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Delivering 5G Promises with Efficient and Intelligent Solutions

5G is one of the defining buzzwords of the telecom industry. After years of lab and field trials, live networks have been switched on in North America and Asia-Pacific, with more expected to follow soon. The industry has high expectations of 5G, with the most important use cases falling into three categories: enhanced mobile broadband, massive IoT, and extreme low latency. The services offered to business users and consumers so far are mainly of the first category.

To deliver all the 5G promises, telecom operators and other stakeholders in the value chain do not only have to overcome the remaining technology hurdles, but also do some deep soul searching regarding what business models to adopt and what services to offer whom.

When interviewed by recently, I shared my thinking on how telcos can deliver the 5G promises by addressing these issues. 5G is more than just technologies. Can you please share your views on some fundamental questions telcos need to answer before they start planning technology deployment?

Pu, ZTE: You are right. 5G is the first time in the cellular industry that business cases and applications were considered prior to technology specifications. So before planning technology options, telcos should ask themselves what short-term and long-term business objectives they want to achieve with 5G. For example, for all the incumbent operators which have 4G networks, they should realise that every dollar spent today on the network infrastructure should not only make 5G deployment faster, easier, and more cost-efficient, but also would offer faster 4G with lower per-bit cost. Rolling out 5G without coordination with existing networks would run the risk of compromising the user experiences of the current customers, whereas improving 4G without factoring in the demand of 5G deployment would marginalise the operator in the long term, if not right away.

Along the same lines, when we consider the technology impediments in the road to 5G deployment, we should strive for the balance between critical investment in 5G to offer much better user experiences and guaranteed service in the existing 4G. This is exactly why ZTE believes a comprehensive solution for both efficient 5G rollout and modernised 4G is in the core of facilitating operators’ network upgrade and 5G implementation. ZTE’s UniSite is such an integrated solution for multi-RATs, especially the long-term 4G/5G coordination, integration and evolution. This is true. Most operators will run hybrid networks with legacy technologies side by side 5G. In those cases where operators combine 5G with 4G and sometimes even 3G, pressure on the radio frequencies, which arguably is the scarcest resource in the cellular industry, is increasing. How should operators manage mixed networks to maximise the frequency efficiency?

Pu, ZTE: Many wireless networks have embraced or evolved into multi-RATs co-existence, and the co-existence will stay for a long time, even after 5G is rolled out on a big scale. To optimise spectrum utilisation, mobile operators need a super-efficient networking solution. Essentially this should be an intelligent and dynamic spectrum allocation mechanism between multi-RATs, including 5G in the future. ZTE’s Magic Radio Pro is a leading solution of this kind. This dynamic spectrum allocation should be carried out based on real-time traffic loads on the different RATs, as well as AI-supported traffic load prediction, which will improve the spectrum sharing efficiency. A smooth network evolution, the phasing-in and phasing-out of RATs, is then realised with the least impact on the network.

In addition to dynamic spectrum sharing, the FDD Massive MIMO Solution has also been proved to be able to improve 4G spectrum efficiency by three to six times. It has been deployed in many live networks for FDD Massive MIMO, with a surprisingly large capacity improvement. ZTE is going to release a new dual-band FDD Massive MIMO product in 2019, with three-carrier configuration, up to 2Gbps data throughput within a single product to support commercial applications. Similar to radio frequency, base station sites are also a resource getting harder to come by. From 2G, 3G to 4G, with very few exceptions, operators are moving to higher frequencies. In most markets 5G will be deployed in the higher end of the sub-6GHz bands and the mmWave bands, which means the cell sizes are getting smaller, and more sites are needed. How do you see mobile operators dealing with this dilemma?

Pu, ZTE: Yes, with the exceptions of the greenfield 5G operators, which will need to build the networks from ground up, all the incumbent operators are going to manage mixed networks for a long time. This means that they will still keep updating the 4G networks (even 3G in some parts of the world). The fast-growing demand for mobile data is driving bigger capacity, for example, 2T to 4T upgrade, more sectors and even new spectrums etc., which in term will demand more RRUs, antennas, additional combiners and cables, all congesting the site space. That is even before 5G is deployed on top.

To solve this problem, operators need a unified site solution to not only dynamically share spectrums between multi-RATs (2/3/4/5G) but also share as many common components as possible so as to minimise the amount of equipment at one site. ZTE’s UniSite solution comes with a series of UBR (ultra-band radio) products to reduce the number of RRUs by close to 70%, plus the innovative RRUs with imbedded combiners can handle the 2/3/4/5G in sub-3GHz band with only one antenna. Additionally, the UniSite solution is not only made for macro sites, but also able to offer differentiation for other scenarios such as hot spots, traffic centric indoor access, etc. The increasing complexity of networks and the fast-growing amounts of data going through them, as you just mentioned, have gone beyond the capacity of manual operation and maintenance. Therefore, operators would require strong automation capability to provide system assurance and deliver service quality. How should operators leverage the AI advancements to improve their operation quality and efficiency?

Pu, ZTE: There are a number of areas that AI can play a significant role, in particular, network operation and maintenance (O&M), network planning, network optimisation, and fault investigation etc.

ZTE’s next-generation network O&M platform, called UME, can deliver the unified management and operation of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. Moreover, supported by AI, the UME platform can largely improve the efficiency of network optimisation and error investigation. For example, the alarm processing time is vastly reduced in root cause analysis (RCA), based on RCA rules mining, self-learning associations, and forming rules into the RCA model for alarm root cause viewing and alarm suppression. Furthermore, the unified big data platform (V-MAX) based on richer data and stronger data processing capability can support more efficient and more intelligent network planning, network evaluation and optimisation, and centralised SON.

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