For Industrial IoT, 5G Isn’t Enough; Huawei Looks To 5.5G

Hannover, Germany - March, 2017: Huawei company logo on the wall. Huawei Technologies Co. is a Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company

By Sean Kinney

At its annual analyst summit hosted in Shenzhen, Huawei executives considered the challenges and opportunities the ICT giant and the world will face over the next decade, including secular trends in population and energy consumption, as well as the limitations of 5G in its current form.

5G was designed and is being implemented in service of three primary use cases: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communications (mMTC), and ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC). But these three scenarios don’t fully encapsulate what it will take to build a fully-connected, intelligent world, according to William Xu, a Huawei director and president of the company’s Institute of Strategic Research.

In an opening keynote address, Xu said via a translator, “Currently 5G networks are far from being able to offer such [fully-immersive] experiences even though now the 5G networks have been deployed at large scale.” Over the next few years, one challenge Huawei and the ICT sector at large will face “will be about defining 5.5G to support hundreds of billions of diverse connections. 5G is for enabling everything so that it can be connected but in addition to connecting people, we also need to connect massive numbers of things and the demands from those connections will be very diverse.”

In the context of the industrial internet of things, Xu said there needs to be support for massive connection density as well as high upload bandwidth, a use case somewhere between eMBB and mMTC that he described as “uplink centric broadband communication,” or UCBC. For applications requiring very high throughput and ultra-reliable connectivity, he proposed something between eMBB and URLLC that he termed “real-time broadband communication,” or RTCB. For things like collaboration between an autonomous vehicle and a smart transportation infrastructure, there needs to be “harmonized communication and sensing,” or HCS, according to Xu.

“5G scenarios must be upgraded from the previous triangle to the hexagon of 5.5G so as to support all things connected and all things intelligent.”

This raises the question, in its work with enterprises leveraging 5G for industrial IoT, has Huawei already hit some technological walls in terms of capabilities? Enterprise IoT Insights posed that question to Huawei Carrier Business Group CTO Paul Scanlan in a virtual Q&A. The simple answer, he said, is yes.

In sectors like healthcare, education and manufacturing, there’s a huge emphasis on uplink-intensive use cases, Scanlan said. Early 5G deployments were all about downlink speed increases as compared to 4G. “But behavioral changes between people and some of these industries has demonstrated that the way content is generated is different. The point I want to make here is this is uplink…The volume of uplink traffic is so large that it does require some architectural change and that was one of the key drivers of this thing…we branded 5.5G. We started to get a lot of empirical evidence. We saw it from industries.”

In addition to uplink demand, latency is also a gating factory. Scanlan gave the example of augmented reality or holographic applications. “If there’s latency and gaps, the longest one is the one that dictates the performance. We can already foresee this is where it’s moving. The answer is…we see this empirical evidence of some technology challenges.”

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