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Middle Eastern countries were strategic and proactive in their quick adoption of 4G and 5G. Now the region is at the forefront of the next evolution in cutting-edge networks, 5.5G and F5.5G. These technologies will unleash unprecedented upgrades in network performance, connectivity, reliability, energy efficiency and intelligence. On the end-user side, 5.5 G's ultra-broadband capabilities and deterministic latency will empower various sectors, enhancing human-to-human, human-to-vehicle and human-to-thing interactions.

In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, An Jian, President of Huawei Middle East & Central Asia Carrier Network Business Group, explains why 5.5G is the foundation for the region's emerging digital economy.

5G has achieved remarkable results since it was launched almost four years ago. How will the 5G network evolve in the near future?

After four years of commercial use, the development of 5G networks has progressed by leaps and bounds. According to statistics from GSMA and GSA, as of December 2022, over 240 commercial 5G networks have been deployed worldwide. In the Middle East, 5G coverage has reached 45 million people, with over 20 million 5G users, including 2.3 million 5G fixed broadband users and 57,000 5G leased line users.

Currently, 6G is still in the early research stage, and 5.5G is seen as the next step in the evolution and upgrade of 5G networks. The industry is accelerating its consensus on this matter. The 5.5G era is expected to bring a network experience that is ten times better than that of 5G and unlock 100 times more business opportunities.

The characteristics of the 5.5G era can be summarized as follows:

  • Ten times the experience: The personal and home user experience will be enhanced from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps, better supporting immersive, interactive and multi-user collaborative services.
  • Ten times the connectivity: Together with all other IoT scenarios such as Nb-IoT and RedCap, the introduction of Passive-IoT technology in the 5.5G era will support an Internet of Things (IoT) scale ranging from tens of billions to hundreds of billions of devices.
  • Ten times the determinism: The capabilities of latency, positioning and high reliability will be improved by ten times.
  • Ten times the energy efficiency: The number of CO2 emissions per terabyte of data transmitted in mobile networks can be reduced by ten times.
  • Ten times the intelligence: The ADN (Autonomous Driving Network) will advance from Level 3 to Level 4, resulting in a 10-fold increase in network operational efficiency.

The advent of the 5.5G era promises significant advancements in network performance, connectivity, reliability, energy efficiency and intelligence. This technological evolution is expected to revolutionize various industries and pave the way for innovative applications and services that were previously unimaginable. As the world eagerly anticipates the deployment of 5.5G networks, it is clear that the future holds immense potential for further connectivity and progress.

Could you please give us an update on 5.5G's progress?

The Middle East has achieved significant progress in 5G development over the past four years: the focus has now turned to 5.5G. This new standard is undergoing standardization and will be defined through three versions, namely 3GPP Release 18 to Release 20, which will continuously enrich the technical specifications of 5.5G. The Release 18 version is set to be frozen in the first half of 2024.

In terms of spectrum, in addition to the existing C-band, 2.6 GHz and 2.1 GHz 5G NR frequency bands, the U6G band (6425-7125 MHz) will play a crucial role in achieving 10 Gbps in the 5.5G era. Therefore, 3GPP has recommended U6G be used as a licensed spectrum, and several regional spectrum management organizations also support its identification as IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications).

This year, the industry has already introduced the first 10 Gbps chip, and commercial devices equipped with this chip are expected to hit the market in the second half of this year.

In 2023, Redcap technology is expected to enter large-scale commercialization, with over 50 commercial devices anticipated by the end of this year. Redcap technology finds applications in various scenarios, such as smart power, intelligent security and smart manufacturing.

Furthermore, the prototype of Passive-IoT terminal tags, utilizing passive IoT technology, is ready. These commercial devices will operate without batteries and have a coverage range ten times greater than traditional technologies, making them suitable for industrial manufacturing, logistics, energy, pharmaceuticals and more applications.

The development and construction of 5.5G are accelerating, with the entire industry chain actively preparing for the commercialization of 5.5G. The explosion of 5.5G is just around the corner, promising transformative advancements and new opportunities in the Middle East's telecommunications landscape.

Discuss Huawei's actions and plans in the Middle East.

Throughout the development of 4G and 5G, the Middle East has been a leading market globally. Huawei's strategic MOUs with regional operators are focused on exploring 5.5G and F5.5G. These agreements encompass new technologies, target networks and use cases and set the stage for continuous evolution.

Could you let us know the potential new capabilities and what kind of use cases can be enabled with these new capabilities?

5.5G is set to revolutionize connectivity with its ultra-broadband capabilities and deterministic latency. It empowers various sectors, enhancing human-to-human, human-to-vehicle and human-to-thing interactions.

