What is 5G Advanced and is it ready for deployment any time soon?

The 3GPP roadmap (see figure below) is continuously evolving to fulfill the larger 5G vision. In this initial 5G wave that began in 2018, 3GPP has completed three major releases (new releases every 1.5 to 2 years): 15, 16, and 17.

Release 17 is included in the ITU-R M.2150-1 recommendation which is the only standard for IMT 2020 RIT/SRIT (i.e. 5G RAN interface).  3GPP contributes its completed radio interface specifications to ITU-R WP5D via ATIS where they are discussed and approved for inclusion into the next version of the ITU-R M.2150 recommendation.  The same procedure is likely for IMT 2030 RIT/SRIT (i.e. 6G RAN).

3GPP Release 18 and beyond (often referred to as 5G-Advanced or 5.5G) involve gradual technology improvements aimed at elevating 5G to the next level, creating a foundation for more demanding applications and a broader set of use cases. In addition to performance improvements and support for new applications, sustainability and intelligent network automation are also important building blocks in the broader 5G-Advanced vision (source: Ericsson).

The scope of 5G Advanced in Release 19 was approved at the December 2023 3GPP Plenary Meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland. Release 19 builds on Release 18 and focuses on enhancing 5G performance while expanding the capability of 5G across devices and deployments. In addition, it will establish the technical foundations for 6G and will include preliminary work on new 6G capabilities. Release 19 will be followed by Release 20, the first 3GPP release for 6G studies.

5G Advanced continues to push the spectral efficiency limits and coverage in both sub-7GHz and millimeter wave spectrum. In addition to continued enhancements to massive MIMO radios and mobility, 3GPP Release 19 provides advancements for new use cases such as XR and Non-Terrestrial Networks.

  • Massive MIMO Radio – Release 18 introduced improvements to massive MIMO uplink and downlink throughput. Release 19 will boost capacity further by improving multi-user MIMO, which enables more UEs to share the same time and frequency resources.
    Release 19 will also enable the cost-efficient realization of distributed transmitters and receivers, thus improving signal quality. This is an important step towards enabling fully distributed MIMO (D-MIMO) systems. Other enhancements include 5G beam management with UE-initiated measurement reporting, thus resulting in faster beam selection.
  • Mobility – 5G Advanced introduces a new handover procedure known as low-layer (i.e. L2) triggered mobility (LTM). In Release 18, LTM is supported between cells served by the same gNB. In Release 19, the LTM framework will be extended to support handover between cells served by different gNBs.
  • XR and the Metaverse – Release 19 builds on the low latency and power saving features of Release 18 by enabling higher XR capacity by adding improved uplink and downlink scheduling using packet delay information.
  • Non-Terrestrial Networks – 5G Advanced combines terrestrial and satellite communications under one standard for the first time. Release 19 will build on the enhancements introduced in Release 18 with a focus on increasing satellite downlink coverage, introducing UEs with higher output power and providing Redcap device support. It will also investigate whether additional support is required for regenerative payloads.

Current priorities for 5G-Advanced include:

  • More capacity and better performance. Some estimates suggest that MIMO enhancements, better beam management, and full duplex technologies taken together with other advancements, including multi-band serving cell (MB-SC) and Extremely Large Antenna Array (ELAA) will deliver another 20% of efficiency improvements relative to today’s 5G. Enhanced uplink (UL) and multi-cell UL improvements could pave the way for greater data rate and latency improvements in the UL. For reference, Huawei defines 5G-Advanced as a site that can support at least 10 Gbps of cell capacity. ZTE is also targeting 10 Gbps+ with 5G-Advanced.
  • Expanded coverage. In addition to MIMO and IAB coverage enhancements, 5G-Advanced includes Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) connectivity improvements, building on the NR/LTE-based NTN support that was introduced with Release 17.
  • More intelligence. Releases 15-17 already include some AI/ML features. 5G-Advanced will offer AI/ML enhancements in the RAN (including the air interface) and the management layers. In addition, Intelligent RAN and AI-powered analytics will help operators to improve the performance and proactively address network issues before they become a problem.
  • Energy savings. Release 18 includes a confluence of static and dynamic power-saving enhancements for the radios and the overall RAN. Also, the specification is targeting to define a base station energy consumption model with various KPIs to better evaluate transmission and reception consumption/savings.
  • Flexible spectrum (FD, DSS, CA). NR is currently based on TDD or FDD spectrum. Full duplex (FD), a 5G-Advanced contender, improves spectrum utilization by allowing UL and DL to share the same spectrum (FD should improve capacity and latency, especially in the UL). Release 18 also includes DSS capacity enhancements (increasing PDCCH capacity by allowing NR PDCCH to be transmitted in symbols overlapping with LTE CRS). Other spectrum-related upgrades with 5G-Advanced include multi-carrier enhancements and NR support for dedicated spectrum bandwidths below 5 MHz.
  • Critical IoT. 5G-Advanced includes multiple industrial and IoT related advancements. Release 17 included support for Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), which will be expanded in 5G-Advanced to support Deterministic Networking (DetNet).
  • RedCap IoT. 5G NR-Light or Reduced Capability (RedCap) was introduced with 3GPP NR Release 17. 5G-Advanced will introduce lower-tier RedCap devices, seeking to find a better set of tradeoffs between cost, performance, and power consumption.
  • Ambient IoT. Passive IoT, sometimes referred to as Ambient IoT, will allow devices/objects to connect without a power source.
  • Sensing. Harmonized communication and sensing (HCS) is a Release 19 study item.
  • Positioning. Positioning is already supported in Release 16/17, though 5G-Advanced is expected to improve positioning accuracy and power consumption (Nokia has said sub-10 cm positioning is doable). In addition, Release 18 will include support for RedCap devices.

