Excerpts from a conversation with Bai Yang, Vice President of ZTE Corporation in which he explains how to address the challenges faced by carriers in 5G technology adoption, the potential of 5G technology in improving carrier network connectivity and more.
How do you see the potential of 5G technology in improving carrier network connectivity? What are the major challenges faced by carriers in its adoption?
Since its design phase, the standard body of 5G has set the objectives of matching the requirements set by IMT-2020 issued by ITU for mobile communication. The 5G technology has the potential to significantly improve carrier network connectivity due to its higher throughput, lower latency and ability to support massive number of devices.
For example, during the joint 5G-NR test with AIS in Thailand, we achieved 8.5Gbps peak download speed and 2.17Gbps peak uplink speed with a single mobile device. And in Pakistan, our FDD Massive MIMO solution has increased average user throughput by 40% and high-load cell count was reduced by 60% in the network of Zong last year. Therefore, the overall network ranking of Zong ranked first in the assessment of a third party. This year, ZTE launched the Sub-6GHz band ultra-large-scale antenna array AAUs with 10Gbps of the peak cell throughput. As a result, the average cell throughput and edge user experience will be further improved.
However, the adoption of 5G technology is not smooth and major challenges are expected, which include Infrastructure modernization to support 5G deployment, including upgrade of both base station and transport network, 5G spectrum availability and integration of existing and legacy spectrum to optimize the overall network performance and efficiency, and Investment preparation as the infrastructure modernization and 5G spectrum acquisition can be expensive and the ROI of 5G may take time.
What advancements in network infrastructure have been necessary to accommodate the increased demands of 5G connectivity?
Compared to previous generations, 5G has adopted multiple key advancements at infrastructure level to accommodate the demands of higher bitrates, lower latency, and massive connections.
Firstly, Massive MIMO enables 5G to increase the overall cell capacity with more devices. In other words, the spectrum efficiency has been significantly improved for the system to serve more devices without sacrificing the user experience of individual users.
Secondly, Network slicing provides a new end-to-end QoS assurance mechanism, making resource allocation and management more efficient and reliable.
Lastly, Edge computing brings the data processing and storage closer to the user, reduces the latency, and improves network performance, especially for on-campus private networks.
5G networks require a high level of interoperability to enable seamless connectivity across different carriers, devices, and networks. However, there may be challenges in achieving this interoperability due to differing technical standards and protocols. How can they be addressed?
Each time a new generation of mobile technology is introduced, the interoperability across different carriers, devices and networks is always challenging. 5G is no exception. But in fact, 5G has become the fastest-growing mobile technology in history. The latest data from GSA showed that 249 operators in 97 countries and territories have launched commercial 3GPP-compatible 5G services. And total 5G connections have increased to 1.1 billion. This proves that the industry has found effective ways to address the challenges.
The most important is industry collaboration. The synergy of carriers, 5G equipment suppliers, chipset and devices providers, and other stakeholders played a crucial role in this achievement.
Many carriers still operate legacy systems and devices that are not compatible with 5G networks. This requires significant investment in upgrading or replacing legacy systems to ensure they can work with 5G networks. What is the way forward for them?
Modernizing or replacing legacy systems and devices could be a significant challenge, both technically and financially. The carriers can consider different approaches and these include:
5G deployment by phases can help to minimize disruption or impact on existing operations. The gradual transition to 5G could also be more acceptable financially. For the carriers without 5G licenses in a short time, it is recommended that 4G and 5G dual-mode equipment to be deployed which can be smoothly upgraded to 5G.
Network virtualization involves running software-based network functions on standard hardware instead of specialized equipment. This approach is especially efficient for core network elements to reduce operation costs and improve flexibility to allow the co-existence of legacy networks and 5G.
Network modernization with multi-mode and multi-band products and solutions. ZTE UniSite solution is the example which supports 2G/3G/4G/5G technology with the same hardware platform.
Overall, the transition to 5G will require significant investment on replacing legacy systems and devices. Carriers can consider above approaches based on financial, operational and regulatory requirements.