The next major chapter of 5G development will start with the arrival of 5G Advanced.
In April 2021, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) revealed 5G Advanced, which is another name for the upcoming Release 18 -- and future releases -- of the latest 5G cellular specification.
The 5G standard started with the late-2017 delivery of non-standalone (NSA) new radio (NR) specifications for the technology. The initial phase of 5G deployment has begun, with both NSA and standalone networks rolling out all over the world.
Now, the cellular industry is anticipating the arrival of the 5G Advanced specification. The existing standard will be "significantly enhanced to improve efficiency, as well as adding capabilities," 3GPP said.
New features of 5G Advanced
5G Advanced has "advanced capabilities from new services, extreme connectivity and security," Nokia's Bell Labs wrote in a white paper on the upcoming standard and future cellular advances.
Improved massive MIMO
5G Advanced provides enhanced massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) performance for a 5G network. MIMO is an antenna array technology that uses multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to increase data transfer speeds. Massive MIMO is a multiuser upgrade that increases the number of transmitter and receiver components.
Bell Labs anticipates that 5G Advanced, as well as future standards, will need base stations that support between 64 and 512 transceivers, the antenna elements that both send and receive data. For enterprise users, this means updated 5G Advanced systems will better support high-throughput data users on a network. Users will need to deploy new infrastructure and devices to gain this future speed boost.
Precise millisecond timing is crucial for many industry sectors, like banking, industrial IoT and smart energy grid technologies. 5G Advanced will guard against the degradation or loss of satellite signals by providing time references directly from the network, Nokia wrote.
Upgrades that started with 3GPP Release 17, which experts expect will be frozen throughout the second quarter of 2022, will also affect enterprise users. The nonterrestrial network update will enable compatible devices to connect with 5G satellites. Another major update to Release 17 will be a lower data rate for wearables and IoT devices.
Release 17 will introduce reduced capability (RedCap) as part of its specification. RedCap refers to the 5G NR reduced capability update in the 3GPP Release 17 spec, and it describes how 5G-enabled devices use less bandwidth to operate under the new standard. Wearable or IoT devices using RedCap can operate in a 20 MHz channel, rather than the 100 MHz channel 5G NR typically uses.
Qualcomm said Release 18 will scale back the necessary bandwidth for RedCap devices while maintaining compatibility with existing 5G NR and RedCap devices.
5G Advanced and AI
5G Advanced will use AI and machine learning (ML) to apply intelligent network management and improve the performance of complicated, multi-antenna systems. According to Ericsson, this support enables new use cases, such as extended reality (XR) communication, which builds on established augmented and virtual reality applications.
A major aim of 5G Advanced is to derive more energy-efficient networks. Implementing AI and ML updates on the network will make this possible, Ericsson said. 3GPP said it will define a base station energy consumption model as part of the Release 18 specification, as well as determine power reduction methods for the upcoming standard.
With the new specification, enterprise users will have the advantage of enhanced location positioning. Nokia said 5G Advanced will "improve cellular-positioning accuracy to below 10 cm by using beamforming as well as time-based methods to determine location." These improvements will enable machinery to move with centimeter accuracy indoors without access to a GPS satellite signal.
It's still the early days for 5G Advanced, but carriers are preparing for the next phase of 5G.
"Release 18 will support a number of system enhancements and support for vertical services -- from XR experiences to artificial intelligence and machine techniques in the network," said Brian Daly, assistant vice president of standards and industry alliances at AT&T Labs. "However, these specifications will not be complete until early 2024."
Daly added that AT&T is deeply involved with 3GPP and will work closely on specifications. He expects to see Release 18 features in products within 18 to 24 months after development.
With improved data rates, location, timing and coverage on the way, enterprise users should pay attention to the latest phase of 5G.