The advent of 5.5G brings forth a new era of digital infrastructure, enabling significant advancements in personal, vehicular, and industrial connectivity. With its ultra-broadband and deterministic latency capabilities, 5.5G revolutionizes how we experience human-to-human, human-to-vehicle, and human-to-thing interactions while injecting new vitality into home broadband connections.

  • Human-to-Human Connectivity: In the era of 5.5G, the world is transitioning from mobile internet to mobile 3D intelligent interconnection. The key foundation for the broad adoption of 3D services lies in the downlink multi-gigabit speeds and deterministic latency of 20ms @ 99% offered by 5.5G networks. This paves the way for immersive experiences and opens up new possibilities for the mobile internet. AI-Generated Content (AIGC) will emerge as the core mode of content creation in the future, driving efficient content production and diverse development. It is projected that by 2027, users’ average monthly data consumption will increase by ten times, thanks to the proliferation of AIGC and the enhanced capabilities of 5.5G networks.
  • Human-to-Thing Connectivity: 5.5G networks provide ubiquitous connectivity for high-, medium- and low-speed IoT devices. Passive IoT, a significant innovation in 5.5G cellular IoT technology, creates a trillion-dollar market for IoT applications. Passive IoT finds extensive applications in warehousing, manufacturing, logistics, consumer goods and other value-driven scenarios by offering the same cost as traditional RFID technology but with the added benefits of uplink communication capabilities and ten times the coverage.
  • Human-to-Vehicle Connectivity: In vehicular communication, 5.5G networks redefine the concept of connected cars through vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-cloud (V2C) synergy. The seamless integration of communication and perception capabilities under the 5.5G 10 Gbps network enables the next generation of intelligent and networked vehicles, driving enhanced safety, efficiency and overall user experience.
  • Revitalizing Home Broadband: 5.5 G's 10 Gbps network capacity introduces new possibilities for home broadband services, bringing transformative experiences such as ultra-high-definition multi-angle 3D immersive videos. It also enriches the Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) concept by implementing mobile technologies to achieve home broadband connectivity, offering users various applications and services.

In summary, 5.5G is a transformative leap in connectivity, empowering the digital age with its ultra-broadband capabilities, deterministic latency and enhanced experiences. From immersive 3D interactions to the widespread adoption of AI-generated content, from revolutionizing IoT deployments to redefining vehicle connectivity, and from reinvigorating home broadband to unlocking new possibilities, 5.5G is poised to shape the future of connectivity in profound ways.

You mentioned FWA earlier. What are the differences in its performance between the 5G and 5.5G stages?

In the era of 5G, one of the first successful applications to emerge was Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). With over 2.3 million users already utilizing 5G FWA, there is still a significant market potential of 8.5 million households, dedicated lines and CCTV installations. However, as multi-carrier aggregation terminals become widely available and RedCap technology continues to evolve, FWA is set to undergo a significant upgrade this year, known as FWA 2.0. This marks the first wave of dividends for the 5.5G era. While FWA 1.0 in the 5G era represented the FWA Standard, FWA 2.0 expanded into FWA Pro, FWA Lite (2H & 2B) and FWA Biz.

  • FWA Pro: By utilizing three-carrier aggregation technology and high-performance terminals, FWA Pro offers an ultimate home broadband experience with up to 1 Gbps. This rate is three times faster than the current FWA Standard packages available on the market, making it highly appealing to high-end users.
  • FWA Lite (2H & 2B): RedCap Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) provides significant cost advantages compared to previous 5G CPE models. With faster speeds than 4G home broadband, FWA Lite is a powerful tool for low-end 4G home broadband users to migrate to 5G, relieving congestion in 4G-congested areas. Moreover, in regions where existing dedicated line solutions are expensive or have long deployment times, or where xDSL solutions offer speeds lower than 10 Mbps, RedCap, with its QoS guarantees and other technological enhancements, provides an excellent alternative for mid-to-low-speed dedicated lines. It enables telecom operators to achieve a significant reduction in single-line deployment costs.
  • FWA Biz: With RedCap module prices predicted to be one-tenth of standard 5G modules, CCTV cameras utilizing RedCap technology offer a significant cost advantage. Combined with reliability guarantees, RedCap has become a highly promising solution for CCTV surveillance applications. Rough estimates indicate a potential market of 1.2 million lines in the Middle East alone.

FWA 2.0 is poised to revolutionize connectivity in the 5.5G era. With FWA Pro offering unparalleled speeds, FWA Lite serving as a migration tool from 4G to 5G and FWA Biz unlocking cost advantages in CCTV deployments, this upgrade opens up new possibilities for users, telecom operators and industries alike. As we embark on the journey of 5.5G, FWA 2.0 is at the forefront, driving the next wave of connectivity advancement.

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