5.5G touted as the network to bring improved enterprise connectivity

The advanced version of 5G networks will support new use cases, including for AI.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
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5.5G is tipped to offer better capabilities that will allow telco operators to secure growth opportunities in the enterprise space.

That's important because research suggests 5G is still receiving a cool reception in enterprises, despite being the standard choice for connecting mobile phones and devices around the globe.

Also: 5G and edge computing: What they are and why you should care

5G is expected to account for 51% of mobile connections in 2029, before hitting 56% the following year, according to the latest figures from GSMA Intelligence. 5G, which began commercialization in 2019, is the fastest-growing mobile technology, exceeding one billion connections in 2022 and climbing to 1.6 billion connections last year. It is projected to reach 5.5 billion by 2030. It took 4G nine years to hit 1.5 billion users. 

However, the adoption of 5G has encountered some bumps and the technology has failed to gain significant traction among enterprises. Industry players believe this situation will change with 5.5G or 5G-Advanced networks, which are expected to see commercial rollouts this year. 

Also: 4 ways 5G can optimize your work and personal life

Despite the higher speeds it delivers, 5G has not been able to demonstrate clear advantages over 4G, Wu Hequan, director of the Internet Society of China's advisory committee and China Standardization Expert Committee, wrote in a post hosted on Huawei Technologies. While it has proved useful for applications, such as machine vision and remote management, 5G has not made a big dent in the industrial space where applications need, among other things, larger uplink, lower latency, higher security, more deterministic capabilities, and lower power consumption. 

Now, in efforts to better extract its potential, 5.5G -- or 5G-Advanced networks -- is being tipped as a stepping stone before moving to 6G, Wu said. The technology offers speeds 10 times higher than 5G, delivering peak uplink rates of 1Gbps and downlink rates of 10Gbps. He noted 5.5G also improves on three of 5G's features, namely enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-reliable low-latency communication, and massive machine-type communications. 

"The availability of 5G-Advanced with 3GPP Release 18 will be another key 5G milestone in IoT (Internet of Things) delivery, providing the catalyst for new 5G investment throughout 2024 and into 2025," GSMA said. The association's data reveals more than half of operators expect to begin deploying 5G-Advanced solutions during the year after commercial availability. Adoption will be driven by priority use cases, such as 5G multicast services and low-cost IoT support.

China Unicom Beijing and Huawei Technologies in January 2024 deployed a pilot 5.5G network in Beijing, covering three areas that include Beijing Financial Street and Workers' Stadium. Initial tests showed the network clocking downlink peak rates of 10Gbps and continuous experience exceeding 5Gbps, according to Huawei. 

GSMA underscored the need for continued infrastructure investments, as mobile data traffic is projected to increase four-fold from now through to 2030. Monthly global mobile data traffic per connection will also grow from 12.8GB in 2023 to 47.9GB in 2030.

The growing adoption of generative artificial intelligence (AI) and associated applications, such as chatbots, are likely to fuel data-traffic growth, GSMA said. 

"5G is on the right path to business success," said Li Peng, Huawei's corporate senior vice president and president of ICT sales and services, at Mobile World Congress 2024 in Barcelona. "5.5G is entering commercial use in 2024 and, as 5.5G, AI, and cloud converge, carriers can unlock the potential of new applications and capabilities."

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Li urged telcos to tap these opportunities by focusing on boosting their networks and adopting a "multi-dimensional monetization" approach. More than 20% of global 5G carriers have adopted speed-tiered pricing models, including Thai carrier AIS, which recently introduced a 5G Boost Mode addon, allowing its subscribers to select different speed tiers to best meet their usage patterns. The pricing model helped push the carrier's average revenue per user up by 23%, according to Huawei. 

Huawei is looking to further tap market opportunities and launched several 5.5G products at the show in Barcelona. These include Net5.5G converged WAN and Net5.5G HiSec SASE, which offer "end-to-end" IPsec and SRv6 (Segment Routing IPv6) WANs and integrated security access between the cloud, network, edge, and endpoint, Huawei said. 

Based in Singapore, Eileen Yu reported for ZDNET from Mobile World Congress 2024 in Barcelona, Spain, on the invitation of Huawei Technologies.

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