ZTE: Pioneering standalone 5G

Chinese mobile operators have confirmed the pending launch of standalone 5G networks, which promise an enhanced user experience for business and consumers.

Johannesburg, 22 Jul 2020
Read time 5min 30sec

With China’s 5G focus turning to standalone capabilities, mobile operators China Unicom, China Telecom and China Mobile have confirmed the forthcoming launch of 5G standalone (SA).

Global operators have realised the promising prospects of 5G SA and have started promoting the move to SA networks. 5G SA is ready for end-to-end commercial use in terms of the maturity of standards, chipsets, terminals and networks. Chinese operators are building what is set to be the largest 5G network in the world.

By the end of 2020, there will be more than 600 000 5G base stations and all main cities will be covered.

Telecoms equipment provider, ZTE has been involved in the roll-out of these SA networks and the upgrading of 4G networks with an end-to-end SA solution which enables several new features including network slicing and automation, a Time-Sensitive Network and multi-access edge computing.

ZTE's 5G SA solution is a comprehensive end-to-end solution featuring ultra-broadband, high power output supporting 2.6GHz, 3.5GHz and a combination of 3.5 GHz + 700 MHz.

Restarting industries and the economy

Dario Talmesio, principal analyst and practice lead at technology research firm, Omdia spoke during ZTE’s ‘Pioneering in 5G SA: Learnings from China’s Deployments’ webinar. He said the majority of 5G adoption seen this year will be in China, by the three network operators.

“Over the past few months, countries have reprioritised 5G deployment because their regulators have been caught up in the COVID-19 crisis and delayed the spectrum auctions. China did the opposite of that, it placed greater emphasis and invested more in 5G because it's seen as a way to get industries and the economy restarted.”

“We expect to see the immediate application of 5G SA in private networks. We’re also already expecting to see some wide-area 5G Core networks to go live in China and the US, and markets will ramp up their scalability in 2021.” Findings from another research firm, Heavy Reading, show that 56% of communications service providers (CSPs) around the world expect to deploy 5G SA by the end of 2021.

China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom are expected to jointly deploy 600 000 5G base stations by the end of this year. Talmesio continued, “But it’s not only about deploying networks; in terms of adoption, the data points released by China Mobile show an anticipated subscription base of 70 million by year-end. That's why our attention has shifted to Chinese MNOs.”

“5G SA will provide an end-to-end solution for various verticals including manufacturing, robotics, transportation and healthcare. End-to-end is only part of the benefits, there’s also lower latency but I think network slicing has to be the most appetising aspect.”

“But sometimes we forget that 5G SA is not only about its B2B solutions, it is the most important aspect for service providers but it's also about the consumer.” He said that the enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) will reduce connection time, resulting in an improved experience and overall improvement in uplink and downlink speed rate and latency.”

Pioneering 5G SA

Phase one of the Chinese operators' 5G projects began last year, focusing on the Non-standalone(NSA) and standalone(SA) network. Some 140 000 base stations were deployed in 2019 in cities such as Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, 25% of the global total.

Phase two of the roll-out will see 180 billion RMB invested into the project and the three mobile operators will deploy at least 530 000 base stations across China this year with the aim of having 47% of the Chinese population in 5G-covered areas by 2025.

Jason Tu, Principle Scientist of NFV/SDN Products at ZTE said China's 5G SA network is expected to launch commercially from Q3 2020. “The NSA and SA dual-mode currently being used in some areas will be kept to ensure better support for international roaming 5G. Areas that currently have no 5G coverage will jump straight to SA mode, and we will see the end of 4G investment in these areas. The emphasis of 5G from the start of this year has been the standalone solution.”

Tu pointed out that as the target architecture of 5G, SA will help operators open new B2B markets. He also said network slicing with different SLA guarantees to vertical industries will also tap into new revenue sources for operators.

Enhanced capabilities

Alex Wang is ZTE’s 5G RAN solutions managing director. He said features such as low latency, mobile edge computing, network sharing and network slicing amplify 5G’s ‘super powerful’ capabilities.

“It enhances the mobile broadband experience to a peak data rate of 1Gbps and brings about the ultra HD 3D video and VR/AR experience; but more importantly,5G enables greater machine-type communications and reliable, low-latency communications.”

“The very high network and device density, as well as other rigid network performance requirements, have led to the increased demand for a 5G SA solution.”

Operators can also gain a competitive advantage in vertical markets, which are considered the most promising area of 5G. Wang cites examples of 5G's application in autonomous vehicles, traffic management and intelligent manufacturing processes.

From an operator's point of view, the 5G SA solution makes it possible to decouple existing 4G networks and the upcoming 5G network, minimising the impact to the existing 4G network.

“This gives operators much more flexibility in their vendor selection. They can adopt a single-vendor strategy, having one vendor who supplies all the radio and/or core network needs to streamline operations. Alternatively, operators can adopt a multi-vendor strategy where the core network, radio network, or even the 4G and 5G layer can come from different vendors,” said Wang.

“ZTE is well positioned to work with operators worldwide by offering 5G Common Core, standalone radio network and/or hybrid SA/NSA radio network.”