5G

Going cloud-native: Here's where vendors stand on 5G-Advanced

Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February is setting up to be a likely debutante ball for 5G-Advanced with many vendors intending to highlight their 5G-Advanced capabilities at the show.

Huawei has so far led the early marketing and — frankly — vaporware on the standard, which it calls 5.5G. The Chinese vendor giant launched a full series of 5.5G hardware and software in October 2023. Although it hasn’t said when the 5.5G systems will be commercially available, we anticipate a lot of action from the company in Barcelona.

Vendors like Ericsson, Nokia and Qualcomm will also likely show off aspects of 5G-Advanced, which is based off 3GPP release 18. Qualcomm, for instance has already been preparing for this next phase of 5G with its 5G-Advanced ready chipset, the Snapdragon X75. Ericsson and Nokia both have blogs and white papers on 5G-Advanced, but MWC 2024 will move all vendors closer to a 5G-Advanced reality.

“I expect all vendors to be showcasing 5.5G capabilities at MWC,” Dell’Oro Group research director Dave Bolan told us in an email.

How 5G-Advanced gets born

5G-Advanced (a.k.a. 5.5G) will come into being through the next edition of the 3GGP 5G standard, which will arrive by early summer 2024, according to Roy Chua, founder and industry analyst at AvidThink.

“3GPP Rel-18, which is the initial release that defines 5G-Advanced, will have implementable specifications delivered by June 2024 (with their stage 3 spec freeze in March 2024, but with the ASN.1/OpenAPI programming APIs finalized only in June)," Chua told us.

The freeze may happen in March, but doesn’t mean that there will instantly be silicon, radios and networking equipment available for vendors to buy.

“It takes 12-24 months for elements in the specifications to hit commercial availability,” Chua said.

Dell’Oro’s Bolan, however, stated that some aspects of Release 18 could turn up slightly earlier. “I believe we could see some aspects of Release 18 being implemented in China by the end of 2024, and other parts of the world in 2025 and 2026,” he said.

Of course, mobile network operators (MNOs) will be interested in the mid-life 5G upgrade whenever it actually arrives, particularly if its largely deployed as an over-the-air (OTA) software upgrade — and the carriers aren’t expected to spend billions on replacing 5G radios, antennas or core networks.

Inside 5G-Advanced

According to a blog by Dell'Oro, some of the features in the next big 5G leap forward will include:

  • System support for artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Edge computing phase 2
  • Network slicing phase 3
  • Personal IoT networks
  • Improved satellite connections

However, that’s just a few of the features that are coming with Release 18. For instance, Vodafone is already starting to speed up its 5G uplink performance with trials of its 5G SA network. 5G-Advanced will further increase the 5G-A uplink speeds with better coverage, dynamically changing waveforms, and increased power to connections. 

And that's even before we get to Release 19!

Of course, as Qualcomm told us back in October, the 5G-Advanced network will need to be standalone, cloud-native and all that jazz in order to support forthcoming apps like RedCap 5G IoT and satellite communications.

More specifically, AvidThink’s Chua said, “The early drivers we're hearing for 5G-A/5.5G are around industrial and IoT workloads. Faster uplink speeds to handle large data workloads (including video surveillance), improved support for IoT, more reliable (deterministic) networking for connected vehicles and industrial controls. And of course, our favorite XR (AR/VR) and the M-word that we don't use lest we sound uncool in 2024.”

As for that "M-word," we think Chua means “Metaverse," but we still consider that as meaningless marketing lingo popularized by Facebook spods. Sorry Meta!

Nonetheless, if you’re old enough to remember 4G, you might recall that it didn’t really start to truly kick-off until LTE-Advanced came into the picture around 2014 and 2015. So, it’s probably highly likely that what was promised with 5G won’t actually arrive until 5G-Advanced comes online.

That’s how the network always evolves!

This story was originally posted on our sister site, Silverlinings.