An interview with Li Jian, general manager of ZTE's CDMA and LTE products, by Sina Science and Technology
LTE is the technology of choice for next-generation wireless networks and has drawn great attention from telecom vendors and operators worldwide. As of July 2010, ZTE had deployed seven commercial LTE networks and approximately 50 trial networks in conjunction with its partners. These networks span Europe, America, Asia-Pacific, and the Middle East. Li Jian, general manager of ZTE’s CDMA and LTE products, was interviewed by Sina Science and Technology during P&T/EXPO COMM CHINA 2010. She talked about the development of LTE and ZTE’s investment in LTE technology.
Reporter: Operators are now paying great attention to LTE. Could you tell us about ZTE’s present investment in FDD-LTE?
Li Jian: FDD-LTE is considered an evolutionary path for most wireless technologies. ZTE has never hesitated to invest in FDD-LTE R&D. We started research into FDD-LTE in 2005 and have almost 4000 engineers dedicated to this work. Our R&D team comprises ZTE’s best wireless technology experts from Xi’an, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Europe, and the U.S.
R: To date, what progress has ZTE made on the R&D of FDD-LTE?
Li: ZTE is now in the top tier of companies researching and developing FDD-LTE. This is reflected in two ways. First, from an operator’s perspective, we have deployed nearly 50 LTE commercial trial networks for high-end operators, including those based in Europe and America. Seven commercial LTE contracts have been signed. The LTE network built for Hong Kong’s CSL will be put into commercial operation soon.
Second, ZTE was named in the Top 3 of LTE infrastructure vendors by Gartner in 2009. In Gartner’s industry report Dataquest Insight: Scorecard for Vendors of LTE Network Infrastructure, an item-by-item rating method was used to comprehensively evaluate the performance of LTE vendors. In 2010, research firm Current Analysis released a series of reports on commercial LTE products of global mainstream vendors. ZTE was ranked among the top vendors in terms of SDR LTE eNodeB series. This was due to its powerful performance, good scalability, and multimode support.
In terms of the quantity and quality of operators deploying our products and in terms of assessments by third parties, ZTE’s FDD-LTE is among the top three LTE products in the industry.
R: What data rate has ZTE achieved when building and testing LTE networks?
Li: In CSL’s LTE commercial network, the theoretical data rate is 150Mbps using an emulator terminal. In actual practice, this rate is around 100Mbps due to restrictions in terminal commercialization.
R: ZTE has the biggest market share of installed CDMA equipment. How can ZTE help CDMA operators transition to LTE? At present there is no consensus about the transition mode for CDMA to LTE. How does ZTE address this problem?
Li: In fact, the evolutionary route for CDMA to LTE is the same as that from GSM and UMTS to LTE. There is no difference between them in terms of technical evolution. CDMA is a patented technology exclusively owned by Qualcomm. Last year, Qualcomm definitively supported evolution from CDMA to LTE. There is no doubt that CDMA will evolve to LTE owing to the uniformity of technical standards and technical platform support. But CDMA operators will decide when and how to step into LTE depending on their own competition strategies.
ZTE has maintained a leading position in CDMA. Helping CDMA operators evolve smoothly into LTE is one of our biggest responsibilities. We have developed a CDMA/LTE dual-mode system on the Uni-RAN platform, and have made the world’s first call on the dual-mode system. We have built an open CDMA/LTE dual-mode laboratory in Dallas, and deployed CDMA/LTE dual-mode trial networks in many markets—including some in the U.S. ZTE is helping CDMA operators evolve to LTE by utilizing the most advanced Uni-RAN platform.
R: Are there any operators in the world that have started building trial networks for the transition from CDMA to LTE?
Li: Sure. We have contacted all CDMA operators in the industry, and many have started preparing. Some CDMA operators in the U.S. and Asia have already begun LTE testing. Together with China Telecom, we have completed the first phase of LTE laboratory testing, and the test results were excellent.
R: There are many LTE trial networks evolved from UMTS. When do you think CDMA operators are expected to commercialize their LTE networks?
Li: Commercialization of LTE networks evolving from CDMA depends on product maturity. Our Uni-RAN is a GSM/CDMA/UMTS/LTE multimode platform, which also supports TD-SCDMA and WiMAX. Therefore, in ZTE’s view, the maturity of GSM/UMTS/LTE is the same as that of CDMA/LTE. ZTE’s Uni-RAN provides a very flexible, consistent, multimode evolution.
Samsung and Qualcomm are major suppliers of LTE chips. Qualcomm’s strength in CDMA and GSM/UMTS/LTE is relatively balanced. The same can be said for Samsung, who has a huge share in the CDMA cell phone market. I think that CDMA/LTE terminals have matured to the same level as infrastructure equipment, and there is little difference compared with GSM/UMTS/LTE terminals.