Role of AI/ML in 5G Advanced:

AI/ML will become a key feature of 5G networks with numerous applications ranging from network planning and network operations optimization to full network automation. Another important application is the use of AI/ML to improve the performance and functionality of the 5G air interface.

3GPP studied the use of AI/ML in the air interface in Release 18 and defined three use cases: channel state feedback (CSF) information, beam management and positioning. Based on the conclusions of Release 18 studies, Release 19 will specify a general AI/ML framework, i.e. actual specifications to support the above three use cases as well as specific support for each individual use case. Release 19 will also explore new areas in the AI/ML air interface such as mobility improvement and AI/ML-related model training, model management and global 5G data collection.

AI/ML is another major focus for Qualcomm. The company has dedicated significant technical resources to develop full-scale demonstrations of the three Release 18 defined use cases. For example, it recently demonstrated CSF-based cross-node machine learning involving E2E optimization between devices and the network. This reduces device communication overheads resulting in improved capacity and throughput. Qualcomm has also demonstrated the use of AI/ML to improve beam prediction on its 28GHz massive MIMO test network and is heavily involved in positioning technologies. For example, it has showcased its outdoor precise positioning technology, which uses multi-cell roundtrip (RTT) and angle-of-arrival (AoA) based technologies, as well as its RF finger printing technology operating in an indoor industrial private network.

Over the next few months, 3GPP will continue exploring the applicability of AI/ML based solutions for other use cases such as load balancing between cells, mobility optimization and network energy savings. For example, there will be support for conditional Layer 2 mobility in Release 19 and a new study item targeting new use cases designed to improve coverage and capacity optimization, such as AI-assisted dynamic cell shaping.

Enhancing Device and Network Sustainability:

5G Advanced focuses on sustainability and introduces energy-saving features for devices and networks as well as exploring end-to-end energy saving opportunities that benefit devices. There are also improved features for RedCap and the study of ambient IoT as a new device type.

  • Power-optimized devices – Releases 18 and 19 build on existing energy saving features, for example, a new low-power wakeup signal (LP-WUS). A low-complexity, power-optimized receiver is specified to monitor low-power wake-up signals from the network which only wakes-up the main radio when data is available at the device. This avoids the significant power consumption required to keep the main radio monitoring control signals from the network.
  • Ambient IoT – enables new use cases enabled by very-low power devices that harvest energy from the ambient environment, for example, RF waves. Release 19 will investigate new architectures for ambient IoT devices and will include the development of a harmonized specification. Numerous use cases will be studied, including smart agriculture, industrial wireless sensor networks, smart logistics, warehousing, etc.
  • Network energy savings – 5G Advanced reduces network energy consumption by dynamically adjusting the network’s operation based on feedback from the device, i.e. shutting down parts of the network when idle and transmitting less power depending on the overall traffic load or using more efficient antennas.

