Jeffery Towson

July 12, 2023

8 Min Read
Huawei announces 5.5G new applications at the Shanghai Mobile World Conference
Abstract Landscape background - 3d rendered image of topology structure map. Virtual reality technology concept.Communication network concept

There are more than 260 commercial 5G networks worldwide, with over 1.2 billion users (about half in China). So, things are moving along. And 6G is pretty far out on the horizon.

Huawei made an interesting announcement at the Shanghai Mobile World Conference. According to Yang Chaobin (President of ICT Products and Solutions), Huawei is going to launch a complete set of commercial 5.5G network equipment in 2024.  5.5G is basically a 10x upgrade on 5G in terms of speed.

My Visit to Huawei’s 5.5G R&D Center

During the visit to Shanghai Mobile World Conference, I got a tour of Huawei’s 5.5G research center. It was a good summary of the potential use cases for 5.5G. This is all pre-deployment, but things have been tested enough that we can see what is possible next year (in theory).

Here are the key factoids for 5.5G

  • Peak download speeds go from 1 Gbit/s to 10-11 Gbit/s.

  • Peak upload speeds go from 100 Mbit/s to 1-2 Gbit/s.

  • 5G supports millisecond-level latency, in contrast to the 20 ms typical latency for B2B applications at the early stages of 5G.

  • 5G will support Passive IoT technology for the first time, increasing the number of IoT connections from a scale of 10 billion to a scale of 100 billion.

  • 5G will introduce the feature of integrated communication and sensing. Adding sensing capabilities to wireless and optical networks is important.

This has been tested for commercial verification in 20 cities. But there are a lot of issues related to spectrum and standardization still to be finalized. Huawei has said the first version of the standards will be frozen in the first half of 2024.

The sensing capability is what really got my attention. 5.5G base stations can do communication and sensing. That is basically like radar. It can automatically pick up objects, their location, and their speed. Which means it can sense everything in the area, such as people with smartphones walking, streetlights, sensors in the roads, buildings and so on. With no blind spots. Huawei said in traffic scenarios, 1 km can be covered with sensing and the distance precision is less than a meter. The speed precision is 0.5 m/s.

This has obvious applications for transportation. Think smart roads and smart intersections, which are much more efficient and with fewer accidents. But another scenario mentioned was in low-altitude transportation. For example:

  • UAVs for delivery can be detected in real time. In Shenzhen, there were 83 UAV routes in 2022, and 220 UAV routes are planned for 2025.

  • In 2022, Meituan Takeaway delivered 120,000 orders via drones in Shenzhen. And Meituan predicted that by 2030, 150 million orders will be delivered by drones every year.

People Use Cases: Naked Eye 3D

For people carrying 5.5G devices, you can get some upgrades. Faster connectivity speed gets you better resolution on video. It also gets you lower latency. And it gets you interactivity with concurrent users. That has implications for video and AR/VR/XR.

“New Calling” is a use case being described to carriers. New Calling is characterized by high definition, intelligence, and interactivity on your smartphone. You can now get high definition on video calls. There is automatic translation. There is integrated data, such as restaurants showing you menus while you talk with their AI assistant or person.

Augmented and virtual reality was the big consumer user case for 5G. And it remains the big potential use case for 5.5G, it may be that the new Apple Vision Pro may finally get consumers to adopt this. Apple has both the device and the ecosystem of developers and apps.

But the use case that got everyone’s attention was naked eye 3D. Basically, laptops, smartphones and framed screens that show 3D videos and images. And you don’t need to wear glasses or anything else. Hence, “naked-eye 3D”.

I tried this on laptops, and it was pretty cool. You have to sit in the right location so the laptop camera can track your eye movement. It basically looks like 3D at the movies. And there was a pretty cool demonstration with a live streamer using this.

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This is accomplished by combining fast connectivity on devices with generative AI in the cloud. A smartphone or camera takes a 2D video, it is converted into a 3D image in the cloud with generative AI and it is streamed to a laptop, smartphone, or other device. This happens in real-time which means you can do live streaming with your phone, and everyone can watch it in 3D.

