Sponsored As of late 2020, at least 113 operators spread across 52 countries worldwide have begun commercial 5G operations. At least 89% of active networks are using the mid-band spectrum – especially within the 3.3-3.8 GHz range – that delivers fast throughput.
However, 5G commercialization still remains in the initial stage of infrastructure development, as indicated by large-scale construction only in China, South Korea, the United States, and a few other countries in Europe and the Middle East.
Indeed, the construction of new infrastructure is the core driver of the continuous development of digital economy. Still, 5G rollout has to overcome challenges such as stricter requirements for base stations density, lower power consumption, and the lack of profitable business models. Early 5G deployments have been addressing hotspots in urban areas with a clear capacity need or to support enterprise customers’ needs.
Monetizing 5G’s potential
“We see the most urgent requirement from the operator is how to make investments in 5G deliver maximum ROI,” says Mr Jason Tu, Principal Scientist of NFV/SDN at ZTE Corporation. “While the 5G bandwidth can easily support today’s most demanding applications, including UltraHD , 360-degree streaming video and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), and we have seen some successful cases in China, South Korea and South East Asia, these applications still do not take advantage of the full potential of 5G.”
While 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology operates up to 6GHz, 5G can handle radio bands up to 52.6GHz (3GPP R15 FR2), which allow incredible advances in capacity, speed, reliability and latency. In real-world performance, for instance, 5G enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) can easily deliver 10 times the speed of today’s 4G networks. “We need to encourage applications like AR/VR, but there is no single killer app today that can fully exploit 5G’s big leap forward in capabilities beyond just speed,” Mr Tu added.
Besides eMBB, features such as Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications and massive Machine Type Communications are clearly specific to Internet of Things (IoT) and industry application requirements.
In considering 5G as a commercial investment, these new features create opportunities for operators to draw new and greater revenue streams from a to-business (to-B) model than from existing to-consumer (to-C) business. Innovative operators can tap on 5G’s advantages to support different vertical industries and leverage on collaborative ecosystems to empower industry digitalization.
“We see 5G opportunities for new to-B applications and services,” says Mr. Tu. “For example, a decade ago many enterprises used to have its own data centre or servers for internal systems. Today, growth in public cloud services and co-location facilities is outpacing growth in privately built, owned and managed data centres.”
In the same way, network operators can free enterprises to focus on business priorities in their digital transformation initiatives by enabling them to ride on private 5G network services. In Germany, Telefónica Deutschland planned and built a 5G campus network for car maker Mercedes-Benz Cars to augment production processes and connect production systems in real time. The telecommunication provider plans to introduce a private 5G network service to vertical industries that will open up new digital opportunities for business customers.
Be it a private network linking street lamps, automated guided vehicles, robots or any industrial machines or business systems, network operators can tap on 5G capabilities to deliver managed network services that fulfil requirements for fast data transfer rates, high precision and efficiency, as well as low latency. “Operators need their network service to be more intelligent to accommodate the requirements of the end consumer and business customers,” says Mr. Tu.
To help operators meet these objectives, ZTE is focusing on its role as a driver of the digital economy by delivering a one-stop digital transformation platform for operators that includes the ultimate 5G network, distributed precision cloud, and network and platform empowerment like remote office, manufacturing automation, etc.
“5G is a technical standard and an ecology,” Mr. Tu explains. “The goal of the ZTE ultimate network is to achieve ultimate performance under the standard architecture and ecology compared with competitors, including ultimate bandwidth, ultimate latency, ultimate energy efficiency, and ultimate network automation of O&M. This helps operators obtain better ROI and expand the to-B market.”
Even as operators complete their own digital transformation in the process of 5G network upgrade and commercial use, a huge market is emerging for digital transformation services to support vertical industries through technologies such as cloud computing, AI and big data on a large scale. This is a huge market that will last for decades. Possibilities include enabling the integration of networks with cloud services to realize cloud-network synergies.
At ZTE's Binjiang Smart Factory, the introduction of 5G technology into unmanned transportation, security monitoring, automation control, product precision manufacturing, etc. has cut assembly quality missed inspection rate by 80% and the defect rate of key processes by 37%, among other significant improvements.
After implementing cloud-driven AGVs, machine vision, digital twin, smart storage and other technologies, more applications will be embedded in the future to create an automated, unmanned and intelligent supply chain. ZTE is exploring intelligent AI, IoT, cloud computing, big data, AR/VR, blockchain, and robotics in planning, procurement, manufacturing, warehousing, and transportation.
“Operators have deployed a large number of central and edge cloud in the process of 5G deployment, where edge cloud is a scarce digital infrastructure,” says Mr. Tu. “Edge cloud not only serves 5G but also provides industry applications with localized, more reliable, more secure and faster response cloud services.”
Operators can harness AI to run 5G networks more efficiently and automatically while saving energy. The big data engine can be delivered and sold as Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). “A strong network of operators, combined with an end-to-end deterministic digital infrastructure provided by their own cloud, has great performance advantages over the traditional "best-effort" public cloud, and has been greatly welcomed by industry users,” says Mr Tu.
ZTE’s three development roadmaps for operators, include building a cost-effective network, empowering vertical industries’ digitalization, and enabling value-oriented operational transformation. These roadmaps are underpinned by medium and long-term 5G planning solutions, such as end-to-end network planning, 5G industry private network planning, and 5G to-C and to-B service development planning. In addition, ROI analysis is adopted to evaluate and revise the medium and long-term planning solution.
“Digital transformation of traditional industries requires ubiquitous networks, ubiquitous clouds, and customized digital transformation integration services,” says Mr. Tu. “With their innate network and technical advantages, operators can provide a complete set of digital transformation and integration services for these industries, while the industry can focus more on its own business.”
ZTE provides operators with end-to-end products and technical solutions for their transformation from communication service provider (CSP) to digital service provider (DSP).
At present, ZTE has collaborated with global operators to explore over 100 innovative 5G application scenarios in vertical industries such as iron and steel metallurgy, electronics manufacturing, mines, electricity, Internet of Vehicles, rail transit, ports, smart cities, and finance. Over 60 demonstration projects have been carried out worldwide to enable digital transformation and build a digital economy.
Sponsored by ZTE Corporation