Moreover, commercialization of LTE networks that are evolved from CDMA also depends on efforts of operators and their competitive strategies.
R: ZTE has cooperated with China Telecom in building an EV-DO Rev.B trial network in Sichuan. How is that progressing?
Li: Testing has concluded. ZTE has consistently led in CDMA and was the first in the industry to make an EV-DO Rev.B VoIP call. We have built our unique competitive advantage on multi-carrier Rev.B performance optimization. Our field performance is also excellent.
R: What is the next step after testing is finished?
Li: This largely depends on a return on investment (ROI) assessment by China Telecom. EV-DO Rev.B is a very important step for CDMA operators before commercial deployment of LTE. This is because the advantage of CDMA lies in data services, which is also the future of LTE, and also CDMA data services are competitively outstanding. Deploying data services on existing CDMA networks is easy and generates high ROI. 3G services are delivered simply by adding a functional board, while a 3G network needs to be built for other wireless modes. This is an incomparable cost advantage. Therefore, CDMA operators should accelerate and increase their Rev.B deployments to attract data users more quickly and at lower cost. They should also cultivate high-end client groups for future LTE.
R: Please talk about ZTE’s LTE testing and trial networks around the world.
Li: We’ve been actively involved in LTE deployments for years. Currently, there are seven commercial networks and approximately 50 trial networks in operation. Nearly all high-end multinational operators, including those in Europe and America, own an LTE network of some description. Our equipment performs excellently in these networks. We ranked first in an LTE technical evaluation organized by a high-end operator; and in testing conducted by several other major operators, our LTE equipment ranks in the top two in terms of performance.
R: How is ZTE doing in CDMA patent submission? Will there be any problems with patent fees as there were with CDMA in the 2G era? There are more manufacturers involved in standard development in the LTE era.
Li: ZTE is devoted to standards and patent work, and we spare no effort on LTE. ZTE is a member of more than 70 international standards organizations. We hold leadership positions in more than 30 of those organizations; we hold more than 80 editor positions; and have submitted more than 12,000 standards proposals out of a total 30,000 (including proposals from the U.S. and Europe). ZTE has also submitted more than 5,400 proposals to 3GPP and holds editor positions in 16 3GPP standard and protocol projects. In SAE/LTE, ZTE has submitted more than 3,300 proposals to 3GPP and applied for more than 2,600 patents.
Each year ZTE invests 10% of its income in R&D. We own a large number of core technologies and associated intellectual property rights, and we are determined that our LTE products will lead the industry worldwide.
As to patent fees, solving the problem through cross-licensing would benefit the development of the industry as a whole. Each company would have its own patents.
R: Please describe some of the advantages of ZTE’s LTE products.
Li: One advantage of ZTE’s LTE products is the excellent Uni-RAN platform. LTE networks have distinct characteristics of multiple modules, multiple frequency bands, multiple bandwidths, and multiple applications. Despite having numerous and complicated technology combinations, operators want to reduce CAPEX as much as possible, secure investments, maintain development, and smoothly evolve their technologies. So equipment manufacturers must provide products that are technologically advanced, flexible in their application, and can be smoothly upgraded. LTE products based on Uni-RAN are the best solution in the industry.
A second advantage lies in highly intelligent network planning and optimization. Multiple modules, multiple frequency bands, multiple bandwidths, and multiple applications in LTE networks result in complex networking and difficult optimization. Furthermore, LTE is a kind of non-standard protocol, which gives manufacturers a lot of space for planning and optimization. With more than 20 years experience in the wireless field, and as an industry leader in the research of LTE commercial networks, ZTE provides not only the best equipment but also the best networks. Our self-developed network optimization and analysis software, such as CDT, automatically and intelligently analyzes the network. This helps operators greatly reduce OPEX and build a top quality network at minimal cost.
A third advantage lies in end-to-end solution. With large-scale investment in terminals and service application platforms, ZTE leads the industry in LTE development. Our end-to-end LTE solution helps operators deploy cutting-edge networks, launch terminals and applications that better fit user demands, and achieve operational success.
These advantages are the reason ZTE is rated in the Top 3 of LTE infrastructure vendors. And we will be even stronger in future.
R: What do you think of the proliferation of 3G users in China?
Li: In China, proliferation of 3G users is among the fastest in the world. Operator networks are also at the forefront of technical development. We believe LTE will be widely commercialized in China between 2010 and 2013. During this time, ZTE will build LTE products on the most advanced Uni-RAN platform, offering intelligent network planning and optimal end-to-end solutions.