China Unicom: Digitising innovation

China Unicom: Digitising innovation

30 November 2021 | Natalie Bannerman

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Capacity’s Natalie Bannerman speaks to China Unicom Global’s Dr Shusen Meng for a full update on where the company is focusing its efforts and what innovations are on the horizon.

Shusen Meng, chairman and president of China Unicom Global, took part in this year’s Capacity Europe event, appearing virtually to present to approximately 2,000 online attendees an update for the company and its activities over the past 18 months.

Covering everything from the Covid-19 pandemic to subsea cable infrastructure, security and sustainability, Meng explained that that company is deep into its next phase of development and ready to position its offerings as best in class for its customers.

On the subject of how the company has maintained business continuity for its customers during the pandemic, Meng says that China Unicom Global, along with the entire communications industry, is faced with immense hardships and uncertainties.

“First and foremost, as cross-border travel has been restricted, our customers’ needs have changed drastically, resulting in a collapse of demand for international roaming and mobile communications, which is still in the process of recovering,” she says.

In addition, what she describes as “anti-Covid measures” have created even more complexity and uncertainty in the business environment, disrupting regular trade transactions, forcefully transforming the global supply chain, delaying customers’ business plans and projects, and affecting their global strategies.

As a result, “we have taken the initiative to change the way of life and work by encouraging online collaborative working and the development of more online productivity tools, in an effort to ensure the continuity and reliability of our services”, she adds.

But the impact of Covid hasn’t all been negative, and “with crisis comes opportunity”, says Meng, explaining that the global crisis has not only enabled China Unicom Global to adapt to the new norms, but also made it “smarter and more agile”.

At the same time, the company has contributed to the epidemic control and digitalisation of various industries leveraging digital applications and scenario-based services, using technologies such as advanced 5G, big data, AI, cloud computing, and its global telecoms network.

In support of such emerging technologies, Meng says the company is “zealously devoted” to the development of 5G, “with the aim to promote the deployment of 5G MEC [multi-access edge computing] technology in the field of B2B and to support the rapid development of the industrial internet”.

In keeping with this focus of R&D, China Unicom has also published some research on 6G technology, in its whitepaper entitled China Unicom 6G Technology.

“Our vision on 6G development as a whole can be summarised into four words: smart, convergent, green, and credible,” explains Meng.
“In general, the future 6G network will achieve full domain convergence and excellent connectivity, providing users with a flexible and transparent service that can be customised on demand.

“Meanwhile, it will evolve towards an AI-native, digital twin, green shared economy and integrated computing, becoming even more secure and reliable.”

Other areas of technological innovation include AI: the main application of China Unicom’s AI research is on smart cities and enterprises.
“First, we aim to build a smart data brain engine that integrates AI and other technologies, including cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things, and blockchain,” she says.

“Second, we are developing numerous AI capabilities to empower our customers with the ability to reshape their business models through smart network, perception analysis, AI algorithm models and application service.”

SD-WAN is another area of focus. Meng says its SD-WAN products can now achieve multiple network interoperability, allowing rapid multi-point interconnection and speedy cloud access for enterprises.

As for the potential of quantum computing, the company continues to make strides with its technology and innovation team, having successfully completed “the verification test on blockchain as a service and application, plus quantum communication via the ‘Jingxiong quantum encryption trunk line’ at the end of 2020”.

One of quantum’s key applications is security – namely, quantum key distribution, see page 60 – though this may be few years off for many telcos as the technology continues to be refined, but security remains top of the list for China Unicom Global as part of its service offerings.

According to Meng, because of the emergence of new technologies such as cloud computing, big data, IoT, mobile internet and AI, together with digitalisation and the “increasing tension in network security”, IT security is faced with new challenges. In particular, cyberattacks are increasingly frequent and increasingly professional – enterprises are constantly under threat.

“In face of these new hurdles, China Unicom Global has thoroughly implemented the Internet Power Strategy, with a mission to ensure physical, network, host, application and data security,” she says.

