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HomeChaina5.5G: China is rolling out the next big thing in communications technology

5.5G: China is rolling out the next big thing in communications technology


International standards organisation 3GPP, which is responsible for releasing technical specifications, established the technical standards for 5.5G in 2021.

“An update named ‘Release 18’ that points out tech-advance directions for 5.5G, are expected to be finalised by 3GPP in the first half of 2024,” said Song Xiaodi, chief marketing officer of Huawei Carrier Business Group.

“This development indicates that global suppliers will align their products with these standards, with 2024 anticipated as the inaugural year for commercial 5.5G deployment.”

02:38

Apple supplier Foxconn to build ‘AI factories’ using US hardware leader Nvidia’s chips and software

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The development of 5G technology has been rapid and wide. To date, more than 260 5G networks have been deployed worldwide, covering nearly half the global population.

China, in particular, has emerged as a global leader in both the deployment and commercial development of 5G, having established more than 3 million 5G base stations and providing 5G services to 750 million mobile users and over 17,000 factories.
During the 5.5G phase, Chinese enterprises are aiming to replicate this lead in construction speed. Major telecommunications companies, such as Huawei Technologies and China Unicom, are swiftly implementing these technical standards to improve network speeds and facilitate the construction of smart factories and industrial upgrades.
IDC analyst Cui Kai, who specialises in 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, said 5.5G essentially optimised 5G network construction, offering significant improvements.

The improvements 5.5G will bring are substantial. Mobile user bandwidth is expected to increase from 1Gbps to 10Gbps, latency will be reduced significantly, and advancements in IoT technology due to spectrum optimisation and other technologies will help deliver high reliability and low latency to industrial production lines.

The advantages of 5G also mean dangerous work can be controlled remotely, such as this excavator, as shown at the World Robot Conference 2022 in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua

This technological evolution is not just about science and engineering – it is also about meeting user needs.

“In scientific progress, it is often the scientists who break new ground and engineers who bring it to life. In telecommunications, engineers customise equipment based on user needs,” Cui said.

While traditional 5G focused on a triad of bandwidth, latency and the number of connected users, not all three needed to be optimised simultaneously. With its dynamic spectrum allocation, 5.5G allows new base stations to actively distribute traffic, optimising network resources for each user and significantly enhancing the user experience.

China’s leadership in 5G technology has already led to numerous industrial applications. With 5.5G technology, these applications are set to be further improved.

For instance, 5G networks have enabled the remote control of robots in hazardous environments, such as deep well operations or mining carts, significantly improving operational safety. The high network quality improves the operators’ sense of control and enables real-time responses to on-site conditions.

Another notable example is Qingdao Port in northern China, Asia’s first fully automated terminal, which has set a world record for container loading and unloading efficiency thanks to the millisecond-level data refresh provided by 5G networks.

5G technology has allowed smart factories such as this car manufacturer in Qingdao where robots weld on the production line. Photo: Xinhua

In another example of industrial application, China Telecom and fuel injection system supplier Nanyuediankong (NYDK) have built a 5G smart factory where robots, connected to 5G signals, precisely perform tasks like feeding, processing and transporting. The efficiency gains are remarkable, with logistics robots capable of making 90 trips a day, transporting 1,800 parts.

The advancements in IoT technologies based on 5G have also progressed with the introduction of 5.5G networks, according to Song.

This was seen during the Hangzhou Asian Games in September 2023, where logistics vehicles in the athletes’ village employed new lithium energy and used passive IoT technologies enabled by 5.5G to ensure safety.

Previously, manual temperature checks and reporting were necessary for battery safety, but with 5.5G, a small tag module installed on the vehicles communicates with a base station over 200 metres (650 feet) away without a power source, achieving a 99 per cent accuracy rate in improving operational safety and efficiency.

However the development and operational models of 5G technology differ significantly between China and the United States, with US providers focusing on more valuable business users.

According to an opinion piece on Huawei’s website, in the US, “the cost of a single base station is much higher, reflecting a high-value operational model with precise business coverage”.

China has built 3 million 5G base stations. Photo: Xinhua

This is in stark contrast to China’s approach. In the US, smart factory applications like those in China are less common.

Ericsson, a major supplier of 5G devices, has established a smart factory in Lewisville, Texas, to assemble its own 5G equipment. But such upgrades in production lines are not seen in other companies.

The Ford Motor Company has 5G connectivity from Ericsson in its factory in Spain, but its use of the internet is not specified on its website. Inquiries about the application of 5G in the company’s manufacturing processes sent to Ford and General Motors by the Post have not yet received responses.

This lag in industrial manufacturing during the 5G phase may be magnified in the 5.5G phase, especially in high-end core manufacturing processes that require rapid response, such as the machining of automotive parts.

China Unicom and Huawei have partnered with EA Automation, a leading automotive parts manufacturer in China, to pilot 5G-Advanced industrial applications. The collaboration tested a prototype network on an automobile welding production line, marking the first application of 5G-A in the core links of industrial control and the first technical verification of an all-wireless flexible production system.

Traditional industrial control relies heavily on wired networks for equipment operation. However, the movement and rotation of robotic arms in these set-ups can wear out cables, causing significant downtime. The introduction of 5.5G technology promises to solve this issue fundamentally.

China narrows mobile memory chip gap with South Korea, US

Reflecting on the developmental stages of mobile technology, Japan initiated commercial 4G use in 2010, while China issued its 4G licences nearly four years later in December 2013. In a similar pattern, South Korea announced commercial 5G use in March 2019, and China followed a few months later.

“Now, with 5.5G, China is not just catching up but is at the forefront of application-level technology,” Wu Hequan, an academic of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and chairman of the China Internet Association, said in an interview with People’s Daily.

At the Global MBB Forum 2023 held in Dubai in October, Huawei presented several 5.5G-based technological upgrades for operators.

Song highlighted the introduction in its 5.5G modules of RedCap technology, which stands for Reduced Capability, a simplified version of 5G. This innovation significantly reduces the complexity of existing 5G modules, leading to lower power consumption and cost for the end modules.

RedCap maintains the unique advantages of 5G technology, such as low latency, precise positioning and slicing capabilities, all inherited within RedCap. For base stations, network coverage and capacity have significantly improved, and power consumption per bit has been reduced.

01:44

China has built 6 times the number of 5G towers in 3 months than the US has installed in 2 years

China has built 6 times the number of 5G towers in 3 months than the US has installed in 2 years

Yang Chaobin, Huawei director and president of ICT products and solutions, unveiled an indoor 5.5G solution at the conference. Named LampSite X, this compact indoor network terminal, with a volume of just one litre and a weight of 1kg (2.2lbs), can provide high-quality network connections in high-density areas like shopping centres, airports, train stations and stadiums.

The device’s ability to hibernate during idle times, consuming less than one watt of power and being quickly awakened on demand, ensures energy efficiency around the clock.

While the widespread application of 5.5G in B2B contexts like smart factories and mines is evident, consumer applications are still sparse. Cui pointed out that there was a lack of killer applications for 5.5G networks, and the per capita value conversion was not high.



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