Dell’Oro’s Stefan Pongratz says “one fundamental aspect of 5G-Advanced will be to support more demanding consumer MBB applications. The days of exponential data traffic growth are clearly in the past; however, global mobile data traffic is still projected to increase threefold over the next five years, reaching 0.5 ZB/month by 2028 (mobile plus FWA). While operators are currently in a fairly good position from a capacity perspective, especially those not aggressively pursuing FWA, some of the technology improvements with 5G-Advanced can help to address capacity limitations in hotspot areas.”

Omdia (owned by Omdia) expects leading network service providers in Asia and Oceania are expected to launch 5G-Advanced between 2024 and 2025.  They aim to leverage the new capabilities and features offered by 5G-Advanced to enhance their network infrastructure and offer innovative services to their customers.  These advancements include enhanced performance metrics such as higher data rates, lower latency, improved reliability, and greater network efficiency.

During the next few years, 5G Advanced will continue to evolve within 3GPP while the specification of 6G officially starts to ramp up in parallel, leading to the ITU-R IMT 2030 standard.

Setting The Stage For 6G:

Although Release 19 will be the last release focused on 5G, it will also include some longer-term technologies that will become the foundation of 6G, thus setting the direction for Release 20. For example, Integrated Sensing and Communications (ISAC), which combines wireless communications with RF sensing, will enable a raft of new position-based use cases. Release 19 will study channel characteristics suitable for the sensing of various objects, including vehicles, UAVs and humans. Full duplex, another 6G technology, allows  transmitters and receivers to operate simultaneously on the same frequency, potentially resulting in a doubling of network capacity. Release 19 will study sub-band full duplex, a type of full duplex, which will improve capacity and latency, particularly for the uplink. Release 19 will also include channel model studies for the upper mid-band spectrum (7-16GHz), which will be supported by “Giga-MIMO” in the 6G timeframe, in order to enable wide-area coverage in this higher band.

Whereas AI/ML is a key pillar of 5G Advanced, it will be a core foundational technology of 6G and will underpin the key features that will make 6G revolutionary. For example, 6G will start to move away from the traditional, model-driven approach of designing communication systems and transition towards a more data-driven design. Indeed, it is likely that the 6G air-interface will be designed to be AI-native from the outset, thus signalling a paradigm change in the way communication systems are designed.  An AI-native air interface could offer many benefits. For example, it could refine existing communication protocols by continuously learning and improving them, thereby enabling the air interface to be customized dynamically to suit local radio environments.



5G Advanced – How will it impact the RAN Market?

NGMN issues ITU-R framework for IMT-2030 vs ITU-R WP5D Timeline for RIT/SRIT Standardization

Nokia plans to investment €360 million in microelectronics & 5G Advanced/6G technology in Germany

ZTE and China Telecom unveil 5G-Advanced solution for B2B and B2C services

ABI Research: 5G-Advanced (not yet defined by ITU-R) will include AI/ML and network energy savings

Draft new ITU-R recommendation (not yet approved): M.[IMT.FRAMEWORK FOR 2030 AND BEYOND]


3 thoughts on “What is 5G Advanced and is it ready for deployment any time soon?

  1. China Mobile is first out of the gate with large-scale deployment of 5G-Advanced – but it seems to be alone in its enthusiasm.

    Li Qiang, head of the big telco’s planning and construction department, told MWC last week the Chinese giant will roll out the technology in 300 cities this year and aims to fully deploy by 2026.

    He said the company hopes the integration of 5G-Advanced with cloud and AI will create new services based on its rich new user experience capabilities.

    “Driven by both technology and market, 5G-A’s commercial integrated cloud and AI will generate new experiences, new connections, new models and new services, and promote the sustainable development of 5G,” Li said.

    China Mobile has built the world’s largest 5G network, with 1.94 million basestations, covering 94% of the population, according to Li. It spent 81.4 billion Chinese yuan (US$11.3 billion) on capex in the first half of 2023, including 42.3 billion yuan on mobile.

    But other operators just aren’t feeling it – not even in China.

    Rival China Unicom has just begun a 5.5G pilot in Beijing, with coverage in three districts. That is more than China Telecom, whose interest in the technology seems to be limited to the Hangzhou Asian Games.

    CNBC reported on Monday there had been “a lot of chatter” about 5.5G at Barcelona. But no one is publicly committing to it. That is despite Huawei’s best efforts.

    The hype at Barcelona may have been around AI, but for the industry’s biggest vendor, the chief focus was 5.5G. Of Huawei’s 30 news announcements last week, 13 were partially or wholly about 5G-Advanced.

