GSMA THRIVE CHINA 2020: Representatives from NTT Docomo and China Telecom outlined their standalone (SA) 5G strategies, explaining virtualisation and AI are being used to cater to customer needs.

In a panel session, Docomo GM of core network development department Hiroyuki Oto said it is vital to understand and prepare for future customer requirements, which it did by establishing an open partner programme that today counts a membership of more than 3,400.

He explained virtualisation technology is already mature and the operator is actively promoting it in its core network, noting 40 per cent of network equipment is already virtualised.

Using network slicing, Oto said Docomo aims to build dedicated infrastructure optimised for specific consumer use-cases including AR, VR and gaming.

Lei Can, deputy MD of China Telecom’s 5G Innovation Centre, pointed to the importance of coverage, which needs more complex network planning tools to deliver the right capabilities to customers.

The main advantage of the SA architecture is the wider capabilities it brings to customers, particularly vertical industries, and its simplicity, which can help streamline network planning, he explained. But the most important benefit is cloud and network integration, which increases flexibility, enabling scalability and portability.

He noted AI is in important part of a cloud network integration strategy started two years ago, which it uses to improve operating and maintenance efficiency, and reduce power consumption.

Oto said the SA core can be optimised using network slicing and edge computing, and believes it is important to promote automation because it’s too complicated to control the network manually.

As Docomo is already moving towards automating its 4G network, he believes automation and AI are essential in the 5G era.

Alex Sinclair, GSMA CTO, said fully virtualised networks using SA 5G cores, which enable edge computing and network slicing, will allow enterprises and governments to reap the benefits from high throughput, ultra-low latency and IoT to improve productivity and enhance services.

He added these deployments can unlock $700 billion in enterprise opportunities and help governments to fully realise societal benefits delivered by mobile communications

Matthew Iji, GSMA Intelligence senior manager for Mobile Operators and Networks, noted there are now 79 commercial 5G networks running in 38 markets, with 20 services launched in recent months.

While Covid-19 (coronavirus) resulted in delays in some markets, other countries are freeing up spectrum to ensure sufficient bandwidth is available to keep people connected.

In terms of SA deployments, about a quarter of operators in APAC and Europe are looking to make a move within two years.

During the event, the GSMA released the 5G Implementation Guidelines: SA Option 2 document, which it developed together with key operators to provide technological, spectrum and regulatory support covering SA 5G deployments.