Shen Jianda is VP and General Manager of RAN Products at ZTE

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a popular phrase, especially in 5G era. What do you think about the relationship between AI and 5G, and how does ZTE develop 5G with AI?

AI and 5G will develop and evolve together with each other, and this is a two-way channel, benefiting both technologies. AI is built in multi-layers of 5G to form the ubiquitous AI capability. The AI capabilities are designed in a modular form at the network equipment layer, O&M layer, and service layer, which enables construction of a network with gradual evolved capabilities. With a unified AI platform, the mainstream deep learning and machine learning framework, support more than 150 built-in all-domain network AI algorithms and more than 60 AI scenarios. The visualized zero programming AI model development makes scenario exploration easier.

At network equipment layer, ZTE has the most intelligent baseband unit (BBU), which not only provides the largest capacity for RAT’s, but also enables intrinsic AI capability via a software upgrade to support the “Radio Composer” giving better user experience and higher network efficiency. For to B service provision, with one computing board inserted in the BBU to enable the NodeEngine solution, enterprises can build a private 5G network simply and cost efficiently while benefiting from powerful service provision capability.

At O&M layer, intelligent coordination between sites, multi-RATs and multi-spectrum is realized. The intelligent O&M covers the full life cycle of network planning, deployment, maintenance, optimization, and operation. With the help of AI, the troubleshooting cycle and the manpower cost can be reduced significantly.

At service layer, the end-to-end service analysis with AI helps make problem locating much easier and precise. In the future, network O&M will gradually shift from being network KPI-centered to user experience-centered, leading to the establishment of a user perception-based evaluation system, and making it possible to conduct end-to-end analysis based on user perception and service quality to effectively locate the key factors affecting experience and service quality and quickly solve problems.

5G has been deployed on quite a large scale, the network and the terminals combined offer great capacity, but the uptake of 5G is not yet very satisfactory. So how would ZTE bring the future closer?

5G accounts for less than one seventh of total mobile traffic. Few would disagree that 5G will be the most important technology for new services and traffic growth, so what we need to do is to bring the future closer through further innovation and exploration in more applications and services.

Some operators are already on the fast track. Streaming, gaming, AR, and VR powered immersive experiences, are being introduced along with upgraded or new services, either by operators or by collaboration with popular third-party apps. Some of the successful experiments have not only given end users new experiences and entertainment but have also provided people with improved quality of life during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Another observation is that vertical industries offer great potential for 5G to create value. For some operators, B2B revenue is already on the rise. But as the requirements from the vertical customers vary greatly, there must be flexibility in offering network capabilities, to digitize the vertical industries in an economically efficient way, enabling more applications with clear business models, and at the same time helping smaller-size enterprises benefit from 5G. This would require not just the power of the 5G core, but also easier-to-access to edge computing capability and a variety of ways to deploy the private networks.

The last observation I’d like to talk about is green network. First, climate change is arguably the biggest challenge of our time. Even a Nobel prize was awarded this year to researchers in this field. Many of us have set ambitious targets around becoming carbon neutral and/or net-zero, which is our industry’s strong commitment to the world. To achieve these targets, we need new ways of thinking how we construct green networks. Some forecasts suggest the total energy consumption by the mobile industry will be tripled in the next ten years, and 5G radio access networks will contribute a major part of the increase. This means the critical thing to do is to reduce 5G’s carbon footprint in every possible way, but not at the cost of user experience promised by 5G. It is however not just about the network itself as the other industries can also benefit from a greener network, either through direct reduction of carbon emissions, or by using 5G as an underlying technology to make their own businesses more efficient, more productive, and therefore greener.

What do you see as the key factors to maximize the value of 5G network as soon as possible?

Now let’s investigate our experience in addressing the challenges. First, let’s look at a few figures about what the operators in China have achieved. 5G now accounts for almost 20 percentage more traffic than just twelve months ago. Average monthly user data usage has increased by more than twenty percent. And the downtrend of ARPU has been reversed.

These results are all very positive, but the operators have done many things to get there. The first is to get everybody on 5G. In the initial stage of 5G deployment, the growth rate of 5G subscribers is lower than that of 5G smartphone sales, and many 5G subscribers chose 4G as their first choice because of the of availability of 5G coverage or simply out of habit. Operators have paid great attention to increase 5G user uptake and 5G traffic. New packages offer more data for the same dollar combined with availability of popular third-party apps attract more subscribers. A rich set of network optimization measures are being used to improve user experience as well as deploying more base stations. For example, the SSB 1+X, provides a cost-effective way of developing 3D coverage, improving the vertical coverage rate by 30% and enables users on 100-meter-high building to enjoy 5G without the necessity of indoor 5G system. The priority of 5G deployment is the outdoors, and Chinese operators have made consistent efforts in the past two years. The next approach is the indoor, with solutions like ZTE’s QCell and innovative ways to cost effectively reuse DAS for 5G. Flexible options are designed to match the various deployment scenarios.

One of the innovations I would like to highlight is ZTE’s Radio Composer. It can change the way user experience is delivered. In 5G era there are more spectrum bands, rich types of terminals and various services, so ensuring the best user experience is a challenge. The conventional way of managing radio resources is far from good enough as it is based on a “one size fits all” mentality. Radio Composer, on the other hand, sees 5G base stations not as one block, but as many small and unique blocks. 5G users can always be assigned with the optimal “block”, according to signal quality, service type, terminal type, etc., which is far more precise and effective than the traditional way. Even better, Radio Composer leverages machine learning to get reliable predictions of network traffic changes, so that not only optimal user experience but also most efficient utilization of radio resources at the network level can be achieved. Live network test results show both improvement of cell-edge user speeds up to more than 300% and of network payload by 30%, translating into revenue increase for operators.

You have just mentioned that vertical industries have great potentials for 5G to create values. Do you already have some practical examples?

Different vertical industries require different sets of capabilities, and even one enterprise may require different things with different use cases, including bandwidth, latency, connections, reliability, integration capabilities, service level agreement, and so on. It is important to find the best match between end user requirements and 5G network resources, so that more use cases can be enabled, and at the same time the network can be leveraged efficiently and cost-effectively. NodeEngine is one of our innovations for vertical 5G with lowest possible footprint and cost while offering highest possible flexibility.

One successful case of NodeEngine helping customers use 5G to transform their business is SANY Group, the fifth largest heavy machinery manufacturer in the world. With a 5G network already in place, we went on to deploy a virtual private network for them, by introducing an edge computing server inserted into an existing 5G base station’s baseband unit. This enabled the entire factory to realize local data offload and other capabilities. Now many of the manufacturing processes relate to 5G, including real-time massive data analysis for fault prevention, machine vision for quality control, cloud AGV for automated logistics, etc. The factory’s productivity and cost are both improved. For example, the overall defect rate of products is now 14% lower. We are happy to see such compact, yet powerful vertical solutions help vertical customers enjoy the benefit of 5G.

Another example is the Port of Antwerp in Belgium, a variety of applications, such as contaminant detection, are enabled. Engineers can use a tablet or other devices to access huge amount of data and video streams and get remote assistance. Tugboats from the Antwerp Port Authority can get images, video feeds and other data in real time to the control room. The port achieves safer ship management and bigger daily capacity of ships going in and out of the port.
5G monetization, or monetizing any new wireless technology, is never easy, but it is worthwhile. Our continuous innovation and practical examples make it not just possible but also more attainable. Exploring the opportunity with leading operators combined with ZTE’s experience gives us more hope that delivering powerful and productive 5G for both consumers and industries is not for the distant future, but for now.