    Many of them were MoUs, such as this one with Zain in Saudi Arabia, this one with Turkcell, or this one with du in the UAE. While these may foreshadow future contracts, an MoU is just a placeholder in the absence of an actual agreement.

    The rather important fact that the 5G-Advanced standard, aka 3GPP Release 18, is not finalized is not helping the sales campaign. It is scheduled to be frozen in the first half of this year, but that is unlikely to unleash a torrent of new equipment orders.

    That is because, as everyone knows, operators are still sweating their massive 5G investments. Telcos aren’t going to be gulled again by tales of ten times more speed, autonomous driving and dazzling new business models.

    While 5G may not have brought in any extra cash, it is at least a much more efficient way of carrying data. If nothing else, the weight of traffic will drive telcos to upgrade their networks – but it doesn’t look like that will be this year.


  2. Telecom operators haven’t yet finished rolling out 5G wireless mobile networks with relatively few 5G SA core networks (real 5G) deployed. Yet bosses of major carriers are already talking about building something called “5.5G,” or “5G Advanced.”

    There was a lot of chatter about 5.5G at the Mobile World Congress tech trade show in Barcelona, Spain. MWC brought together thousands of people in the mobile industry, including from leading telecom companies like Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, BT, and Vodafone.

    At the show, executives from some of these companies that they were working toward rolling out a new generation of mobile internet. That would enable even more advanced applications than the data-intensive apps we’ve all come to use today, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, and TikTok.

    These apps are already well served by the current mobile internet, but in the future 5.5G is expected to power more advanced applications. That includes mixed reality headsets, which are getting more and more powerful with tech giants like Apple launching its Apple Vision Pro and Meta upgrading with its Meta Quest Pro headset last year.

    But it also means some of the things that 5G promised us years ago, such as self-driving cars, unpiloted air taxis, and smart manufacturing enabled via the so-called internet of things (IoT), will start to become a reality, too.
    Now, nearly five years on, penetration of 5G among consumers remains low.

    The number of consumers with a 5G connection is increasing. But it’s still well below “mainstream” levels.

    5G has been the fastest mobile generation rollout to date, surpassing 1 billion connections by the end of 2022, rising to 1.6 billion connections at the end of 2023 and 5.5 billion by 2030.

    5G connections are expected to represent more than half (51%) of mobile connections by 2029, though, and that is forecast to then rise 56% by 2030. Those numbers are up to date as of January 2024, GSMA said.

    The latest version of 5G is in 3GPP release 17 and ITU-R M.2150-1. That means 5.5G is dubbed “release 18” by the industry but it won’t be completed till Release 19.


  3. China Mobile has launched what it claims is the world’s first commercial 5G-Advanced network ahead of the standard’s expected completion later this year, and is collaborating with Ericsson to develop use cases for it.

    According to an Ericsson announcement released on Wednesday, China Mobile has launched 5G-A in 100 cities across China, and aims to expand coverage to more than 300 cities before the end of this year.

    China Mobile said it will promote 5G-A by launching over 20 5G-A-compatible devices later this year. The operator has set a target of at least 20 million 5G-A device users in 2024.

    The launch of 5G-A was accompanied by the establishment of an industry alliance for 5G-A innovations and use case development, of which Ericsson is a member.

    “In the future, Ericsson will continue to help China Mobile explore new 5G-A applications and services on domestic and foreign technology and industrial platforms, including the 5G-A Innovation Industry Alliance, carry out technological innovation, and jointly promote the maturity of the 5G-A industry chain by working together to innovate a new 5G-A commercial model,” Ericsson said in a statement.

    China Mobile’s 5G-A launch comes as the 3GPP is still putting the final touches on the standard under Release 18. According to the latest official 3GPP timeline, the standards work on the RAN side was frozen as of December 2023, while the work of the Service and Systems Aspects (SA) group for service and system architecture and the Core Network and Terminals (CT) group were scheduled to be frozen as of last month. Standards covering ASN.1 and Open API are scheduled to be completed in June 2024.

    Key features of Release 18 (apart from faster data speeds) include enhanced uplink coverage, intelligent network automation (including AI/ML RAN), flexible spectrum, improved energy efficiency, support for critical IoT use cases (including RedCap), and integration with non-terrestrial networks.

    In January, China Unicom and Huawei said that they had deployed and tested a pilot large-scale 5G-Advanced network in parts of Beijing with a downlink peak rate of 10 Gbps, and a continuous experience of at least 5 Gbps.

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