In 2G and 3G these were TDMA and CDMA, in 4G they were OFDM, MIMO and SDR, and in 5G, massive MIMO, polar code, and URLLC.
At around five years into each cycle a new "half-generation" technology inevitably emerges, the latest example of this being 5.5G (5G-A), Song told an audience at the GSMA’s M360 Asia Pacific Summit in Seoul during September. As the industry looks towards 2030, 5.5G (5G-A) will provide the building blocks to enable a step-by-step network evolution approach that will help build certainty around its future direction, he added. Song went on to provide more detail on Huawei’s exploration and verification of the technical aspects of 5.5G (5G-A).
Optimizing speed and coverage in ultra-broadband
Ultra-broadband spectrum resources such as the 6GHz frequency band are the basis for a 10 gigabit downlink in 5.5G (5G-A), but the main challenge of this band is coverage, explained Song. Extremely large antenna array (ELAA) technology, which has been adopted by Huawei for both the 6GHz and mmWave spectrum bands, is capable of greatly improving coverage while still delivering a 10 Gigabit experience in the downlink.
Field tests in Chengdu and Hangzhou in China, using ELAA technology, have not only been shown to greatly improve the coverage of the 6GHz band to a level comparable to that of the 3.5GHz band, but in a large-scale continuous networking scenario have also achieved a downlink peak rate of 10 Gbps and a mobility experience "exceeding expectations" says the company at mmWave bands. "With ELAA and intelligent beam management, we can effectively tackle the challenges presented by the millimeter wave band," said Song.
On the uplink side, achieving gigabit speeds will be particularly important for industry digitalization, as the need for uplink rates is much greater than for downlink, explained Song. Improvement uplink rates in 5G compared to 4G have been limited relative to the enhancements seen in downlink rates, but in the move towards 5.5G (5G-A). Huawei says it continues to make breakthroughs in the uplink, where its innovative enhanced uplink solutions decouple the uplink and downlink to realize multi-band convergence and high uplink rates.
These have been verified across a range of scenarios, such as in coal mining and manufacturing where the solutions support the 1Gbps uplink required for 100-channel HD video backhaul, panoramic remote control, and optical quality inspections, says the vendor.
In a coal mine in Shanxi province, China, Huawei has used the entire 700 MHz band to support uplink video backhaul, so that customers can view smooth videos in real time from more than 100 separate operation areas underground. This has greatly improved both safety and efficiency, says Huawei.
Unlocking the potential of IoT
Passive IoT in 5.5G (5G-A) is expected to unlock a market of 100 billion connections by combining 5.5G (5G-A) Passive IoT technology, cellular networks and passive tags. Its advantages include wide coverage, low cost, and positioning support. This technology has applications in numerous scenarios across different industries, including smart warehousing, digital production management, logistics, and retail, says Huawei.
The company believes the size of the addressable IoT market for carriers will expand from 10 billion connections to 100 billion connections, and reports that in its latest test, Passive IoT's maximum coverage was expanded to 235 meters, which is 10 times that of RFID technology. Moreover, sensor data such as that related to temperature and humidity can be transmitted over Passive IoT.
Huawei says it is also verifying this technology with industry partners in Qingdao, China, where it has already been applied to material supply management and logistics tracking in factories, greatly improving the efficiency of material delivery and stocktaking.
The role of 5.5G (5G-A) in manufacturing automation
In the area of industry digitalization, higher demands are placed on networks by automated control and manufacturing automation than by the remote control of machines like cranes at ports, said Song. For evolving network capabilities to meet these requirements, latencies should be less than 10 ms and reliability needs to be in the order of five or even six nines.
In order to meet these requirements, a carrier in China is working with Huawei and industry partners to build the industry's first 5.5G (5G-A) flexible trial production line. Innovative technologies like dual fed and selective receiving and deterministic uplink and downlink scheduling have been applied to realize highly-deterministic network connectivity that supports high concurrency, said Song. This allows carriers' networks to meet enterprises' requirements for real-time production control, and opens up a bigger market for them.
Building the 5.5G (5G-A) ecosystem
With 3GPP Release 18, the first 3GPP standard for 5.5G (5G-A), expected to be frozen in the first half of 2024, another milestone will be reached, said Song. "Huawei is ready to work with global carriers and ecosystem partners in the drive towards the 5.5G (5G-A) era…so creating a thriving ecosystem to help more consumers and industries go digital."