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Around mid-2024, 3GPP’s Release 18 standards are set to be finalized, paving the way for the advent of 5G-Advanced (5G-A). Anticipated for deployment from 2024 onwards, 5G-A heralds a new era of possibilities for mobile network operators (MNOs). As deployments begin and momentum builds over the next few years, the widespread availability of 5G-Advanced promises enhanced wireless capabilities and a plethora of innovative services tailored for enterprise clients, reshaping the landscape of connectivity.

In line with this, Telecom Review gathered insights from the Finance Research Institute’s Jintai Roundtable Workshop titled, "From 5G to 5G-A: Facilitating a Fresh Wave of 5G and Accelerating the Growth of New Quality Productive Forces," where government, industry, academia, and research representatives convened to discuss the latest advancements, prospective applications, and strategies to surmount obstacles in the 5G-A realm.

China: A 5G-A Pioneer

Five years after its commercial launch, 5G currently has more than 1.5 billion users globally, and is an important driver of high-quality economic and social development. To cater to the growing demands of society for interconnectivity, a GSMA survey unveiled that 52% of operators globally plan to deploy 5G-A within one year after the related standard (R-18) is frozen.

Dr. Philip Song, Chief Marketing Officer of Huawei's Carrier Business, highlighted that during MWC Barcelona 2024, more than 60 operators and equipment vendors jointly launched an initiative called 'Embracing a Prosperous 5G-A Era,’ and over 15 operators globally have released their commercial 5G-A plan for 2024.

In China, major operators such as China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom have made significant strides in advancing 5G-A network evolution.

In March 2024, China Mobile launched the world's first commercial 5G-A network in Hangzhou, with plans to expand to over 300 cities across China before the year ends.

In 2021, China Unicom collaborated with Exquisite Automotive and Huawei to explore innovative technologies utilizing 5G-A URLLC, leading to the establishment of the first 5G-A flexible trial production line for automobile welding in 2022. This shows a vital use case of integrating 5G-A into critical industrial control processes.

China Telecom has also been instrumental in developing over 30 3GPP standards, focusing on areas such as dynamic frame sharing.

The Evolution and Impact of 5G-A: Insights from China's Industry Leaders

Among the roundtable participants, Liu Hong, Head of Technology, Greater China, GSMA, and Dr. Philip Song of Huawei, underscore the imperative of technological evolution to meet evolving demands, with 2024 being hailed as the year for commercial 5G-A adoption. Having said that, they both advocate for the convergence of 5G-A and AI, highlighting the potential for enhanced efficiency and the redefinition of industry landscapes through collaborative efforts and technological integration.

Agreeing to this, Wen Ku, Chairman of the Board of the China Communications Standards Association, outlined key measures for promoting 5G-A, which include concerted efforts in core technical standards and innovative solutions, government policies and market forces, and international collaboration.

On the same thread, Li Hongwu, President of China Unicom Research Institute, also stressed the significance of societal coordination to overcome 5G industry barriers and foster 5G-A standards integration, cross-sector cooperation, and collaborative innovation.

Moreover, Huang Yuhong, President of the China Mobile Research Institute, delineates the notable enhancements of 5G-A compared to 5G, emphasizing its potential for more powerful connectivity, capabilities beyond connectivity, and intelligent and cost-effective operations and maintenance.

Duan Xiangyang, ZTE’s General Manager of Wireless and Computing Architecture perceived that the timing of 5G-A is perfect as this innovative technology solves certain pain points in 5G networks and meets new user requirements. 5G-A promises a remarkable 10-fold increase in network capabilities, boasting impressive features such as a 10 Gbps downlink speed, 1 Gbps uplink speed, support for up to 100 billion connections, and enhanced native intelligence.

Conversely, Nokia Shanghai Bell's Executive Vice President and Chief Strategic Technology Officer Chang Jiang implied that 5G-A should not simply extend the current 5G technology but should incorporate new considerations and comprehensive plans to explore a range of ecosystems and value-added services.

Indeed, as 5G-A continues to evolve, more new applications, devices, and use cases will emerge, which is why Xu Hao, Head of Qualcomm Research China expressed that the large-scale commercial adoption of 5G globally lays a sound business foundation for 5G-A.

With this in mind, Liu Xiaofeng from China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), anticipates that 5G-A will serve as a precursor to future 6G technologies, with the convergence of 5G and AI laying the groundwork for AI-centric design and providing invaluable insights for future advancements.

