In Part 1, I wrote about the state of 5G, which is now 4 years into commercial deployment. There are more than 260 commercial 5G networks worldwide, with over 1.2 billion users (about half are in China).
So, things in 5G are moving along. And 6G is not really on the horizon yet.
But Huawei just made an interesting announcement at the Shanghai Mobile World Conference. According to Yang Chaobin (President of ICT Products and Solutions), Huawei is going to launch a complete set of commercial 5.5G network equipment in 2024.
That’s really interesting. 5.5G is basically a 10x upgrade on 5G in terms of speed. And, in theory, it is happening next year.
During my visit to Shanghai Mobile World Conference, I did a tour of Huawei’s 5.5G research center. And this was really the highlight of the trip for me. It was a really good summary of the likely use cases for 5.5G. This is still all pre-deployment, but 5.5G has been tested enough that we can see what is possible (in theory).
Here are the key factoids for 5.5G:
- Peak download speed is increasing from 1 Gbit/s to 10-11 Gbit/s.
- Peak upload speed is increasing from 100 Mbit/s to 1-2 Gbit/s.
- Latency is in milliseconds, in contrast to the 20 ms typical latency for B2B applications in 5G.
- 5.5G will support passive IoT technology for the first time. This increases the number of IoT connections from a scale of 10 billion to a scale of 100 billion.
- 5.5G will introduce integrated communication and sensing. Adding sensing capabilities to wireless and optical networks is important.
Those last two points are important and will be discussed below.
Huawei says this has been tested for commercial verification in +20 cities. But there are a lot of issues related to spectrum and standardization still to be finalized. Huawei has said the first version of the standards will be frozen in the first half of 2024.
Ok, that said let me get to specific use cases. Here is the summary slide from Cao Ming, Huawei’s President of Wireless Solutions.
Naked Eye 3D Is a Pretty Cool People Use Case
People carrying 5.5G devices will get a nice upgrade. Faster speed gets you better resolution on video. It gets you lower latency. And it gets you interactivity with concurrent users. That last part has interesting implications for video and AR/VR/XR.
Augmented and virtual reality was the hyped consumer user case for 5G. And it remains the big potential use case for 5.5G. It just hasn’t really taken off with consumers. It may be that the new Apple Vision Pro will change that. Apple has both the device and the ecosystem of developers and apps. It’s possible.
“New Calling” is a use case that was being presented to mobile carriers as a service. It’s not the most exciting name. But New Calling basically means high definition, intelligence, and interactivity for calls made on your smartphone. You can get high definition on video calls. There can be automatic translation. There can be data integrated with the call, such as restaurants showing you menus while you talk with their AI assistant or person.
Ok. Not bad.
But the use case for people that really got everyone’s attention was naked eye 3D. Basically, laptops, smartphones and framed screens can use 5.5G to show 3D videos and images. And you don’t need to wear glasses or anything else. Hence, “naked-eye 3D”.
I tried this on laptops and screens, and it was pretty cool. You have to sit in the right location so the laptop camera can track your eye movement. But it basically looks just like 3D at the movies. Except it’s on your laptop. There was a pretty cool demonstration of a live streamer using this.
You can’t really tell from that photo but the live stream on the laptop is 3D.
This is accomplished by combining fast connectivity to devices with generative AI in the cloud. A smartphone or camera takes a 2D video, it is converted into a 3D image in the cloud with generative AI and it is streamed to a laptop, smartphone, or other device for viewing. This happens in real-time which means you can do live streaming with your phone, and everyone can watch it in 3D.
I’m not sure if this will get consumer adoption. But it’s pretty cool. And you have to give Huawei credit for really jumping on the generative AI bandwagon quickly and getting this built and deployed.
As discussed in Part 1, consumer applications should continue to emerge as entertainment and social media use fast connectivity to shift to interactive and collaborative experiences. So, we should see surprises like naked eye 3D fairly regularly.
Smart Home Use Cases Are Not Bad
Li Peng, Huawei’s Senior Vice President, and President of the Carrier BG, talked about smart home management and whole-house intelligence. Basically, this is about carriers being able to delivery bandwidth of 10 Gbps, like private lines.
In theory, 5.5G is so fast you really don’t need broadband in your home or office. You can get fixed wireless access, and everything can work from that.
There are various 5G FWA solutions for this. Including FWA Pro for ultrafast connectivity, FWA Lite for cost-effective connectivity, and FWA Biz for highly reliable connectivity.
Ok. Not bad.
Smart Transportation with Sensing Might Be the Killer Use Case
Besides the big increase in speed, it was the sensing capability of 5.5G that really got my attention.
