The global race to 5G is now speeding up. However, the development of 5G cannot be achieved overnight. In order to achieve its full potential quickly, 5G needs strong support and coordination of 4G, as it is widely recognized in the industry that 4G and 5G will coexist and co-develop in the next 10 years. Therefore, it is necessary for operators to consider how to modernize their existing 4G network, build a high-quality co-evolvable 4G/5G network and reduce the overall O&M costs.
ZTE STARS solution addresses the five aspects that operators are most concerned about: Spectrum sharing, TCO optimization, Ace experience, RAN simplification, and Smart O&M, to achieve flexible and efficient network deployment and build an efficient 4G/5G collaborative network.
To start with the most basic yet fundamental aspect of building a network, RAN simplification is among the biggest challenges the operators are facing. First, site deployment is becoming increasingly complex. Second, insufficient site space makes it difficult to add equipment on site. Third, as the prime source of cash flow, 4G high-load sites need to be expanded to meet the increasing traffic requirements. Fourth, more users can benefit from 5G if its deployment can be done faster, more efficiently and with lower cost.
To address all these challenges, ZTE has launched the UniSite solution to help operators build a more powerful and efficient 4G network and enable faster 5G deployment. It offers a variety of high-performance, highly integrated innovative products, including ultra-broadband radio (UBR) and combiner-embedded RRUs that save antenna ports, thus achieving efficient site deployment and realizing "one antenna for 2G/3G/4G/5G". While network capacity can be greatly enhanced, the number of equipment required for a radio site can be dramatically reduced. For example, ZTE's tri-band UBR that integrates 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz can reduce the number of site equipment by more than 60%.
Dynamic Spectrum Sharing
With the rapid development of mobile broadband services, the existing 2G/3G/4G spectrum will have to be refarmed for 5G. It is however a tricky and often painful thing to manage for many of the operators. The challenge here is to implement smooth evolution of services between multiple systems, and adapt to unpredictable penetration rates of 5G terminals and regional differences, and reduce the negative impact of spectrum refarming on existing users. ZTE offers a two-fold complete solution, including both hardware and software, to make it easy for the operators. First, ZTE's existing sub-3GHz 2G/3G/4G equipment all supports smooth evolution to 5G NR by software upgrade. Second, with its rich experiences in deploying, analyzing and optimizing spectrum sharing solution for a huge set of different 2G/3G/4G network scenarios around the world for many years, ZTE has taken the lead in launching its Magic Radio Pro solution that allows dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) between LTE and 5G NR. It supports TTI-level spectrum sharing, maximizes the spectrum efficiency, and facilitates smooth evolution from 4G to 5G.
5G in its initial stage will focus on eMBB services, and due to limited 5G coverage, the early 5G services and user experience will rely on the 4G network. Therefore, 4G MBB as an underlay network is expected to evolve and develop over a long period of time with 5G for better user experience and service continuation.
The STARS solution ensures the service experience through the all-round LTE MBB capacity enhancement solutions. In the "hotspot area", a full range of small cells are available for solving specific capacity requirements. In the "high traffic" area, the flexible X-Site sector-splitting solution can improve site capacity by as much as 40%–70%. In the "extreme traffic" area, Massive MIMO is used to greatly enhance cell throughput and further tap the network's potential.
IoT is recognized as the next trillion-dollar sector. The IoT, especially the mobile IoT, will have tremendous development in the next decade. According to GSMA, there will be 25 billion IoT connections worldwide by 2025, but 5G mMTC will not be standardized by 3GPP until Release 17, which is why 4G NB-IoT/eMTC is currently the best way for the operators to engage with IoT. ZTE provides end-to-end cellular IoT solutions with deployment of over 20 NB-IoT networks worldwide. ZTE also leads in IoT network performances with features like NB-IoT R14 data rate enhancement, multi-carrier enhancement and positioning, and has extensive collaboration with various vertical industries for materializing new services, including smart metering, home appliance sharing and intelligent bicycle management.
MEC is believed to be an "ideal partner" of 5G as the application of it in the vertical industries would often require support of MEC. But while it takes time to get 5G ready on a large scale with all the involved industries, it can be convenient and beneficial for some of the industries with urgent demands to leverage 4G MEC, which can also support both 4G and 5G later via software upgrade. Therefore 4G+MEC can integrate, at any time, with 5G base stations to achieve seamless evolution and flexible expansion of services. ZTE has been working very actively on MEC deployment, moving cloud computing to the edge and realizing low-latency services. For example, ZTE deployed MEC servers in the smart Tianjin port project, providing video streaming and virtual private networks based on 4G network, and enabling remote operations of unloading, shipping and stacking goods, the three key operations of the port, and also autonomous driving using 5G technology. The applications of MEC in 4G can open up brand new business models, even when 5G has just started, so that more and more differentiated new use cases can contribute to the financial statements of the operators.
Following the pace of 5G network deployment, ZTE has launched UME network management system with support for unified management of 2G/3G/4G/5G and NB-IoT networks. Powered by the latest big data and artificial intelligent technologies, our full range of O&M tools further improve O&M efficiency by 25% and help operators improve network quality from coverage, capacity to user experience with lower cost. For instance, the tools can help monetize network infrastructure resources, based on deep analysis of massive data from network operation, with great features like intelligent forecasts for changes in user perception and forewarnings of any adverse impact on the payload of base stations. Furthermore, the insights into network value based on 4G big data can be crucially useful for 5G network planning, which can make 5G deployment well prioritized for precisely targeted areas with optimal return on the investment.
5G would require huge investments, which makes it a big challenge for the operators to deploy 5G and to further modernize 4G with cost efficiency. TCO optimization is one of the core elements of STARS solutions. All the aforementioned aspects, including RAN simplification, full dynamic spectrum sharing, ace experience, and smart O&M, help reduce TCO in various ways.
In particular, ZTE provides comprehensive energy-saving solutions, including a next-generation hardware platform, software features, and AI-based energy management, to help operators build greener networks. The hardware design aims at low power consumption. The software features support for energy saving coordination among GSM/UMTS/LTE/NB-IoT, implementing savings flexibly on different levels (from carrier to channel and even to symbol levels) to accommodate different network traffic and energy saving contexts, and generally 5%–30% energy would be saved in different cases. In addition, based on our experience in helping many operators around the world in saving energy under diverse and often complex network conditions, ZTE has now brought it to the next level with big data and AI to find the optimal combinations of policies, time, and other settings of energy saving through analysis, prediction and closed-loop optimization, which improves energy saving activation probability and accuracy.
5G will undoubtedly change our life, business and the world for the better. ZTE STARS solution helps operators in a wide range of different ways enjoy the ride by allowing them to deploy 5G faster and at the same time modernize 4G better, and all with improved cost efficiency.