I’m not sure if this will get consumer adoption. But you have to give Huawei credit for really jumping on the generative AI bandwagon quickly and getting this built and deployed.

Consumer applications should continue to emerge as entertainment and social media shift to interactive and collaborative experiences. So, we should see surprises like naked eye 3D fairly regularly.

Home and Vehicle Use Cases

Li Peng, Huawei’s Senior Vice President, and President of the Carrier BG, talked about smart home management, and whole-house intelligence. Basically, this is about carriers being able to delivery bandwidth of 10 Gbps, like private lines.

In theory, 5.5G is so fast you really don’t need broadband in your home or office. You can get fixed wireless access, and everything can work from that.

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There are various 5G FWA solutions for this. Including FWA Pro for ultrafast connectivity, FWA Lite for cost-effective connectivity, and FWA Biz for highly reliable connectivity.

But I think connected car and vehicles are a more compelling use case for 5G and 5.5G. When you get everything in a neighborhood connected. it’s no longer about a smart car. It’s about a smart connected environment. Everything is connected to everything – fibers in the streets, road cameras, streetlights, all other vehicles and so on. Intelligent and connected vehicles quickly become about vehicle to everything (V2X) and connected intelligence. Li called this the Internet of Vehicles (IoV).

“An IoV with advanced sensing is a core component of intelligent traffic light systems, navigation on rainy and foggy days, beyond-line-of-sight sensing, and more…”

“Level-4 autonomous vehicles are expected to hit the commercial market in 2025 and will require massive amounts of computing power and strong networks… An autonomous car generates hundreds of terabytes of data each day and needs to upload about one terabyte of that data to the cloud to support AI model training and algorithm updates.”

Here’s the summary slide.

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This is the use case I am looking forward to.

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I think there are some interesting 5.5G use cases here. The thing about 5.5G is that carriers aren’t going to replace or upgrade their entire 5G network with this. 5.5G uses a higher wavelength so it goes less distance, has more trouble with walls and requires more base stations. So, this is something you put in certain situations and scenarios as an upgrade of 5G capabilities. There are several of these scenarios in transportation.

RedCap Use Case: Reduced Capability Is Important and Are Going to Happen

IoT has always been the biggest argument for 5G. You put sensors everywhere. Cameras, pressure sensors, etc. Everything gets digitized and connected – and becomes intelligent. And that makes great sense for factories.

But it makes less sense for parks and streets. Are we really going to put cameras (which require power) everywhere? What about IoT sensors in fields and in parks? On every street? In every vacant warehouse?

Enter reduced capability (i.e., RedCap) IoT sensors. They don’t require batteries. They are much cheaper. True, they only do 4k video and they don’t do sensing. But you can put them everywhere and track them with 5.5G.

5.5G plus Passive IoT and RedCap is a big deal. It expands the potential IoT connections to a scale of 100 billion and to virtually all scenarios.

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RedCap networks are a big part of the future, and it will greatly help with economics and use cases work. Ultimately, cheap cameras and sensors that don’t require power and that run on software (no marginal costs) are going to be everywhere. For better or worse.

Final Use Case: It’s Still All About Digitizing Manufacturing and Production

IoT plus 5G plus cloud is how you fundamentally transform manufacturing and production. It’s the big, big game changer. But it’s a slow, gradual process. However, since 5G commercialization began four years ago, more than 17,000 private 5G networks have been built globally.

For example:

  • Smart factories and other production facilities becoming digital twins. That’s everything from a typical factory to a smart mine.

  • Drones and other autonomous vehicles and robots doing predictive maintenance on power lines and towers.

  • Smart electricity grids managing power in real time.

  • Smart ports managing throughput.

I view 5.5G and its adoption by carriers as mostly an exercise in building lots of private networks in manufacturing and production facilities. And then lots of tools being built on top of them. That’s what I am tracking.

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