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At ZTE 5G Is Now―Ubiquitous Connectivity and the Internet of Things

Release Date:2016-05-18  Author:By Silvio H. Fernandez  Click:

The future not only never waits, but arrives a lot sooner than we expect. Not too long ago, telecom operators started making significant investments in fourth and even third generation mobile technologies (4G and 3G). In many cases, their deployments were technologies in search of a business case and, naturally, many are now wondering why they should invest in a yet-underspecified technology like 5G. ZTE sees that, unlike the cases of 3G and 4G, there is now a business demand driven by end-users for the deployment of 5G. A multitude of new connections, fast and slow, are being created. A new digital, socially-connected economy is developing. Consumers worldwide are moving at an accelerated pace; their services created and discarded with unprecedented speed. Users are increasingly mobile and demand new services and applications that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, in a transparent or “natural” way. We are immersed in a new information revolution. ZTE believes that this demand presents an unprecedented business opportunity. Therefore, ZTE has embraced and committed to the M-ICT strategy, taking the leadership in responding to this massive demand for always-available, relevant information and services.


At ZTE 5G is now. ZTE has successfully demonstrated Pre5G technologies, like Massive MIMO, in a commercial environment. ZTE is actively driving standards and developing novel technologies like ultra dense networks (UDN), multiple user shared access (MUSA), and narrowband internet of things (NB-IoT) that allow operators to more efficiently utilize scarce and expensive resources like spectrum and mobile site real estate. ZTE sees 5G as an enabler for new services in multiple industries, and hence also an enabler for new businesses.


Ubiquitous connectivity affords new cloud-based intelligence from which we all benefit, allowing us to be more productive, cost effective, resource and environmentally aware. While wireless connectivity was initially used mainly to connect individuals on the move to the internet and to one another, many industries have recently started to understand the benefits of also interconnecting devices or “things” to make them smarter by working in concert. This expanded connectivity was eventually termed the internet of things (IoT).


Today, two demand scenarios are emerging for IoT—a high data rate, ultra-low latency scenario, loosely called broadband IoT, and a low data rate, relaxed latency scenario, or narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). Standards are under development for both scenarios, with technologies such as LTE for machine-type communications (LTE-M) and narrowband LTE (NB-LTE) to meet the requirements of each. While, on one side, we tighten the existing 4G requirements, on the other side, we relax them. 5G promises to serve both scenarios, by leveraging innovations like moving cells and smooth virtual cells, on-demand high data rates, device to device communications, elastic and ultra-dense networks, evolved big data analytics, low cost/low power devices, and high-security cloud services.


On the broadband IoT side, end-user applications are being served today mainly by 3G and 4G networks. Several of them will undoubtedly benefit from 5G advances, and more will be created, such as mission-critical applications that leverage the ultra-reliable communications promised by 5G. On the narrowband side, there are a number of technologies vying for the top spot in the race for a standard, with several grouped under the term low power wide area (LPWA). These technologies are characterized by (extremely) narrow spectrum bandwidth and its resulting (very) low data rates. They provide extensive coverage (about a dozen kilometers outdoors) and allow the design of low power (10 or more years of battery life), low cost (less than US$ 5) devices, all requirements for narrowband IoT. LPWA technologies can be broadly classified into two categories: the ones that use licensed spectrum and the ones that do not. Unlicensed spectrum technologies, like the one specified by the LoRa Alliance®, Sigfox™, or Weightless, are a mix of open and proprietary standards supported by different companies, and are available today in different capacities. Licensed spectrum technologies adhering to these requirements are being finalized by 3GPP and closure is expected around mid 2016. ZTE is an active participant in the 3GPP forum by leading two working groups and having contributed more than 30 papers over the past several months. ZTE is also the leader in patent portfolios, with nearly 300 patents in the IoT space. The technologies being standardized at 3GPP are extended coverage GSM (EC-GSM), LTE-M, and its subset for narrowband communications NB-LTE, which was adopted by 3GPP last September 2015 as the IoT cellular technology of choice, and renamed NB-IoT.


When it comes to deployment strategies, global telecom operators are divided into two camps—those envisioning NB-IoT as their unique technology and those contemplating  a set of complementary technologies, mostly due to legacy or financial constraints. While ZTE is today a driver of NB-IoT, a 3GPP choice, the company foresees that several technologies will coexist and complement one another for a number of years. ZTE understands that there isn’t a one-size fits all and strives to support operators in both camps.


At the implementation level, IoT can be broken into three fundamental “CCC layers”—connect, collect, and consume. The connect layer allows IoT devices in the field to talk to an intelligent manager and orchestrator; the collect layer carries out intelligent processing of large amounts of field device data, interpreting every information bit; and the consume layer realizes a variety of applications depending on the requirements of the industries served.


ZTE has a complete solution to implement the CCC layers. At the lowest level, ZTE’s IoT devices and custom ASICs support different standards and scenarios ranging from mission critical to low demand. ZTE’s devices are available for commercial or personal vehicles, farm equipment, city infrastructure, and smart buildings. At this layer, ZTE’s smart IoT operating system enables secure device management with remote testing capabilities in a very small-footprint package. These field devices talk to the network in one of two ways—directly, using technologies like NB-IoT or traditional cellular; or indirectly, via ZTE’s smart IoT gateway, using short-range wireless technologies such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, WiFi, Bluetooth, and RF, or wired connectivity for certain industrial applications. The gateway implements routing, communication, and security protocols to collect sensor information or perform field actions, and connects via standard cellular technologies to the network. At the network level, the information is processed by ZTE’s smart IoT platform, an elastic, software-defined platform as a service (PaaS) solution with connectivity and application enablement layers. The platform implements device and network management functions, security, big data analytics, and API/SDK management. A highlight of ZTE’s IoT platform is its openness, a feature most requested by operators. The platform offers APIs and an SDK to enable operators or third parties to implement any end-user application desired. By leveraging these platform services, many industry applications can be implemented, such as asset tracking, remote safety and security, connected vehicles (vehicle to cloud, vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to vehicle), telehealth and wellness monitoring, fleet management, agritech and factory automation, smart resource management (water, waste, energy), smart homes and buildings, and others. ZTE also provides an IoT monetization platform, to allow operators to implement novel business models and capitalize on the growth of these services in a variety of vertical industries. Certainly, these services possible today, plus the ones enabled by a 5G world, are certainly the subject of many more articles like this one.


While IoT is not new, it acquires more relevance now when viewed in the context of smart cities, a topic where ZTE has also demonstrated leadership. In fact, ZTE has IoT deployments in areas like telematics, fleet, water and energy management, smart buildings, and street lighting in 40 countries and 140 cities worldwide, and there are many more to come.


In addition, ZTE believes that multi-industry collaboration in a healthy ecosystem that transcends the boundaries of telecom is essential to advance the development of connected devices in a 5G world. The new  information revolution impacts industries and academia alike, and will drive growth in public and private areas like transportation, utilities, healthcare, wellness, retail, financial, security, and learning.


We encourage all ecosystem players to work along with ZTE, each bringing their best, to improve the lifestyles of connected individuals around the world.