2024 Will Be the Year of 5G-Advanced

The year 2024 will mark the fourth one since 5G networks launched commercially, now well deployed in both developed and developing countries and representing a major advancement in user experience, energy efficiency, and network functionality, setting the stage for future technologies. Its introduction, particularly through Massive Multiple Input, Multiple Output (mMIMO), has greatly enhanced consumer applications, providing most users with high-speed, quality mobile broadband.

Despite challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions, supply chain issues, and energy crises, the telecoms sector has remained a key infrastructure component, focusing on both fixed and mobile connections. These challenges have led to increased investments in telco networks, with a renewed emphasis on cellular technologies like 5G-Advanced and 6G, which are now high priorities globally. We expect 2024 to start with major 5G-Advanced developments, leading to its deployment in the mainstream market, for both consumer and enterprise applications from 2024 to 2026.

5G-Advanced serves as a crucial step in transitioning the industry toward the vision of 6G. Building on the foundation of 5G, mobile operators can leverage both current and new capabilities with 5G-Advanced, paving the way for enterprise applications in the 6G era. However, it is important to highlight what innovations 5G-Advanced will introduce in the short term, and what it will likely mean for enterprises and consumers.

Consumer Innovation: Immersive Content and Augmented Reality

5G-Advanced enhances the understanding of applications and content, especially for Extended Reality (XR). It identifies XR applications' varying latency and bandwidth needs, allowing for customized responses based on the application's requirements. For example, multi-user interactions or edge computing and streaming, which demand low latency, are handled differently from less latency-sensitive XR applications. Adjustments in content resolution and framerate are made quickly to ensure quality service.

Additionally, 5G-Advanced inherently supports Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) applications through features like edge computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML), network slicing, and real-time communication. AI/ML plays a key role in optimizing networks for efficient load distribution and energy use, crucial for XR mobility scenarios. As the 5G and XR markets evolve, 5G-Advanced will become integral to XR technology, similar to how smartphones adopted 5G. These XR enhancements, mostly operating in the background, will be unnoticed by users, except in service quality changes.

For telco companies, 5G-Advanced offers a new consumer benefit, akin to 5G. As it becomes market-ready, consumer openness to its advantages will grow. While enterprises may quickly see its benefits, momentum and revenue opportunities will come from the consumer market, especially with XR. The concurrent development of AR/VR devices, XR software, and 5G-Advanced services will create a robust ecosystem for all stakeholders.

In the home environment, 5G-Advanced will improve Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), which will be necessary as FWA takes up significant bandwidth of the mobile network due to its high traffic requirement. Compared to 5G, 5G-Advanced will offer a much more cost-effective deployment of high-speed capabilities, making FWA more profitable and with a better user experience.

Enterprise Innovation: RedCap and Passive IoT

A pivotal feature of 5G-Advanced is Reduced Capability (RedCap), which broadens 5G's reach to power-limited devices such as smartwatches, AR/VR equipment, surveillance cameras, and a variety of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, catering to both the business and consumer sectors. This new device category allows consumer and IoT devices to access the network in an energy-efficient, scalable, and flexible manner, while allowing connectivity that typically reaches across an entire country.

Passive, or ambient IoT, on the other hand, introduces a major innovation in cellular networks, specifying a concept for connecting sensors to cellular networks without a power source. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 18 is laying the groundwork for passive IoT, with formal standardization expected in Release 19 by 2025. This technology includes two types of sensors: passive sensors, akin to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), without energy storage or signal generation, and active sensors that harvest ambient energy for signal transmission.

Trials are underway for both sensor types, though large-scale adoption is needed for cost-effectiveness. Passive IoT offers several benefits, such as leveraging existing cellular networks, global scalability, and superior performance and coverage compared to technologies like RFID. Achieving competitive pricing could exponentially increase cellular IoT devices and make enterprise 5G more attractive across various sectors. This could lead to a surge in enterprise 5G deployments, fostering a robust ecosystem of applications and use cases. This development, actively promoted by several vendors in 3GPP, may mark a significant shift for 5G-Advanced in the enterprise domain in the coming years. Promising application areas include supply chain visibility, sustainability monitoring, and road traffic management.

Recent Operator News

5G-Advanced news has been accelerating during 2023 with many operators announcing trials, Proofs of Concept (PoCs), and even commercial deployments. The list below summarizes a few of these across Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Asia-Pacific.

  1. December 2023:
    • DNA Oyj, a Finnish telecommunications provider, tested 5G-Advanced technology and achieved 10 Gigabits per Second (Gbps) speeds. The Finnish operator also deployed passive IoT in its main office and illustrated that the new concept can be used to track tags up to 200 Meters (m) away.
    • du in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced the conclusion of a comprehensive RedCap trial over its commercial network, testing new types of use cases for wearables and the IoT.
  2. September 2023:
    • DT managed to achieve 12 Gbps+ data rates using 5G-Advanced capabilities in the 6 Gigahertz (GHz) spectrum.
    • stc Bahrain reached peak speeds of 10 Gbps during the first live trials using 5G-Advanced technology. This trial used 400 Megahertz (MHz) of spectrum in the upper 6 GHz frequency range, highlighting the potential speeds the 5G upgrade will be able to reach.
    • Telia announced the successful completion of RedCap field tests, using a 5G Standalone network. The test included mobility testing to ensure consistent connectivity for the RedCap devices.
  3. August 2023: stc Saudi Arabia performed live trials of Millimeter Wave (mmWave) 5G-Advanced networks and reached 10 Gbps speeds.

These are but a few examples of recent industry developments. The important differentiation is that 5G-Advanced will now provide the tools to expand the utility of 5G networks beyond much more than connectivity only.

What’s Next?

The year 2024 is the first one of 5G-Advanced commercial use, setting the foundation for the next generation of mobile broadband and will set the scene for 6G. It introduces new technologies, which will create new types of use cases, applications, and value to enterprises. Sidelink, positioning, RedCap, and the use of AI/ML in the mobile network are slowly transitioning the functionality of cellular networks from consumer to enterprise. The first use of these technologies will likely expose functionality we cannot yet predict and will likely create the foundation for network effects in the enterprise domain, much like 4G stimulated the creation of app stores, social networks, and the collaborative economy.

Now is the time to act and take advantage of all these new features that 5G-Advanced will enable. Mobile operators are looking for new partners that will help them crack the enterprise market and 5G-Advanced will likely be the foundation that kick-starts this transition. 5G-Advanced improves the operator arsenal to address enterprise 5G and private cellular, but more needs to be done to address enterprise requirements and challenges. Operators either need to customize their value proposition for specific enterprise verticals or partner with third parties, including systems integrators, to offer mobile network functionality for third-party software or products.

Want to learn more about ABI Research's latest findings in the world of 5G-Advanced? Head to our 5G-Advanced Research Spotlight page to see what content our analysts have been developing for technology vendors and enterprise end users.

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