ZTE builds foundations for growth on 5G

Johannesburg, 27 May 2021
Jianpeng Zhang, ZTE senior VP
Jianpeng Zhang, ZTE senior VP

ZTE has shared its plans for the future of telecommunications in Africa, and says 5G technology will be the foundation on which future growth is built.

Speaking to ITWeb from ZTE’s offices in Sandton, senior VP Jianpeng Zhang says that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the responsibility of accelerating global digital transformation falls on the ICT industry.

He feels the industry has never played such a central role in society and that policies such as social distancing have made it necessary to ensure access to connectivity and better communications.

He says: “We can’t predict the future, but there’s no going back on the technological changes brought by the pandemic; our lives are changing and are being reshaped. ZTE’s philosophy is that we must grasp all the opportunities presented by our new environment… For example, 95% of our (nearly 74 000) employees can now work in the cloud.”

During the 2020 GSMA Thrive Africa event, ZTE shared its vision of using 5G to build a sustainable digital ecosystem for the continent. Zhang, however, laments Africa’s lack of tech resources, saying the situation only entrenches the global digital divide. “But we’ve already rolled out some commercial trials with the MTN Group and started speeding up some of these roll-outs. We’re also proposing green solutions such as an AI-based energy saving network, because sometimes you need to think out of the box here to find appropriate solutions.”

Highlighting the importance of building holistic 5G ecosystems, Zhang says China’s recognition of technology’s role has contributed to its economic transformation.

“A modern network provides the fundamental platform for economic growth. China has rolled out 800 000 5G sites to date, with more subscribers joining the 5G edge every day. But we can’t just pay attention to network infrastructure, we also need to consider areas such as end devices. Unaffordable devices will only slow down the progress made.”

Time for telcos to step up

ZTE recently released its 2020 annual report and preliminary Q1 21 results. The results show the company’s operating revenue at over R220 billion, an 11.8% year-on-year increase. The telco also said it had spent nearly R35 billion in R&D last year to become more competitive.

In Q4 2020, the company shipped an estimated 33% of the world’s passive optical network ONT (optical network terminal) products, used to connect end-user devices.

The company is a major contributor to international 5G standards and research, and holds more than 6 500 5G patents. Zhang says that 5G is now ready for end-to-end commercial use.

He says the large number of dual mode terminals supporting NSA/SA 5G architectures and the increasing affordability of smartphones should show 5G equipment providers that they should already be providing large-scale products such as 5G core networks and base stations.

Locally, ZTE has worked with MTN in establishing commercial 5G networks in MTN territories including South Africa, Nigeria and East Africa’s first 5G SA network in Uganda.

ZTE earlier this year started rolling out an initiative known as 5G Messaging OpenLabs which, with other vertical partners, will accelerate the commercialisation of 5G messaging and encourage the open, collaborative development of next-generation messaging services. As part of this, ZTE and China Mobile sent that country’s first 5G message last April.

The company has also partnered with China UnionPay Data (CUP Data) on a 5G messaging service for credit cards.