Kevin Casey

July 6, 2023

4 Min Read
The Road to 5.5G: Huawei Is Paving the Way With Continuous Innovation
System engineering concept. Engineers working in the office. GUI (Graphical User Interface).

It may seem as if the 5G era has only just begun, but the evolution to 6G is already underway, especially with the ITU recently defining a 6G vision. But the shift from vision to commercial use is generally a decade-long progress, which means an interim phase – something Huawei and other stakeholders refer to as 5.5G – is needed to protect existing investments in 5G while dramatically improving network performance.

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That was the major theme of a talk given by Yang Chaobin, Huawei’s Director and President of ICT Products & Solutions, at Mobile World Congress 2023 in Shanghai. Chaobin described how Huawei is continuing to invest and innovate in the next evolution of 5G, and how China has taken a lead in allocating 6 GHz band to 5.5G/6G systems – something Huawei is calling on regulators around the globe to do as well.

“China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology took the lead in allocating the 700 megabytes of spectrum 6425 to 7125 to mobile communications,” Chaobin said. “This allocation is very forward-looking. This is a milestone in the history of 5.5G development.”

So what is 5.5G, exactly? In brief, it refers to making 10x improvements in terms of network performance – from 1 GB to 10 GB downlink speeds and 100 MB to 1 GB  uplink speeds. Chaobin also noted that 5.5G will also introduce passive IoT (p-IoT) technology for the first time, directly opening up a new space for 100 billion IoT connections and laying the foundation for a brand-new industry vision of what’s possible.

Chaobin shared that testing and verification of several key enabling technologies – which includes multiple global operators – is already well underway, with impressive results. These include support for 6 GHz and millimeter wave for 10 Gbit/s downstream.  Yang also said that coverage and mobility test results for extremely large antenna arrays (ELAA) have exceeded expectations; meanwhile, Multi-band Serving Cell (MBSC) is allowing operators to orchestrate the use of discontinuous spectrums, further enhancing downlink speeds.

“The results of these technologies demonstrate that 6 GHz will become the core band in the 5.5 GHz period,” Chaobin said. “At this year’s World Radio Conference, regulators around the world are expected to support the allocation of 6 GHz to 5.5 GHz to form a globally unified frequency band, so that all consumers and operators can enjoy economies of scale.”

5.5G is as much about uplink performance, too – which is absolutely vital to digital transformation across a wide range of industries and consumer experiences. But the first several years of commercial 5G have focused more on downlink improvements.

“Uplink is always a challenging topic,” Chaobin said. “[Yet] compared with 4G networks, 5G networks are the same as 4G networks in [terms of] uplink.”

Uplink improvements can’t wait until the commercial availability of 6G, especially because many B2B services will increasingly require as much upstream traffic as downstream. In some cases, those services may actually be primarily upstream. Chaobin also noted that interactive AI services will also require significant uplink capacity.

Huawei has made considerable progress on this front. Chaobin says the company’s ongoing innovation in uplink performance has been tested and verified in multiple scenarios, such as coal mines and steel mines.

5.5G has virtually limitless potential across consumer and business experiences, according to Huawei. They include everything from immersive gaming experiences to interactive digital twins to voice connections that can automatically translate from one caller’s language to another’s.

Chaobin also shared that Huawei, along with key partners, has helped complete testing and verification of RedCap, or reduced capability, technology. Along with P-IoT, 5G RedCap will help usher in 1 billion new IoT connections in industries such as electric power generation.

AI and other forms of intelligent automation will play a key role in 5.5G networks, according to Chaobin, who stressed that the integration of various AI applications with the core network will be one of the most important features of the 5.5G phase.

All of this speaks to the accelerating pace of continuous innovation at Huawei and among key partners and global operators. 5.5G isn’t some faraway dream – we’re already on the precipice of its rollout in various industries.

Indeed, Chaobin also previewed what’s to come: In 2024, Huawei will launch a complete set of 5.5G-ready network devices for commercial use to prepare for and catalyze the commercial deployment of 5.5G, spanning: 5.5G mobile network, 5.5 Gbit/s for fixed networks, and Net5.5G.

“We hope that all industry partners will work together to put 5.5G into commercial use on a large scale in the world, bringing richer applications and experiences to all consumers for the digital transformation of the entire industry,” Chaobin said.

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