The State of the Art of 5G

by Ruth Seeley

Controversial Chinese technology solutions giant ZTE Corporation, fined in 2017 for exporting U.S. technology to Iran and North Korea in violation of sanctions, replaced its senior management team in 2018 and established an internal compliance team. Now ZTE’s CTO Wang Xiyu, who was promoted as part of the 2018 restructuring, is sharing insights on the upcoming 5G era. The article, titled “5G: Striving for Sustainable Growth amid Expectations,” appears in lightly edited form below.

In 2019, more than 50 operators across the globe announced their commercial launch of 5G, with over 200,000 new 5G Sub-6GHz base stations deployed. However, 5G commercialization still remains in the initial stage of infrastructure development, as indicated by large-scale construction only in China, South Korea, the United States, and a few other countries in Europe and the Middle East. It is estimated that China will build more than 500,000 5G base stations in 2020, which will accelerate global 5G deployment. Currently, 5G rollout has faced a number of challenges, which includes stricter requirements for base stations density, lower power consumption, and profitable business models. In addition, operators are seeking Return on Investment (ROI) from different vertical industries and a collaborative ecosystem for empowering all industries through 5G innovations.

A decade ago, 4G witnessed its worldwide prosperity despite uncertainties. Technological development in combination with innovative practices facilitated the commercial deployment of 4G, enabling the mobile internet to expedite social transformation.

Technological development is promoting large-scale 5G commercialization

Although the per-bit power consumption of 5G has dramatically decreased compared with that of 4G, the power efficiency still remains a key issue as 5G networks are expected to accelerate data processing rates by dozens of times. Chipsets are determinant to the performance, integration, power consumption, and other key parameters of products; therefore the foundry process of chipsets is crucial for product evolution. In the past, the foundry process of the 28 nm chipset available for both system equipment and mobile devices impelled 4G commercialization. Today, the 7 nm chipset is bound to drive 5G commercialization. With its self-developed 7 nm baseband chips and DIF chips, ZTE has made remarkable progress, including a 40% improvement in integration, a over 20% increase in end-to-end RF output power, and a 30% decrease in both power consumption and product weight. In 2020, these chipsets will be extensively used in 5G networks. In the next few years, continuous development of technologies, power consumption and product weight will continue to reduce. Therefore, the industry-leading development of 7nm/5nm chipsets will consolidate the leadership of mainstream vendors’ 5G products.

Coverage issues that brought by 5G higher spectrum band can be mitigated by using new technologies, such as Massive MIMO. Therefore, the 5G base station density in urban areas is similar to that of 4G base stations.

Multi-vendor integration is still the biggest challenge for 5GC commercialization. Currently, the Cloud-Native Architecture (CNA) and Service Based Architecture (SBA) have already achieved software-hardware decoupling and been put into commercial use. Network slicing can achieve automatic cross-deployment in the RAN, transport network, and core network built by one vendor. Operators are now looking into exploring multi-vendor integration to improve management domain standards facilitating automatic end-to-end deployment. The typical services that emerge in the 5GC commercialization, including 5G VoNR and SMS services, billing service, inter-RAT handover, and user data migration without change of SIM cards or numbers, have passed interoperability testing and proven their capabilities to support eMBB scenarios. The standards for the vertical industry-oriented services such as high-precision 5G positioning, ESTUN, NPN, TSN, and 5G LAN are maturing.

In the initial stage of 5G development, the standards for 5G user equipment and 5G systems are still under development. Therefore, vendors with end-to-end 5G capabilities become industry leaders in implementing unified commissioning and making better use of spectrum bands. In February 2019, ZTE released the Axon 10 Pro 5G, China’s first 5G smartphone in commercial use. By the end of 2019, shipments of 5G smartphones to global customers had reached 5 million, accounting for 0.15% of the total smartphone shipments in the world. In the first quarter of 2020, ZTE intends to release a series of next-generation multimode multi-frequency 5G smartphones like the Axon 11. By the end of 2020, the lowest price of ZTE’s 5G smartphones is anticipated to be US$300, and the price of SA modules for vertical industries is also expected to decrease rapidly. With the wider coverage of 5G networks, global operators predict that by the end of 2020, 5G user equipment around the world will reach 160 million.

5G commercialization practices is impelling digital transformation

ZTE is collaborating with vertical industry partners to maximize the value of each application and has explored the deep integration of 5G and vertical industries with Sany Heavy Industry, Xinhua News Agency, Tianjin Port, and Suning, jointly promoting the digital transformation of the industries.

Practices and explorations of 5G in vertical industries indicate that the combination of real and virtual scenarios are vital for industry. In many 5G applications, video services are considered essential for digital transformation. Although 4G can support the transmission of text, data, pictures, and small videos, 5G ensures the reliable transmission of control signals and video services that feature interaction, real time, and deterministic latency. By promoting digitization in societies and putting digital control systems into applications, 5G can accelerate digital transformation.

In the 2G era, operators concentrated on the construction of network infrastructure, to enjoy benefits exclusively, reaching their golden age when voice services predominated. In 3G and 4G eras, the weak correlation between contents and networks enabled OTT service providers to share benefits derived from the existing networks. Therefore, those who stayed forefront in the mobile internet and cloud computing became the industry giants. In the 5G era, the requirements for large bandwidth, high interaction, and deterministic latency make services more reliant on networks that enable contents, computing, and storage services. While 4G is a catalyst for the booming cloud computing, 5G will be the driving force for distributed, real-time and synchronized video services in the cloud computing era. Telecom operators would share benefits originating from the digital economy on the basis of their superior network resources and capability advantages.

Partnering with leading enterprises in different industries, ZTE is dedicated to boosting the development of vertical industries through 5G and empowering all partners to enable core capabilities such as Cloud XR, AI, intelligent interconnection, high-precision positioning, and security capabilities for industrial applications.

Application of essential software is advancing the establishment of a multi-vendor ecosystem

Unlike that in the traditional consumer field, the digital transformation in vertical industries requires a more mature ecosystem and a dramatic uplift in reliability from 99.9% to 99.999% and even higher. Essential software, such as operating systems and databases, is fundamental to the best use of both hardware and applications.

ZTE’s NewStart operating system has been adopted in the key fields of telecom, high-speed rail, power, automotive and industrial automation. With more than 200 million sets shipped to global customers, the NewStart operating system has become a fundamental technology that ensures reliable social evolution.

In view of the increasing amount of data to be processed and the increasing business transactions in the 5G era, traditional network architecture with dedicated servers and centralized databases cannot support long-term service development with its currently limited system performance, scalability, and flexibility. The application of distributed databases, given their better performance and higher reliability, ensures rapid implementation of new technologies in the ecosystem, and removes the risks of shrinking ecosystem, the difficulties in talent cultivation, and the high costs brought by dedicated servers. GoldenDB, ZTE’s distributed database, has been applied by major banks in their credit card systems to meet stringent business requirements. Assisting customers in smoothly processing the spiking traffic in the Double 11 (11 Nov) and Double 12 (12 Dec) Shopping Festivals, the database sets an example for other innovative database applications in diverse industries.

Source: ZTE Corporation 

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