PARTNER FEATURE: A Huawei executive highlighted China’s rapid progress on 5G rollouts but insisted the network construction is far from slowing down, with full national coverage the next target, and operators beefing up services beyond the consumer market to target the enterprise and industrial sectors.

Daisy Zhu, VP of Huawei’s Wireless Network Marketing Department (pictured), observed that the 5G ecosystem has matured rapidly as network deployments have spread to 62 countries, 5G handset prices have come down sharply over the past year and innovative apps have flourished in major markets.

Speaking on the topic of 5G Innovates for Good at Huawei’s annual Global Analyst Summit in Shenzhen, Zhu noted that the consumer segment is fundamental to commercial success of 5G and leading operators have already benefitted from the rollouts.

No slowdown
On the network side, China has lit up more than 1 million 5G base stations, with 90 per cent supporting MIMO technology. She emphasised China’s 5G construction is far from slowing down, as there is still a long way to reach the 4 million level of 4G site deployments in the country.

After focusing on the major 300 cities, “the next step is to move into counties, townships and rural areas. This is a long process. I think it will take at least three years to build a nationwide network with 5G coverage for every village.”

Consumers have a choice of more than 620 5G devices and prices have slid to as low as $150 or about CNY1,000. 5G models now account for 70 per cent of smartphones shipments.

The three major operators signed up more than 300 million 5G subscribers in less than 18 months. She cited data show the average monthly 5G usage reached 20GB, which is about twice the data consumption of LTE users. Operators have seen a 17 per cent increase in ARPU.

Content innovation
One of the key reasons for the rapid adoption, Zhu pointed out is 5G networks can deliver a much-improved user experience compared with LTE, supporting high-definition video and rich media live broadcasts.

In South Korea, for example, 5G has stimulated the emergence of innovative services such as extended reality (XR) content.

She cited data from the Korean government which found users spend an average of 1 hour a day on new XR services, with 20 per cent of users consuming more than 2 hours a day. In addition, 19 per cent of 5G users consume 46 per cent of the total network traffic, boosting wireless revenue by 5.4 per cent.

“This shows 5G users will consume more network traffic, with new AR and VR applications driving ARPU growth,” she said.

Innovative applications are a core element to driving uptake as is the design of tariff packages. “Operators need to be clever to motivate users to use new services and enjoy certain benefits without decreasing ARPU.”

But the key to success, she insisted, it to start with a strong 5G network, because it attracts new users quickly.

She gave the example of LG Uplus which has less spectrum and fewer sites than its larger rivals, but the performance of its 5G network is actually better. It also has invested heavily in AR and VR content, expanding its portfolio rapidly to nearly 5,000 assets, allowing it to narrow the subscriber gap and increase ARPU.

In addition to the consumer market, the technology is deployed for fixed wireless access (FWA) services as well as a growing number of business use cases.

Use of 5G by industry is rapidly gaining momentum across a range of sectors, including healthcare, ports, coal mining and steel production. The number of 5G B2B contracts signed in China topped 1,000 and were valued at about $1.2 billion, she said.

The key business applications 5G can delivery can be broadly classified into four types of services: remote control, machine vision, real-time location services and video backhaul. An essential requirement for such services is large-scale uplink, where the demand for uplink exceeds the demand for downlink speed in many markets.

Global standards bodies are also talking about increasing the availability of spectrum to support industrial applications, such as the 1.5GHz band in Europe to be dedicated to uplink scenarios, she said.

Looking specifically at telemedicine, more than 600 hospitals in China deployed 5G networks by end-2020, with a focus on remote monitoring using new digital technologies.

For example, medical staff can monitor the lungs of Covid-19 patients, while AI-driven analysis can identify pulmonary edema, shortening the diagnosis time from three days to 30 minutes.

Ongoing upgrades
In terms of the company’s work on 5.5G, she explained that it is simply a move to enhance 5G.

“Each new mobile generation has key technologies that reduce the cost per bit by 10-times and will be replaced in ten years. Halfway through the cycle – in 2024 and 2025 for 5G – the technology needs to be refreshed.”

The 5.5G standard is defined in 3GPP Release 18, which will be initiated next year. Top of its agenda is solving the uplink bottleneck to better cater for industry user requirements.

Zhu explained Huawei’s ‘1+N’ concept is to apply multiple antennas to each frequency band and scenario, while continuously optimising the network deployment and performance.

She noted that to enable partners to deploy ‘1+N’ 5G target networks, it will continue to improve the coverage and experience of 5G services by innovating multi-antenna technologies and enhancing enterprise and industrial capabilities, covering planning, construction, maintenance and optimisation.