A triple-pronged vision for 5G and beyond
5G has now passed 1 billion users worldwide, with its continued growth creating huge opportunities but also calling for multiple innovations to capture the technology’s full potential. Bai Gang, vice president of ZTE, explains how his company’s ‘3E’ strategy provides a multi-pronged pathway on the journey towards 5G-Advanced.
Four years into the world’s 5G journey, the technology’s growing traction is creating multiple new opportunities. More than 200 operators have now launched 5G globally, with the number of subscriptions passing 1 billion by the end of 2022.
However, there is still significant room for growth, with opportunities set to be further spurred by the massive possibilities that 5G enables in the business sector. But greater complexity compared with previous mobile generations calls for innovative methods to both meet demand and capitalise on the potential.
ZTE is one player that is very much looking ahead when it comes to 5G. To hone its efforts and focus on the areas it sees as key, the vendor has a ‘3E’ vision for the evolution towards 5G-Advanced. This refers to enhancement of performance, extension of network capabilities and efficiency improvements.
Starting with the need for performance enhancement, 5G poses a bigger deployment challenge than with previous generations of mobile technology because of factors including the higher number of sites needed and the increase in volume of devices. There are also numerous spectrum bands and sectors of coverage that base stations need to support.
As part of confronting that issue, ZTE has developed its UniSite offering. Under an ethos that ‘less is more’, this helps to maximise site use and reduce cost by converging support for multiple bands and sectors into fewer boxes. With UniSite, just five radio units are needed to support a seven-band and three-sector site.
“This innovation can maximise savings on total cost of ownership for operators and save on power consumption,” says Bai Gang, vice president of ZTE. “That’s of true value for operators.”
Alongside this site strategy, ZTE has been boosting its overall 5G network capabilities with the likes of functional acceleration cards to allow traffic offload and enhanced experience, 128TR AAU and macro AAU millimetre-wave capabilities, and distributed microcell options.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the second ‘E’ – extension of network capabilities – 5G enables a plethora of opportunities in different industry verticals, providing a major boost to IoT services in sectors from manufacturing to healthcare. At the same time, that creates further complexity for serving a diversity of needs. “5G will better serve the B2B sector, so will have different requirements, and support different scenarios,” says Bai. “That requires new solutions.”
One of the emerging use cases is that of private 5G campus networks for businesses. These face several main challenges, according to ZTE – namely, high costs due to splitting of the cloud, networks and applications, difficulties with offering performance guarantees, and complex operations and maintenance (O&M).
To overcome these issues, the company offers three core capabilities for such networks: firstly, products such as time-sensitive-networking gateways, video gateways and distributed computation capabilities to improve the efficiency and flexible convergence of functions; secondly, high-level performance capabilities, including 5ms latency and microsecond-level jitter; and thirdly, O&M-oriented unified management.
Another promising vertical is transport. In that sector, ZTE has been involved in a smart 5G transportation project on the metro, rail and bus networks in Guangzhou, China, since 2020, gaining valuable experience on how to carry out such initiatives in a large city of almost 20 million people.
Indeed, at the Mobile World Congress, ZTE and its partners took the prize for Best Mobile Innovation for Connected Economy in the Global Mobile Awards for the city’s 5G-empowered smart metro. Through this innovation, travellers on the metro have received average speeds of 600Mbps, with the system enabling further benefits like higher security and faster luggage inspection.
Measures enabled by 5G such as network slicing have been key to success in that initiative, while another need it has highlighted is for close long-term partnerships. “Partnerships are very important here and you really have to work together,” says Bai. “You also need to understand the priorities, concerns and challenges for different industries.”
Finally, for the third ‘E’ – efficiency – ZTE is seeking to harness the growing possibilities of AI. With its PowerPilot Pro service, which uses network-level and base-station-level AI, as well as having an AAU hibernation feature, it results in a 35% reduction in energy consumption on the 4G/5G radio access network.
With energy being a “hot topic” for network operators, this is a key advantage, highlights Bai. At the same time, he adds that network efficiency is also very important for operators.
In this regard, ZTE has launched its AI-based uSmartNet 2.0 autonomous network offering, which helps predict customer demand for user groups and adjust network configuration to deliver the right level of service performance. As well as improving efficiency, this means opex savings for operators, improves customer experience and opens up opportunities for service monetisation.
Looking to the future, the vendor plans many more innovations to maximise opportunities for 5G, 5G-Advanced and beyond that, 6G. One of these is reconfigurable intelligent surface (RIS) technology, which aims to boost network coverage and signal penetration by facilitating dynamic control of radio signals.
Other opportunities that ZTE is exploring include integrated sensing to aid vehicle-to-everything communication and smart duplex technology to allow higher uplink throughput and lower end-to-end latency, working with operators to explore these innovations.
By looking ahead and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, the vendor believes it has the tools to enable a bright 5G future and beyond for consumers, industries and operators alike. “We are excited for the next few years,” says Bai.