With 5G likely to become commercially available in 2020, operators have three years to lay the foundations of a network that will change the way people interact forever. The sheer volume of devices and data that will be created by 5G – some 25 billion, creating two zettabytes of data by 2025 according to Machina Research – means the network build-out will need to be of a scope unlike anything that has been done before.

However, at the same time, the explosion in growth of mobile broadband services has put strain on existing networks, meaning that, for customers, 5G cannot come soon enough. Because of this, operators must also look to improve the current 4G performance at a time when capacity and performance is bottlenecked.

This leaves network operators with a conundrum of how they continue to cope with a 4G set-up that is struggling to cope with current demand as they wait for the 5G rollout. 5G promises to launch a new era of communications which has the potential to completely transform the way people live, work and get around, with the next wave of applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) utilizing 5G connectivity to deliver a whole new world of interaction between humans and technology.

Taking baby steps
The end-user is the key piece of this puzzle. The premium service that they receive from network operators – and the user satisfaction this brings – is what makes the average person continue to pay their bill and this needs to continue as the network transitions from 4G to 5G in the next three years. In particular, there needs to be co-ordination between network technologies so that the resources spread across the user, cell and network layers are arranged in a way that delivers the smooth and high-speed experience that users have come to expect, even when consuming higher-bandwidth services such as Voice-over-LTE and video.

This kind of co-ordination will be key as the network is flooded with an exponentially increasing number of connected devices as the explosion on IoT growth continues over the next few years. As the network evolves over to 5G, solutions that encompass the end-to-end nature of the IoT – especially the high-throughput, low latency requirements of Narrowband IoT applications that will penetrate our increasingly-connected cities – will need to be smoothly transitioned to avoid significant disruption.

Virtualization will play a key role in making the transition as seamless as possible. When used to their fullest effect, virtualization technologies can smoothly converge existing access network and transmission networks, and make it significantly easier for operators to adapt to future-oriented 5G wireless network architecture. The virtualized wireless access network is elastic with strong coordination capabilities, something which will be essential as the network evolves.

Mind the gap
This need for ultra-broadband-on-the-go before the 5G era begins in earnest is driving companies such as ZTE to look at how it can use innovative technologies to bridge the gap between what is available and what is needed. Building on the multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology that is currently used to maximize capacity for Wi-Fi and LTE, Massive MIMO is one such innovation that will not only help deliver the connectivity that is required, but also allow operators to meet exponentially-increasing data demands while still using their existing sites and spectrum.

By using more than 100 antennas within the same traditional base station space, Massive MIMO is able to transmit significantly more independent data streams between systems and user equipment, easing the pressure on the spectrum and making transmission much more efficient. In tests conducted by ZTE, the throughput of a Massive MIMO base station can be six to eight times that of a traditional two-antenna base station. Massive MIMO can also bring significant improvements in network coverage by accurately tracking users and utilizing 3D beamforming, which is advantageous in the denser urban environments that will form part of the smart city networks of the future.

By using this as part of a bridge solution such as ZTE’s Pre5G, system capacity can be increased six-fold in comparison to 4G, with the average user bandwidth increased by five times and the number of connections per unit area by 100 times.

Repurposing a solution
Using and improving existing network architecture is the only sure way to guarantee that customers are getting the service they need today. In ZTE’s case, it is continuing to take the Massive MIMO concept into the field with Pre5G. Nearly three years on from the first preliminary commercial tests on Massive MIMO base stations and the birth of the Pre5G concept, operators are looking for solutions that will help them take the next big step towards commercial 5G deployment.

In recent trials with Telefónica, for example, ZTE undertook a programme to assess the performance of Massive MIMO in hotspot and indoor coverage scenarios, delivering six-fold increases in both network capacity and cell-edge data rate compared to traditional LTE macro base stations. The trail also demonstrated its viability for driving new applications such as Virtual Reality and high-definition video streaming on mobile devices, showing how big a role Massive MIMO will have in delivering on the potential of 5G.

5G will be a major theme for the 2017 Total Telecom taking place in London on the 31 October – 1 November 2017. To confirm your involvement or to find out more contact or visit the website

This article and video were produced on behalf of ZTE by Total Telecom. The views do not necessarily reflect our views. To find out more about custom publishing, email