After spending the past decade planning, building, and implementing 5G’s early non-standalone (NSA) networks, the technology is evolving from crawling to walking as it enters the age of 5G stand-alone. That’s right – we’re growing up and going bipedal.

The work behind 3GPP release 18 is now underway, which means things are really getting interesting. The deployment timeframe is 2025, and it’s shaping up to include more than 22 new or enhanced technologies, features, and capabilities. What this also means is that there is more work to be done. The digital transformation continues as we move into this next phase.

What’s so exciting about Release 18? This will be the first release focused on 5G Advanced, where the true vision of 5G starts to come to life. And while the sky isn’t full of flying taxis (yet), these and other innovations are closer than you might think.

5G Advanced changes everything

5G Advanced is the next evolution. While operators are at different stages of their journey, the initial phase of 5G, what’s called 5G non-standalone (5GNSA), doesn’t look much different than 4G to the average consumer. But 5G Advanced changes all of that. It’s a huge leap forward, providing capabilities for industrial IoT, video multicasting, a new breed of wearables, support for extended and virtual reality applications and devices that will become the Metaverse, and even enhancements for use cases like unmanned aerial vehicle tracking and control (for all those flying taxis!).

Competition and customers are growing and shifting

The telecom industry has always been a crowded space – with different segments to address different needs. It used to be that these various verticals stayed pretty much within their own lane. But now, everything’s converging into one confusing menu of digital delights.  It’s a topsy-turvy time of changing roles and overlapping responsibilities:

It can be difficult to keep your bearings in an environment that is changing so rapidly, and things don’t appear to be slowing down. But what will it take to get to this next phase?

With Release 18, The Radio Access Network (RAN) requires extra attention:

Automation has become a necessity as the scale and complexity of radio access networks grow. To ensure an outstanding experience, new tools, techniques, and processes to automate the RAN will continue to evolve. These are just a few of Release 18 RAN features:

  • Uplink Improvements: The first release of 5G-Advanced will achieve downlink and uplink symmetry and prepare for new applications like augmented and virtual reality.
  • Expansion of Massive MIMO: support for more device antennas and a wider range of use cases.
  • Increased sidelink data rates for sensor information and video sharing between ‘things’ – including self-driving vehicles.
  • Expanded and improved NR positioning to millimeter-level accuracy for massive IoT tracking.
  • Smart repeaters with traffic awareness and beamforming capabilities for better network coverage.
  • Enhanced mobility for mobile devices operating in sub-5 GHz and mmWave bands.

To achieve these goals, there will be a growing need for AI-enhanced cloud methodologies like continuous integration, delivery, and testing (CI/CD/CT).Plus, advancements using Digital Twins for planning and optimizing complex network scenarios will become necessities for multi-vendor RAN environments. Meanwhile, the energy consumption of mobile networks is expected to grow significantly, with most of it coming from Advanced Antenna Units (AAU). Efforts need to be made by operators to improve network energy savings, but this requires the right network propagation and modeling algorithms and tools.

Service Assurance must close the loop:

In addition to new RAN capabilities, 5G Advanced requires a network architecture that is designed to handle high data rates, low latency, and massive device connectivity. In addition, network slicing will need to be managed.  This will allow operators to create multiple virtual networks on a single physical infrastructure.

Telecom operators need to invest in cloud-native technologies, along with the AI/ML needed to support these features, to prevent service impacting incidents even before they happen. Today, only 10-15% of network operations are fully automated, so we’re still a few years away from a ‘lights-out’ NOC. But eventually, the scale, speed, and complexity will become unmanageable without fully automated, closed-loop assurance.

One of the biggest growth areas for mobile operators will be non-public commercial and industrial networks, which, according to reports, are expected to grow at an annual pace of 48% CAGR over the next six years, with 39,000 installations by 2027.

These networks offer businesses and other organizations a higher degree of control, security, and customization than public 5G networks, making them an attractive option for industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation. But with big opportunities come big responsibilities. Private 5G networks also mean strict enterprise SLAs, which substantially increases the burden on mobile operators to accurately assure services and provide QoS visibility to their enterprise customers.

According to the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation, there’s quite a few SLAs on their list:

  • Availability of network service conditions,
  • Repair times for different types of failures,
  • Consequences or penalties for service failures,
  • QoS (jitter, latency, packet drops, experience)
  • Response time when a new request is issued,
  • Maximum delays in restoring service,
  • Scope of outage reporting,
  • Regular reporting of services,
  • Ability to measure the quality of services and monitor those responsible,
  • Implications of denial of service attacks,
  • Service response times for regular, critical, and informational requests
  • Supporting processes, exclusions, renewals, limitations etc.

When the flood gates of innovation open, will operators be ready?

5G Advanced has a limitless number of use cases. Its impact, when paired with adjacent technologies like AI/ML and Cloud, will likely be as big as the introduction of the Internet. It will likely launch new industries and help address global challenges like expanding access to healthcare and education, improving public safety and transportation, optimizing agricultural yields and factory production lines, and providing connectivity for everyone and everything.

5G Advanced will require further improvements to the network, however these upgrades are necessary to take full advantage of the improvements that 3GPP Release 18 brings. These are exciting times – having the right technology partners in place and updating legacy operational systems and tools will be critical.

TEOCO is here to help

We provide a range of solutions that assist operators with their 5G digital transformation journey, including:

Network planning and optimization: TEOCO offers a suite of RAN planning and optimization solutions that help plan, design, and optimize networks to improve coverage, capacity, and quality of service.

Service assurance: TEOCO’s service assurance solutions enable CSPs to monitor and troubleshoot network performance in real-time, to quickly identify and resolve issues before they impact the customer experience.

Network Analytics Private Cloud: Our experts handle all the time consuming details by designing, managing, and maintaining your private cloud environment on your behalf, so you always have access to the compute resources needed for optimal results.