It is worth noting that in a previous session this year, Jin Zhuanglong, Minister for Industry and Information Technology, stated the need to strengthen 5G evolution, support 5G-A development, and step up 6G research and development (R&D).

AI and 5G Convergence

The reinforcement and collaboration between 5G-A and AI is also bringing more possibilities to 5G, while effectively supporting the development of AI.

Dr. Philip Song of Huawei believes that the industry worldwide has agreed that 10 gigabit and AI is key, and the convergence between networks, cloud, and intelligence will be the way forward in the AI era. He emphasized that AI enhances the production and generation of information, while 5G-A's 10 gigabit speeds improve data exchange and transmission. Integrating these technologies will streamline ICT infrastructure and create higher-quality digital services for society.

Liu Hong of GSMA suggests that fostering the convergence of 5G-A and AI relies on leveraging new technologies to drive future digital transformation. Citing an example, the Open Gateway framework, initiated by GSMA, offers developers universal access to operator networks through a set of application programming interfaces (APIs). Hong believes that alongside AI, the Open Gateway framework will redefine the industry landscape.

5G-A marks a significant step in the evolution from 5G to 6G, with many roundtable participants seeing it as a precursor to future 6G technologies. It's anticipated that 5G-A will validate essential 6G technologies in advance, thus providing valuable insights for 6G standardization and application.

5G-A Leaders: Telcos in the Middle East

The essence of this roundtable underscores the ongoing telecom innovation in the Middle East. It's evident that many GCC countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, are leveraging sustained government investment and public-private partnerships to realize ambitious visions aimed at transforming the region into a world-class digital hub. This transformation involves advancing 5G technology and exploring cutting-edge technologies.

To illustrate, as an early adopter of 5G, the UAE places great importance on ICT infrastructure construction and technology development, which includes supporting 5G-Advanced development. With this in mind, in May 2024, the UAE launched its 5G-A country vision, announcing plans for the UAE to set sail for 5G-A nationwide and reap its valuable benefits.

According to the GSMA, there will be approximately 5 billion 5G connections by 2030, with the GCC Arab States and developed Asia-Pacific countries leading the charge. The Middle East has witnessed significant developments in 5G since its first commercial deployment in 2019, with all GCC-based operators successfully rolled out 5G.

In the Middle East, telecom operators have been proactive in developing their networks towards the 5G-A era, positioning themselves at the forefront of 5G innovation and significantly investing in, and showcasing, their 5G-A capability ahead of commercialization in 2024.

In 2023, du achieved speeds of 10 Gbps during its 5G-Advanced trial and this year, through the implementation of TDD large-bandwidth three carrier aggregation, du is taking a stride towards the initial phase of its journey towards 5G-Advanced commercial deployment.

etisalat by e&'s recent demonstration of the fastest 5G SA speed (13.2 Gbps) during GITEX 2023 also contributes to positioning the UAE as a global leader in mobile speed.

stc has been testing new 5G-A technology in its home market of Saudi Arabia, along with Zain KSA, which achieved 10 Gbps speeds in a demonstration of immersive experiences in September 2023.

Demonstrating the region's dedication to 5G-A, prominent Middle Eastern operators came together during a panel discussion on 5G-Advanced at the Telecom Review Leaders’ Summit to declare 2024 as the inaugural year of the 5G-A era in the Middle East.

How 5G-A Impacts the Middle East

The deployment of 5G-Advanced (5G-A) is pivotal for realizing the smart city aspirations embedded within national projects. Across the Middle East region, the vision for smart cities will be bolstered by the implementation of optimized smart infrastructure powered by 5G-A and its diverse applications, leading to a more efficient, sustainable, and user-friendly environment.

Moreover, the accessibility of RedCap and passive IoT terminals is anticipated to expedite the adoption of IoT technologies, which are revolutionizing sectors such as agriculture, retail, and logistics in the region.

Notably, prominent cities like Dubai, Riyadh, and Doha stand to draw inspiration from Shanghai's successful utilization of 5G-A to improve traffic efficiency and reduce commuting times. By leveraging these technological advancements and proven use cases, these cities can align with their sustainability objectives.

Overall, the integration of 5G-Advanced into the Middle East's digital landscape signifies a significant stride towards ensuring the region's continued leadership in digital innovation.

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