In support of this, the company has established a long-term ‘mechanism’ to protect all aspects of internet information security, including personnel, management, technologies and operations.

“We have mapped out a strategic plan, improved the leadership system, strengthened rules and regulations, consolidated network construction, increased research funding and established an efficient international network security co-operative system.”

The prevalence of private networks is often seen as a way to mitigate security risks, a trend that Meng sees continuing to mature – and one that China Unicom Global is ready to support.

“China Unicom Global has a wide range of 5G private network products utilising technologies such as 5G networking, slicing and MEC,” she says.
“We provide our customers with high-quality basic network connectivity that makes exclusive coverage, network customisation, and data isolation possible, enabling large bandwidth, low latency and reliable data transmission to meet customers’ needs for communication services on production, office, and management.”

Further to this, she says that China Unicom Global has created an exclusive, custom 5G private network suitable for multiple scenarios such as industrial manufacturing, energy mining, transportation and logistics, port and terminal, urban security, new media, medical services and large enterprises.

The three offerings – independent 5G private network, hybrid 5G private network and virtual 5G private network – all have 5G core technology, including network slicing, MEC and Wifi 6 incorporated to build a secured private network that guarantees customised quality of service and service isolation.

Satellite communications has long been touted as an efficient and cost-effective alternative to rural fibre, with telcos continuing to pursue partnerships with satcos in the area of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) connectivity. China Unicom is doing the same.

Through its subsidiary Unicom Air Net, the company has good working relationships with global satellite service companies. Specifically, it has rich Ka-band low orbit satellite network resources that cover the Asia-Pacific and the Belt and Road regions.

“As a virtual satellite operator, China Unicom Global is also actively seeking opportunities to take part in the construction of the low orbit satellite internet and to maximise the potential of our resources,” she says.

A key player in the subsea cable industry, China Unicom Global owns and operates more than 50 subsea cables, delivering more than 130Tbps of subsea capacity. This demand continues to grow as the global economy continues to recover and the digital economy expands, with submarine cable demand expected to rise at an annual rate of 40%.

“With a determination to uphold a dominant position in the Asia-Pacific region, we will focus on expanding our service in Asia, Africa and Europe, in accordance with the Belt and Road initiative,” explains Meng.

“We aim to build a submarine cable network that is globally accessible, efficient and stable. At the same time, we will also uphold our vision and mission as ‘a creator of value and smart living trusted by customers’ and continue to deepen our partnerships as well as friendships with other players in the field, creating value for customers, optimising customer service experience and to act as the driving force for the global digital economy.”

Sustainability ranks high on China Unicom Global’s list of priorities. Meng calls green agendas “the most important trend for enterprise operation and development”.

The company has implemented a green development concept as well as low-carbon sustainable development through innovations in product and management.

Through 5G energy-saving innovations, the company has created a 4G/5G collaborative smart energy-saving management platform, which was awarded a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) ICT e-environment champion award.

Additionally, the company reports it is now building environmentally friendly shops and supply chain system, promoting recycling, encouraging green consumption and advocating for the green transformation of production and operations.

“In terms of energy saving and emissions reduction, we have spared no effort in eliminating inefficient production capacity, reducing network energy consumption and lowering greenhouse gas emissions,” Meng adds.

One such example includes building an office management system in line with the international 5S standard, which is a Japanese organisational framework that stands for Seiri (sort), Seiton (set in order), Seiso (shine), Seiketsu (standardise), and Shitsuke (sustain), and describes how to organise a workspace for efficiency and effectiveness.

“By setting up a vigorous mechanism, we have innovated our office management and realised the visualisation of office resources, increased efficiency, lowered carbon footprint and boosted the shared office capacity,” says Meng. “At the same time, we are also committed to using digital means and technology to advocate for environmental protection.”

In support of all of this work, the future for China Unicom Global is somewhat ‘business a usual’, with the message from Meng being that the company will “uphold our role and mission as a creator of smart living trusted by customers”.

“Our main objectives are building a digitalised global sharing platform, strengthening localised services and assisting our business partners in realising their ambitions.”