5.5G base stations can do communication and sensing. Sensing is basically like radar. The base stations can automatically pick up objects, their locations, and their speeds. So, it can sense everything in the area, such as people with smartphones, streetlights, sensors in the roads, buildings and so on. And it has no blind spots. Huawei says 1 km can be covered with sensing and the distance precision is under a meter. The speed precision is 0.5 m/s.
This has obvious applications for smart and connected transportation. Think smart roads and smart intersections, which are not just connected. But also sensing each other and all the moving objects nearby. It makes transportation much more efficient and with fewer accidents.
Another scenario mentioned was in low-altitude transportation. That was a surprise. For example:
- UAVs for delivery can be detected in real time with the sensing capability. That’s interesting in a city like Shenzhen, where there were 83 UAV routes in 2022. And there are 220 UAV routes are planned for 2025.
- In 2022, Meituan Takeaway delivered 120,000 orders via drones in Shenzhen. And Meituan predicted that by 2030, 150 million orders will be delivered by drones every year.
But as mentioned in Part 1, when you get everything in a neighborhood connected, it’s no longer about a smart car. It’s about a smart and connected environment. Everything is connected to everything – fibers in the streets, road cameras, streetlights, all other vehicles and so on. Intelligent and connected vehicles quickly become about vehicles to everything (V2X) and connected intelligence. Li called this the Internet of Vehicles (IoV).
“An IoV with advanced sensing is a core component of intelligent traffic light systems, navigation on rainy and foggy days, beyond-line-of-sight sensing, and more…”
“Level-4 autonomous vehicles are expected to hit the commercial market in 2025 and will require massive amounts of computing power and strong networks… An autonomous car generates hundreds of terabytes of data each day and needs to upload about one terabyte of that data to the cloud to support AI model training and algorithm updates.”
Here’s the summary slide for V2X with sensing.
Although, this is the smart transportation use case I am waiting for.
The thing about 5.5G is that carriers aren’t going to replace or upgrade their entire 5G network with this. 5.5G uses a higher wavelength so it goes less distance, has more trouble with walls and requires more base stations. 5.5G is something you put in certain situations and scenarios as an upgrade of 5G capabilities. There are several of these scenarios in transportation.
Reduced Capability (RedCap) Is Important and Is Going to Happen
IoT has always been the biggest argument for 5G. You put sensors everywhere. Cameras, pressure sensors, etc. Everything gets digitized and connected – and becomes intelligent. And that makes great sense for factories.
But it makes less sense for parks, streets, and empty warehouses. Are we really going to put cameras and sensors (which require power) everywhere? What about IoT sensors in the fields? On every street? In every vacant warehouse?
Enter reduced capability (i.e., RedCap) IoT sensors. They don’t require batteries and they are much cheaper. True, they only do 4k video and they don’t do sensing. They have significantly reduced capabilities. But you can put them everywhere and track them with 5.5G.
5.5G plus Passive IoT and RedCap is a big deal. It expands the potential IoT connections to a scale of 100 billion and to virtually all scenarios. I think this is definitely going to happen.
RedCap networks are a big part of the future. They’re not great for privacy but the economics and use cases work. Cheap cameras and sensors that don’t require power and that run on software (no marginal costs) are going to be everywhere. For better or worse.
Final Use Case: It’s Still All About Digitizing Manufacturing and Production
As in Part 1, IoT plus 5G plus cloud is how you fundamentally transform manufacturing and production. It’s the big game changer. But it’s a slow, gradual process. However, since 5G commercialization began four years ago, more than 17,000 private 5G networks have been built globally.
- Smart factories and other production facilities are being turned into digital twins. And then are increasingly smart and automated. That’s happening everywhere from typical factories to smart mines.
- Drones and other autonomous vehicles and robots are doing predictive maintenance on power lines and towers.
- Smart electricity grids are now managing power in real time.
- Smart ports are now managing security, operations, and throughput.
That’s the big story and I pretty much made my case for this in Part 1. 5.5G is an upgrade to this use case. In practice, that means building lots of private networks in manufacturing and production facilities. And then building lots of tools that run on top of them. Those are the two things I am tracking industry by industry.
That’s it for Part 2.
5G is expanding and 5.5G is coming in 2024 (probably). As always, we will watch for adoption and see.
- 4 Take-Aways from Huawei Sabrina Meng’s Presentation at the Shanghai Mobile World Conference (1 of 2) (Tech Strategy – Daily Article)
Finally, here are some photos from the Mobile World Conference. And from Shanghai, which is one of my favorite cities.
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