PARTNER INTERVIEW: As operators start 5G rollouts and manufacturers plan device announcements at MWC19 Barcelona, ZTE CEO Ziyang Xu (pictured) updated Mobile World Live (MWL) on the company’s progress on 5G and outlined what he sees as the biggest challenges for mobile operators.

MWL: For the upcoming 5G era, what is ZTE’s strategy? What are your main focus areas going forward?
We believe ZTE is a 5G pioneer and one of the leading tech companies in the 5G segment. We provide end-to-end 5G solutions. These solutions can help operators build simplified networks. We will continue to focus on operators and be more open to ecosystems, because 5G needs more partners to be involved.

At the same time, we are committed to building network security and compliance systems, and being a world-class enterprise in this regard, with the joint efforts of global partners.

What are the key challenges operators face building a 5G network?
The first challenge is finding a business model. Though we are actively testing 5G in different scenarios, 5G business models are still not clear. This brings great challenges to investors. We are working closely with operators and partners to explore options in this area.

The second challenge is opex, including things like human resource and power consumption. We can’t use the traditional way like with 4G and rely on many engineers for maintenance. We should develop a smart way, using artificial intelligence (AI) and automation solutions.

Last, but not least, we think operators’ traditional organisation needs to be transformed. Some of their departments are siloed. It is not easy or efficient for them to cooperate. Operators need a more flexible and flat structure in the 5G era. I suggest we can learn the DevOps model from the IT industry, which will make them flexible in some scenarios.

We believe vendors and operators should work closer than before to find a way to meet the above challenges. We believe 5G is driving the industry, but there are still a lot of challenges. We welcome open discussions on all these topics at MWC19 Barcelona so we can address them head-on.

What progress has ZTE made recently in terms of technological innovations?
We are leading the world in 5G standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) tests. We have completed the world’s first field verification of end-to-end 5G services based on 5G mobile devices.

In the past two years, we have accumulated much experience and developed algorithms for adopting Massive MIMO and Pre5G equipment in complex commercial scenarios. The test results are directly applied to our 5G solutions. Our in-house 5G chips for infrastructure guarantee our competitiveness.

ZTE has been involved in some trials with global operators, what have you learned from those?
First of all, field tests in complex scenarios are the focus. And the whole process needs to be accelerated.

Secondly, the current network and equipment components should be fully understood to figure out the most appropriate 5G solutions. There is no best solution, only the most appropriate solution.

Thirdly, we need to keep an open mind and work for win-win cooperation with operators and partners.

Could you share your views on 5G vertical applications?
We are optimistic about the development of 5G in vertical applications. However, it is worth noting previous experience is mostly in the consumer area. More trials and experience in vertical industries are needed. We are still looking for effective business models of 5G vertical applications.

Meanwhile, it is important to strengthen cooperation in industries and join different kinds of ecosystems. We will continue to offer advanced products and technologies that can be integrated in solutions suited for different industries.

Furthermore, network slicing seems to be the key technology that brings high flexibility and low-cost trials. It has to be both simplified and AI-based. In addition, operators can also choose to hand over network control to industries.