Guest Post: 5G is Passé. 5G Advanced is Now

November 16, 2022

Written by Ernest Worthman

The hype around 5G has finally abated. That happens when reality hits. In its place, I am seeing more and more content pushing 5G Advanced, or 5.5G – seminars, papers, discussions and so on.

The term “Advanced” draws attention. It works across just about any topic or industry. It was used in 3G, 4G and LTE. How successful hyping the half-step is, however, is open to discussion.

Personally, I tend to watch these suffixes rather cursorily, looking to see if there are really any “wow” factors that make me sit up and take notice. Generally, there are none. But it gives companies, analysts, the media and others some eyeballs, and that is what it is all about.

5.5G or 5G Advanced is about the evolution of 5G. Nomenclatures such as these keep eyes and ears on the evolution.

However, as far back as 3G, these half-steps have been more hype than reality. Some seem to think the uptick in 5.5G is significant. In fact, it is simply the tightening of early 5G technology. It also upgrades existing components or platforms.

5.5G upgrades RedCap, which stands for reduced capacity, a more efficient protocol for the internet of anything and everything (IoX). It also adds advanced positioning, which simply improves on the existing GPS accuracy. And Sidelink, which targets a more flexible approach for on-premises deployments.

However, even though some refer to it as the “next iteration of cellular” it still only adds to the 5G stack. It does not redefine or add any new radical functionality. One can call it a half-step on the road to 6G, but every time a standard is upgraded, do we add a tenth or a quarter or whatever? It is better to go with nomenclatures such as revisions. But those do not get a lot of attention.

For example, look at the GPS indoor accuracy requirements (noting that the requirements differ for indoor and outdoor).

5G Release 16 positioning defines accuracy as three meters. Release 17 targets one meter or better. Release 18 has a lofty goal of one centimeter, but it remains to be seen if that is practical. GPS is capable of that, but there is some discussion whether it needs to be that accurate for consumer-based enhanced mobile broadband—eMBB. There are also regulatory issues around accuracy which will likely carry over from 4G.

So does one metre or 0.1 metre define a half-step? Are either of those significant enough to warrant a new designation?

Meanwhile, for sidelink, the original NR sidelink was focused on supporting V2X-related road safety services. 5.5G mainly adds support for broadcast, groupcast and unicast communications for out-of-coverage scenarios. It simply improves on the basic capability and expands the platform but, again, does not add any new options. Similar deliverables exist for the other upgraded functions in 5.5G.

My point is that when 4G went to 4G Advanced, the changes were incremental. The same is holding true for 5.5G.

All in all, 5G is a nascent platform that is in a constant state of evolution. That does not make for good marketing, so that segment finds ways to spin incremental improvements by wrapping them in a nice binder and calling it a “significant” upgrade and throwing out buzzwords that get attention.

The bottom line is that few outside of the industry care, especially the consumer. To the enterprise it may matter, but only if they can see the value in it. Showing that value, rather than cheerleading technology for its own sake, is what marketers should be focusing on.

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