Late in 2022, in looking forward to my expectations for the year ahead, I began highlighting 2023 as the year which would kick off a second wave of 5G.

After scaling faster than any other mobile broadband technology thanks to rapid uptake in mature markets, this next phase will be marked by a number of key developments and associated opportunities.

New network and service deployments will drive 5G beyond vanguard markets in Europe, North America and Asia: think Latin America, India, Africa and developing Asia. New use case development beyond the eMBB focus which has driven early 5G success will see 5G get closer to realising its full potential: think further cloud, edge, slicing and maybe even API monetisation momentum. New standardisation and R&D progress will set-up the evolution of 5G technologies through the medium-term: think 5G-Advanced.

The GSMA Intelligence team wrote and talked a lot about 5G-Advanced in 2022, in large part because we expect 2023 to be a big year for the technology. Why?

  • Standardisation. While 5G-Advanced builds on the work done in 3GPP Releases-15, -16, and -17, it officially kicks off with Release-18. And when can we expect that? The short answer is soon. The longer answer is that Release-18 content was broadly decided by the end of 2021, with freezes planned in March and December of this year, and the completion of work being planned for March 2024.
  • 5G versus 6G. As soon as 6G began getting discussed in the media and at technology conferences, people began questioning whether it was too soon to begin talking about a technology which would likely arrive in 2030. It’s a fair question, but also a reminder that 5G technology evolutions will be necessary (and possible) long before the delivery of commercial 6G. Whether that means 2024 or 2025, we know 2023 will see conversations about those evolutions gain significant momentum.
  • Network disruption. Almost two-thirds of operators expect to use standalone 5G as an opportunity to introduce new vendors into their networks, particularly when expanding their networks to support new use cases and customer segments (for example, in the enterprise). Where 5G-Advanced represents another technology shift, it stands to reason that they will see it as yet another opportunity to engage new suppliers, ensuring that network suppliers will spend 2023 talking up 5G-Advanced in an effort to gain momentum in new accounts, or simply to protect their existing 5G base.
  • Network priorities. As with any 3GPP release, Release-18 is not monolithic. 5G-Advanced encompasses myriad innovations and options. It’s not yet clear which will get prioritised by operators and commercialised by vendors.

This last point is very important.

We may know why 5G-Advanced is an important technology. We know why 2023 will be a pivotal year for its development alongside enhanced marketing efforts from vendors. What we don’t know, however, is how the market and conversation around 5G-Advanced will develop. Which use cases will resonate with operators? Which suppliers will take a lead with 5G-Advanced R&D and messaging? Where will operators and suppliers, alike, focus in terms of priority 5G-Advanced technologies?

While it may not definitively answer all of these questions, MWC23 Barcelona will doubtless advance the discussion of 5G’s evolution as operators, vendors, and the broader ecosystem converge to talk about the future of mobility.

If you’re anything like me, you began scheduling your MWC23 Barcelona meetings, briefings and dinners well before 2022 came to an end. You’ve probably even begun blocking out time to attend key conference sessions, after all, beyond the on-stand demonstrations and product announcements which are a staple of the show, there’s always something to be learned from the many panels, seminars and keynotes. On the 5G-Advanced front, that includes the To Infinity and Beyond with 5G-Advanced conference session as a part of the full-day 5G Futures Summit. With four sessions and multiple sponsors, I expect the summit to be particularly insightful if only because it looks to position 5G-Advanced within the context of innovations including cloud, edge, slicing and AI/ML, as well as user demands like enhanced security. Of course, the fact that the 5G-Advanced session promises to talk about tech innovations alongside use cases including AR/VR and the metaverse with speakers from industry heavyweights like Ericsson, Huawei and Qualcomm doesn’t hurt.

Again, I have no expectation that it will answer all of my 5G-Advanced questions or provide a complete roadmap for its development. But, I do expect to come away from it with a better understanding of 5G-Advanced’s trajectory and implications, and I look forward to reporting back on the takeaways.

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