GSMA Promotes 5G-Advanced As Enhanced, Sustainable and Intelligent

5G technologies, codified in various releases of 3GPP standards, are being adopted at a rapid pace around the world. Initial standards introduced 5G New Radio, the disaggregated next-generation radio access network (RAN) and a service-based core network architecture, as well as delivering data rates of more than 1 Gbps.

Progress continues with each new 3GPP release of standards. Release 18 debuts 5G-Advanced, the name given to a collection of new features previously not standardised in 3GPP, with the goal of driving 5G capabilities forward. 5G-Advanced is expected to appear in commercial products by 2024, and will play an essential role in developing mobile technology from 5G toward 6G over the next decade.

5G-Advanced is designed to deliver the following network performance improvements:

  • Advanced uplink and downlink speeds using MIMO technology
  • Enhanced multicarrier operation and mobility
  • Enhanced sidelink, sidelink relay and user equipment aggregation
  • Enabled mobile integrated access and backhaul
  • Evolved duplexing
  • Time-sensitive communications

In addition, the new specification aims to improve management and efficiency in artificial intelligence- and machine learning-driven design, in operations and maintenance architecture, and in autonomous networks.

On 22 September the GSMA launched a white paper and a live webinar to help industry participants understand 5G-Advanced. The white paper, Advancing the 5G Era, gives a detailed overview of this second phase of 5G mobile technology standards.

The webinar is available on demand, and I’ll summarize the main points here.

Moderator Barbara Pareglio, Executive Director for Advanced Air Mobility and IoT Technical Director of the GSMA, was joined by speakers from China Mobile, Orange, Ericsson and Huawei. They gave perspectives on the network performance and efficiency characteristics of 5G-Advanced and delved into what the next phase of standards will mean in terms of service enhancements for operators.

Nan Hu, Vice Director of Wireless and Terminal Technology Research in China Mobile’s Research Institute, outlined several directions for the evolution of 5G services, and some of the technology capabilities within 5G-Advanced that would enable them.

The first of these related to advanced services, and specifically the metaverse. On the basis that extended reality is the bridge between cyberspace and the real world, Mr Hu stated that better synergy with the cross-layer through network information sharing would empower metaverse applications by reducing end-to-end latency for a gigabit-based extended reality service to between 5 milliseconds and 10 milliseconds, as well as increasing capacity fivefold. 5G-Advanced could help achieve this improvement by making services and the RAN more aware of each other. Services would better fit RAN conditions by combining coding and transmission and using adaptive code rates; in turn, the RAN would gain awareness of services’ frame-level protections and quality of service.

In metaverse applications to date, cloud-based rendering of content has been limited, and supporting it over 5G-Advanced connections will need extensive radio resources. But according to China Mobile, by exploiting extremely large aperture array massive MIMO technology, it will be possible to run 20-player games in cloud-rendered virtual reality, compared with the current effective limit of four players, as well as delivering significantly higher-resolution content.

Further metaverse applications that may be accelerated by 5G-Advanced include remote health, including remote surgery, video production, connected vehicles and cloud robotics, among many others. The metaverse is a nascent area, with performance metrics still being defined, but the possibility of 5G support for metaverse services is a significant step forward — relying on the capacity of fixed-line fibre alone would be hugely limiting.

Other areas of service evolution under 5G-Advanced mentioned by China Mobile included:

  • Integrated sensing and communications, which relates to low-cost, high-precision seamless and ubiquitous integrated sensing for applications such as autonomous driving and high-definition mapping.
  • Unified time- and frequency-division duplex technology, which offers flexibility in terms of spectrum use and cross-link interference suppression. Its primary benefits are higher data rates and low latency in TDD spectrum, and cutting delays in uplink and downlink connections.
  • An extended Internet of things (IoT), to overcome the bottleneck of traditional RFID, enhance coverage, reduce cost and complexity, and enable tag positioning

Although understanding some of the benefits presented by China Mobile means engaging with deeply technical details, there was much to be optimistic about, in terms of how the performance enhancements promised by 5G-Advanced translate to new service opportunities, or potentially quite radical improvements to existing service areas.

Benoit Graves, Head of 3GPP RAN Standardisation at Orange, described four drivers for 5G-Advanced and how they might manifest:

Higher performance. With specific reference to 6 GHz spectrum, Mr Graves noted the need for improved performance in uplink services for business applications, such as instant data upload when trains arrive at stations, or video uploading at mass events; interference management was mentioned as another area that 5G-Advanced should improve.

Advanced services. Emphasizing extended reality and cloud gaming as advanced services to benefit from 5G-Advanced, Orange believes improvements may be made in quality of service and power saving by implementing awareness of extended reality applications in the RAN and content network. Additionally, this could entail reduced-capability IoT and passive IoT, using ultralow-energy devices such as sensors for asset tracking. It could also include non-terrestrial networks such as satellite connections for complementary coverage in public safety, maritime and automotive applications, or for global IoT coverage.

Intelligent networks. These employ artificial intelligence and machine learning for capabilities such as air interface enhancement, predictive quality of service for beam management, improved positioning accuracy, energy saving for the RAN, load balancing and mobility optimization.

Power efficiency. 5G-Advanced would enable operators such as Orange to make energy efficiency a criterion when evaluating new radio features and to implement network energy-saving techniques with finer detail.

Other presentations, by John Gao, 5.5G General Manager at Huawei, and Olof Lindberg, head of Ericsson’s 3GPP RAN standards team, focused on 5G-Advanced’s RAN intelligence and sustainability, respectively.

RAN intelligence pertains to real-time awareness, analysis and prediction, and intelligent decision-making about allocation of radio network resources. This will lead to improved network functions such as load balancing, mobility management and positioning accuracy, by training the RAN to detect line-of-sight conditions.

Intelligence should also enhance energy efficiency in the network, supporting more-sustainable networking. According to Mr Lindberg, 3GPP Release 18 will develop a detailed method of evaluating network power consumption, to make the RAN leaner and focus on features such as energy savings in cell beams that provide sustainable gains to ensure that 5GA is less power-hungry.

There is a lot to unpack in 3GPP Release 18 in terms of performance characteristics and potential applications, and much of it will only become fully apparent once products are commercially available. But the list of enhancements summarized in the GSMA’s white paper and webinar certainly suggest many promising new horizons for 5G technology.

In summary, 5G-Advanced will provide enhanced, smart and sustainable connectivity, including services that focus on uplink communication and high-velocity connections, such as on trains. 5G-Advanced also supports immersive and interactive applications, which will be widely deployed in entertainment and education environments. At the same time, the technology will further strengthen support for low-cost, low-power devices, such as industrial wireless sensors and wearables, improving a myriad of applications.