China Unicom is building an intelligent 5G backhaul network in the capital city of Beijing to enable efficient network operations and support enterprises

The 5G technology is becoming the mainstay for developing several industrial technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), Internet of Vehicles (IoV), and robotics. 

It has a tremendous potential to transform how we interact and work in our daily lives and plays a critical role in developing innovative models for industrial and economic advancement. However, service providers’ main challenges in building the 5G network are to obtain a clear view and projections of data traffic needs and provide a differentiated user experience. 

As an operator, you have very little chance to salvage your credibility if your network sees a lag at a critical time of running business-critical applications. This has made the planning, construction, maintenance, and optimization of 5G networks very critical.

Transforming network capacity

In the 5G era, it has become crucial for service providers to transform their planning, construction, and operations digitally and get an all-inclusive view of the entire network and real-time data requirements. These are essential basics for 5G to ensure less latency on networks and automated applications. 

During a recent Huawei Better World Summit, the China Unicom Beijing Branch shared its best practice and strategy to develop innovative methods and automated processes to address these concerns. The telco is building an intelligent backhaul in Beijing to facilitate efficient operations to guarantee large-scale innovative businesses.

For China, 2020 is the first year of the 5G operation, and there has been a significant focus on maintaining a consistent quality of service. China Unicom has forged partnerships with the industry’s leading solution providers to build a solid foundation for Beijing’s 5G aspirations. Driven by breakthrough technologies such as automation in its networks, China Unicom has strengthened the 5G End-to-End model from applications to terminals, networks, and businesses, enabling Beijing to accelerate the 5G transformation path.

Speaking at the Huawei Better World Summit event, Liu Shenshen, Cloud Network Operation Delivery Center at China Unicom Beijing, explained the telco’s approach to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and create business value. "The reason we introduced 5G intelligent MAN is that services have different requirements in the age of 5G networks. Certain services require high bandwidth, low latency, and others require large connections. This is different from 2G, 3G, or 4G networks, where we can tailor our networks through a unified policy. Moreover, now telcos are maintaining at least three networks, i.e., 2G, 4G, and 5G networks, and you need intelligence to better operations and maintenance (O&M) efficiency," Shenshen said.

New 5G challenges need new solutions

5G technology comes with different QoS requirements and requires a transformative approach around conventional O&M tools, processes, and capabilities to meet the differentiated service assurance.

In light of the above, the China Unicom Beijing branch chose three objectives during the intelligent 5G transport network construction. First, to improve the service experience, i.e., to establish a proactive awareness system. Second, to improve operations and maintenance (O&M) efficiency, including intelligent diagnosis. And third is to establish a proactive prevention system based on the 5G transport network.

There are several thousands of base stations and service flows, and in such cases, monitoring network SLAs and KPIs through traditional O&M methods is almost impossible. It was also difficult to perceive which services are running in the pipe and the corresponding SLAs.

In such instances, finding low-quality issues and address them timely requires in-built intelligence. Through big-data induced network modernization tools, China Unicom has built an in-depth-service awareness mechanism, which has helped the subscribers and vertical industry customers get exceptional 5G experience.

Making use of the solution, the China Unicom Beijing has been able to monitor the network’s health in real-time. The automated 5G operation solution supports automatic demarcation and identifies 5G network faults proactively within minutes. This is a massive nimprovement over previous conventional methods, where site disconnect information was manually transferred, and the diagnosis of a significant on-line network failure generally took about 40 to 60 minutes.

By establishing proactive fault prediction and prevention capabilities, the solution has helped minimize the complaint rates and improve the overall user experience.

Transformational approach

Using the 5G network as the starting point, China Unicom has developed an intelligent network middle tier, build an open and win-win ecosystem with internal and external partners, and launch its own 5G smart operations and maintenance evaluation system. "On intelligent MAN, we can capture service packets that proactively detect wireless faults and disconnections. Embedded with automation features, we can fully automate the demarcations of the 5G base stations when disconnection and SLA downgrades occur and keep a close check on the health of the network," explained Shenshen.

The solution has helped China Unicom accomplish full visibility of its base stations and real-time measurement of network KPIs. China Unicom’s efforts have again demonstrated China’s innovation leadership by coming early in the 5G space. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China has now constructed more than 600,000 5G base stations, and more than 110 million users have already registered for 5G plans. In Beijing alone, there are currently more than 5 million people using 5G. 

The transformational approach of China Unicom has further reinforced use cases as the city prepares for new-age 5G applications such as driverless vehicles, robotic tools, and automated processes.