ZTE: Bringing 5G to Africa through partnerships with MTOs

Before large-scale 5G investment, 5GC, transmission, new service cultivation and other infrastructure preparation must be ready, says ZTE.

Johannesburg, 08 Jul 2020
Read time 5min 30sec
Chen Qiong, CTO of MTO Sales Division at ZTE
Chen Qiong, CTO of MTO Sales Division at ZTE

Currently, China has the world’s largest 4G networks, numbering around 5.5 million 4G base stations as well as 1.28 billion 4G subscribers in the country.

Operators in China are now building the largest 5G network. In fact, by the end of 2020, there will be more than 600 000 5G base stations and all main cities will be covered. There are four major operators in China – China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom and China Broadcasting Network Corporation.

Chen Qiong, CTO of MTO Sales Division at ZTE, says his organisation, which has approximately one-third of the 4G market share in China, has partnered – and is working closely – with all of these operators to help them launch commercial 5G networks, and is assisting them with the expansion and evolution of these too.

During this time, he says, ZTE has provided a full end-to-end 5G solution, including CommonCore, its fully converged core network solution that enables full access to 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G and fixed networks, NSA+SA dual-mode base stations, and high-performance massive MIMO AAU. In addition, it has co-operated closely with operator partners to deploy vertical applications.

“Much experience has been gained from these projects and many lessons learned,” says Qiong. “Firstly, 5G is not a separate network from 4G. It can be achieved through the smooth evolution of existing 4G bands and products. Secondly, compared with NSA, SA has more advantages in terms of performance, capacity and vertical industry support, as African countries do not need to duplicate investments in NSA.”

Thirdly, he says, before large-scale 5G investment, 5GC, transmission, new service cultivation and other infrastructure preparation must be ready.

5G in Africa

Speaking of the development prospects of 5G in Africa, as well as ZTE's preparations and countermeasures, he says alongside 3G and 4G networks growing rapidly in Africa, 5G early deployment and trials for the testing implementations of use cases are expected to launch across the continent in the next two to three years.

“The development of African mobile broadband networks should combine 4G and 5G by utilising the full potential of 4G. And on this base, 5G will be an effective supplement, focusing on the user experience improvement of mobile broadband customers, and at the same time, expanding to new services,” he says.

ZTE has commercially launched the highly convergent common core, which can support 4G and 5G at the same time, and its wireless products are highly convergent too. “One product can support 4G and 5G, can support multi-band,” he explains.

In the next two or three years, once required, 5G will be supported through a software upgrade, explains Qiong. “ZTE has successfully delivered 5G trials, which have been showcased with MTN in SA, Nigeria and Uganda. The company will work closely with operators and partners to make 5G more than a new generation of communication technology, but an enabler for other industries to generate more economic growth in Africa.”

To date, ZTE has won 46 commercial 5G contracts across the world and is co-operating with more than 70 operators on 5G networks. “For example, with ZTE’s help, Orange, Win Tre and Hutchison Three have launched commercial 5G networks in Europe. In China, ZTE is helping all four operators to launch commercial 5G networks.”

In-house design

In terms of the solutions ZTE offers, he says the company has in-house design chips that are critical when it comes to product performance and energy saving. ZTE’s Common Core can help operators to support both 4G and 5G simultaneously. ZTE’s MIMO products and solutions guarantee high performance of 5G networks.

It also offers a FAST (FDD Assisted Supper TDD) solution, which is based on traditional carrier aggregation, which successfully solved the problem of 5G coverage, and at the same time, improves network performance. All the company’s energy-saving features help operators save OPEX, and its multi-band, 4G/5G convergent basestations help them seamlessly transition to 5G.

Holistic cyber security

Qiong stresses that cyber security is also one of the highest priorities when it comes to product development and the delivery of business units, and as a result, ZTE has established a holistic cyber security governance structure underpinning the company's development strategy.

“Our strategy is supported by relevant laws, regulations and standards, while fostering good security awareness for all employees and emphasising the importance of security across the entire end-to-end process. We attach great importance to customers' security values, abide by the relevant laws and regulations within the realm of cyber security, and ensure end-to-end delivery of secure and reliable products and services.”

In addition, he says ZTE continues to communicate and co-operate with operators, regulatory agencies, partners and other stakeholders in an open and transparent manner with respect to continuous improvement in its cyber security practices.

“Ultimately, ZTE is committed to providing customers with secure and trustworthy products and services, while creating a secure cyber environment together with all stakeholders and maintaining a sound security order for cyber space,” adds Qiong.

MTO customer focus

Multi-international operator (MTO) customers are a key focus for ZTE, he adds. To become a major international vendor, ZTE believes that co-operation with MTO customers is critical, as it helps ZTE improve product competitiveness and market share.

In the MEA area, ZTE has a broad co-operation with MTN, Orange Group, Bharti, Vodacom, VEON, Ooredoo Group, Etisalat and other operators. In the 5G era, ZTE aims to bring the advantages of product innovation and network scale it accumulated in China and the Asia Pacific area to the MEA region.

“Compared with regional operators, MTO customers have a much higher barrier to entry and technical requirements. Our industry-leading 5G and 5GC product technology helps us respond quickly to customers, which helps us improve our product competitiveness too,” he adds.

ZTE focuses on its most valued customers and keeps improving its investment into MTO customers as well as strategic countries. In this way, its localisation strategy and skills development is improved as well, which, in turn, helps ZTE provide high-quality service to its customers, ends Qiong.