Chinese kit vendor Huawei has shared its wish list for what it calls 5.5G at Mobile World Congress 2023.

Unfortunately, it does little more than emphasise the extent to which 5G in its current form has fallen short of expectations, and how much ground still needs to be made up.

For Huawei, 5.5G represents a 10-fold improvement in performance over 5G in every department. That means 10 Gbps headline connection speeds, 10 times the number of IoT connections – which translates to 100 billion in total – and reducing latency by a factor of 10.

Huawei doesn’t stop there. Networks also need to consume a tenth of the energy that they consume today on a per Terabyte basis, and they need to be 10x more intelligent, which means supporting level 4 autonomous driving, and making operations and maintenance (O&M) more efficient by a factor of, you guessed it: 10.

With these capabilities in place, 5.5G networks will enable a boom in immersive interactive experiences, like VR gaming in 24K resolution, and glasses-free 3D video, predicts Huawei. It expects the installed user base of these services will grow 100-fold to 1 billion. On the enterprise side, the vendor expects the number of private cellular networks to increase from 10,000 today to 1 million by 2030.

For its part, Huawei said in a statement that it “aims to work with carriers and industry partners around the world to further the evolution of ICT infrastructure, lay the foundation for the 5.5G era, and build on the success of 5G for even greater prosperity.”

The thing is, the kind of future envisioned by Huawei is broadly similar to what we were told to expect from 5G anyway.

Huawei’s press release prompted another read of the European Commission 5G PPP’s 5G Vision brochure. Published in February 2015, it said 5G networks would be able to carry 10 Terabits of data per second per square kilometre. They would offer peak data rates of 10 Gbps, and end-to-end latency of 5 milliseconds – with an ambition to reach sub-1ms.

Service deployment would take no longer than 90 minutes, and network uptime would reach 99.999 percent. In terms of energy efficiency, the EU said 5G would consume 10 percent of what mobile networks in 2015 were burning through. 5G signal would also be maintained at speeds of 500 km per hour at ground level. In terms of connections, human-oriented terminals like smartphones, laptops, tablets and wearables and so-on would reach at least 20 billion, and IoT connections would reach at least 1 trillion.

Although it was just one public body’s vision for 5G – and a lot can happen in eight years – it was announced during Mobile World Congress, and set the general tone for broader discussion about what 5G performance should look like.

So, where are we today? Well, network performance outfit Ookla in mid-February revealed that median 5G download speeds in major markets continued to fall over the last 12 months. The UAE boasts the fastest median speed, and while 545.53 Mbps is certainly respectable, it has a way to go to reach the promised land of 10 Gbps. In January, the world’s biggest IT vendor Cisco revealed recently that it shares the general view that 5G has yet to deliver on the business case. And in the run-up to this year’s MWC, there were still some in the industry asking: what is the point of 5G?

Huawei’s ambitions are entirely worthy – especially for a company that sells network equipment – but if 5G had lived up to its billing, an attempt at a minor rebranding would not be required.

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