As 5G Turns Five, the Mobile AI Era Arrives

Kevin Casey

June 28, 2024

4 Min Read

As MWC Shanghai 2024 gets underway, it coincides with the five-year anniversary of 5G commercial use in China – with plenty of milestones achieved along the way.

David Wang, Executive Director of the Board, Huawei, and Chairman of the ICT Infrastructure Managing Board, noted in an opening day speech that since China first began issuing 5G licenses five years ago, 5G adoption has skyrocketed. Wang pointed to several achievements in that five-year span, including:

  • 320 commercial 5G networks have served more than 1.8 billion users.

  • New users are growing 3x faster than during the same stage of 4G adoption.

  • In China alone, 5G is also integrated into 74 of the 97 business and industrial sectors.

But the real cause for celebration may be everything yet to come with the arrival of the 5G-A (or 5G-Advanced) phase and the integration of AI into mobile devices and networks – two concurrent developments that were the focus of Wang’s address at MWC Shanghai, “Advancing 5G-A and Shaping the Mobile AI Era.”

More than 30 5G-A-ready mobile devices are ready for rollout, and Wang noted that 60-plus operators and partners declared the arrival of the first year of 5G-A commercial use at MWC earlier in 2024. 3GPP Release-18, the first version of 5G-A, was recently frozen as well.

“5G-A will continue to drive the digital wave forward,” Wang said, with a parallel trend of AI integrated into mobile devices ushering in a new wave of innovation and growth in the industry.

According to Wang, Huawei sees three crucial developments occurring in the mobile AI age:

  1. Human-computer interaction will shift from touch-based to “full-modal” interaction, including natural language, gestures, and even emotion-based experiences.

  2. Content production will transform from prefabricated, retrieval-based content to AI-generated content that deliver customized, personalized experiences in real time.

  3. Mobile terminals will evolve from smartphone-focused to “AI assistant terminals” and “embodied AI,” significantly expanding intelligent digital experiences.

Huawei anticipates a return to “more than Moore” traffic in the mobile AI era – a welcome antidote to industry-wide concerns about slowing growth – as a result of 100-fold improvements in interaction efficiency, quality, and object promotion.

Similar opportunities abound in the fields of Internet of Vehicles (IoV) and the Internet of Everything. By 2030, Huawei expects 80 million new connected vehicles to come online each year. As AI assistants become commonplace – Wang cited a prediction that some 5 billion AI assistant devices will be in use by 2030 – the billions of humans online will be joined by billions of “silicon-based humans,” or AI applications running on 5G-A networks.

This is one of the major intersections of mobile AI and 5G-A: Wang stressed the need for operators and partners to accelerate 5G-A development to ensure mobile AI can reach its full potential.
To that end, Wang’s speech turned its focus to the necessary combination of “networks for AI” – a strong foundation for initial phases of 5G-A initiatives – and “AI for networks.”
Which is to say that, as the mobile AI era explodes, networks will experience new complexities and traffic requirements. AI is not just for consumer and business experiences, but for improving networks themselves.

“We need to fully inject AI capabilities into [all] layers of wireless networks to achieve intelligent performance, simplified O&M, and intelligent service operations,” Wang said.

The “AI for networks” approach can revolutionize multiple aspects of network management. Wang shared several examples, including:

Service operations: AI models simulate multi-modal data such as topology, environment, and traffic distribution in real time, and generate a precise experience view, helping carriers quickly and accurately provision required resources for optimal service operations.

Network optimization: AI models can control multidimensional indicators such as network rate, coverage, and energy efficiency in real time, and dynamically formulate a comprehensive next-best-actions to optimize experience and power consumption.

Troubleshooting: AI agents can automatically plan and orchestrate tasks based on machine data, reducing the number of alerts by as much as 90% and resolving software commissioning problems by 40%. Meanwhile, AI copilots can assist engineers with performing accurate onsite visits for hardware troubleshooting and resolution.

5G may be five years old, but its impacts have only begun to be felt. 5G-A and the mobile AI era will generate massive new opportunities throughout the industry.

“The next decade will be a decade to embrace the mobile AI era, a decade to accelerate the intelligent world, and a decade for mobile networks to play a cornerstone role,” Wang said.

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