PARTNER INTERVIEW: ZTE president Xu Ziyang explains how operators can tap 5G capabilities to reduce network complexity, which will not only lower costs but give them increased flexibility in catering to the demands of vertical industries.

MWL: At MWC19 Shanghai, you outlined a simple equation for figuring out how best to deploy a 5G network. Can you share that with us?
The equation details what an ideal 5G network will look like. It needs to be very simple, so capex can be reduced, and needs to be smart to reduce opex. The network also should be very flexible, to adapt to uncertain requirements and challenges, as well as efficient in order to reuse resources.

This is an ideal network. Unfortunately, a traditional hardware-defined network cannot offer all of these capabilities.

However, with new technologies, 5G can achieve these because it’s virtualised and software-defined.

I think the ideal 5G network can be achieved in four ways. First, simplify the network by subtracting unnecessary elements in the network to make it more competitive.

Second, improve network intelligence by adding critical features, such as AI, mobile edge computing (MEC) and big data analysis.

Third, by slicing a physical network and dividing it into several virtual parts, it is enabled to serve multiple vertical customers simultaneously. This reduces the cost of building, operating and maintaining a network. The logic is very simple: a one-dollar budget can meet ten-dollar requirements.

Finally, based on the above steps, we can combine the three major 5G use case scenarios (eMBB, uRLLC and mMTC) to do multiplication, or apply 5G to vertical industries. With hundreds of vertical markets, a 5G network can create thousands of opportunities.

With operators dealing with multiple spectrum bands and standards, how is ZTE enabling them to reduce complexity in their network configurations?
From an equipment perspective, we recommend using converged equipment. For example, in the RAN, the 2G, 3G and 4G modules can be converged into a unified RAN. In the core network, try to use a common core to provide service across all mobile generations at the same time. 5G transport can be adopted as well.

From the management perspective, they need to automate the network. I suggest using AI and other technologies to achieve ‘zero touch’ operation and maintenance to minimise risks.

In addition, use a centralised system for the architecture. For example, reduce network layers and nodes, involve software define network (SDN) technology and a regional data centre in the network, which may reduce costs.

Last but not least, select open technologies. For example, IT, open source and white-box technology; with that we can easily access expertise from the market.

How important are end-to-end capabilities when considering investing in 5G?
They are very important. Everyone knows end-to-end solutions can be deployed quickly and provide more resources and capabilities for customers. It is important for us to make additional contributions to our customers’ networks.

End-to-end solutions, however, brings some challenges, for example the possibility of vendor lock-in. Fortunately, we can minimise the risk by adopting virtualisation, decoupling hardware and software, and using IT technologies.

So end-to-end solutions give our customers a comprehensive view to analyse and balance the end-to-end benefits. Customers are then free to select the most valuable solutions in the value chain.

I believe operators and partners can work more closely to embrace the uncertain future for mobile operators.

What about MEC, what route are you advising your customers to take?
The essence of MEC is to bring the network close to the customer. It is totally different from a distant cloud solution.

An ideal MEC network should be easy to maintain, provide dedicated services, guarantee 100 per cent security and have very low latency.

The simple logic is that if an operator can provide a similar service like a private IT network, why would an enterprise CIO spend a lot of budget in building a private IT network?