China’s ZTE claims to be playing a much larger role in the development of 5G specifications than any previous mobile technology, as it attempts to take on larger rivals Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia and become a tier one player in the 5G network vendor space.

Speaking on the sidelines of the recent Tokyo Bay 5G Summit, Wang Xinhui, director of wireless standardisation at ZTE, told Mobile World Live: “In the past we were simply less mature. With 2G and 3G, and even with 4G, we weren’t that big. But in the era of 5G, we were well prepared. We’ve spent a huge amount of money and devoted so much human resources, particularly towards the New Radio specifications.”

ZTE led the non-orthogonal multiple access (NOMA) study item, which Wang said is a promising technology with the potential to improve throughput for enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), and significantly reduce overhead and latency. It applies to sub-6GHz bands and higher frequencies.

The company doubled its R&D spending on 5G in 2016 to $400 million and assigned 1,600 people to work on the technology at four dedicated research facilities in China, Europe and the US.

Alex Wang, MD of 5G solutions at ZTE, added the company expects revenue from sales of standardised 5G equipment to kick in from 2019, and pick up swiftly after 2020.

“Of course it depends on operators’ roadmap for the commerical launch of 5G as it’s contingent on their plans,” he said.

He explained ZTE is working aggressively with Qualcomm and China Mobile to push for end-to-end tests, including on mobile devices: “It’s important the whole ecosystem works together, including handsets and chipsets. By 2019 and 2020, we believe we’ll have some commercial offering of handsets for 5G.”

5G definition
Asked about plans in South Korea to launch some form of 5G in 2018, Alex Wang said 5G can be a marketing name, with different operators defining 5G in different ways: “We follow closely the 3GPP standard and believe it’s a more neutral and technically sound definition.”

“We consider Chinese and Japanese operators as following the more strict 3GPP-based definition, with 5G launches around 2020. Any launch earlier than that is up to the indivdual operator to define, but we don’t think that’s standard compliant 5G.”

With phase two of China’s national 5G implementation already underway, ZTE is working closely with China Mobile on different aspects of the operator’s 5G trials, including radio and core networks, and the interworking of network features.

“China Mobile has committed to launching 5G by 2020, so we are making sure our products are commercially ready for its launch,” he said.