June 6th 2022 marked the third anniversary of the issue of commercial 5G licences in China.
To mark this milestone, ICT news site C114 held a series of events entitled ‘Thrive with 5G’, which aimed to explore the technology’s success and look towards its future.
Ma Hongbing, General Manager, Technology Innovation Division, China Unicom, said that following three years of activity, China’s 5G networks have lived up to the world’s expectations. In terms of scale, number of users, range of services, deployment of SA architecture, 5G patents and industrial applications, China has been in a leading position. The MIIT 5G Action Plan has identified 15 key industries for 5G deployment, providing direction for 5G development. This top-level design is strong but also allows local government to take account of factors that are specific to their areas, with a lot of provinces and cities developing their own plans.
There have been many achievements across the past three years in wide-scale 5G applications, with 5G’s contribution to China’s GDP up 30% between 2020 and 2021. 5G is driving growth in the ICT industry, including component manufacturing, and is creating new value through deep integration into other industry verticals. However, Wang Zhiqin, Vice President of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), noted that there are still challenges, including the high cost of industrial application innovation and promotion. She added that the support system is still relatively fragmented, with better cross-industry business models, as well as operation models, still required.
Wang noted that scaling 5G industrial applications is a complex process that requires a more holistic solution for digital transformation to provide a foundation for further innovation across a wider range of vertical industries. 5G will be integrated with other next-gen digital technologies, including big data, cloud computing and AI, across various industry verticals. Adoption of industrial 5G applications has accelerated, driven by demand and the degree of digitalisation specific to each industry. In the initial phase, the solution is adapted to the scenario, and then in the growth phase the final adaptation can be delivered directly to the industry. Currently, the leading industries for 5G adoption include industrial internet, power, ports, mining, healthcare, and media.
Ma added that while China’s success with 5G had lived up to expectations, it is still important for operators to consider how 5G will be developed in the future. He noted that China Unicom has been communicating with industries, establishing benchmarks around the world, and had found that in vertical industries – including consumer business – there are still many challenges.
“Different industry applications have different needs in terms of uplink or downlink speed, bandwidth, latency and reliability, with big data and AI increasingly essential – and we must address how these challenges are to be met,” said Ma.
Ma explained that with the progression from 3G to 4G to 5G, traffic tends towards downlink transmission – it accounts for around 20 times that of uplink transmission. The advent of the intelligent connectivity era will create a new industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, but this will require the uplink capacity to be significantly enhanced, which requires the uplink and downlink traffic setup to be reversed, in that the uplink speed may reach 20 times the downlink speed. Providing enough bandwidth and speed to achieve this requires several elements; multiplication in the time domain, optimisation in the frequency domain, and consolidation in the space domain. Through the combination of these techniques, spectral resources of different bands are optimised and adjusted between uplink and downlink time slots, optimising and consolidating limited resources.
Chen Yunqing, Vice President of China Telecom Research Institute, also talked up the impact of 5G on industries, and noted that the foundation of the digital economy is evolving from connected network infrastructure to digital information infrastructure with cloud network synergy. Chen argued that this was an industry trend for which the main driving force is the comprehensive evolution of business digitalisation technology convergence and data value.
“To capitalise on this trend, we believe that cloud network synergy should be used to fully integrate IT and CT connections and computing capabilities. On top of this, we can develop intelligent and comprehensive digital information infrastructure capabilities to achieve the goals of ubiquitous high speed internet, cloud network synergy, security and controllability, intelligent agility, and green/low-carbon development”, said Chen.
The operator believes that building a customised 5G network is the best practice for achieving cloud network synergy. Achieving this involves strengthening the foundation of the entire 5G and transport network, and to this end, Chen explained that China Telecom has developed a small cell that supports high reliability, low latency and higher uplink bandwidth. With this, the operator has achieved BBU cloudification and opened the fronthaul interface between RRU and BBU. In this way, the small cells support the downward extension of the 5G customised network.
Autonomy and intelligence are also key features, and China Telecom has constructed a system that covers the knowledge graph of the entire network as well as decision-making simulation, and plans to incorporate this into its new generation operation system. “We use a network intelligence analysis module generated by 3GPP embedded in the core network to further increase next-generation network intelligence by forming a closed loop from analysis to decision-making”, explained Chen. “We are trying to incorporate standardised modules into our intelligent system and use AI technologies to link them to improve operational efficiency.”
When a new generation arrives, terminals tend to lag behind, but with 5G the simultaneous development of terminals and networks has been achieved for the first time. China’s terminal and network development has played a huge role in driving this; out of the world’s 800 million 5G terminals, 500 million were made in China, and Chinese-made 5G base stations account for more than 50% of the global total.
Wang Hengjiang, Deputy General Manager, China Mobile Terminal Company, said: “China Mobile will roll out a 700MHz network this year, and will reach 1.1 million base stations by the end of 2022. We have achieved effective coverage in key towns as well as developed villages. The popularisation of 5G terminals provides a foundation for improving the experience of basic services – there are now 500 million 5GH terminals in China, so internet services such as video and gaming can be further developed, while existing services can be upgraded.”
Wang noted that this will present many new business opportunities, such as cloud office and AR/VR services. The digital economy generates massive amounts of data both on the cloud and terminal sides, and processing this is hugely challenging - particularly when the terminal’s computing power is limited - but breaking this bottleneck is very important in order to offer applications to consumers.
Liu Hong, Head of Technology, China, GSMA, was upbeat about this prospect. As long as 5G’s cost per bit is lower, its ARPU is higher and its user experience is better, leading to a faster increase in user adoption. If operators are willing to use 5G to refarm existing frequencies, and users are willing to switch to 5G services more quickly, then 5G to consumers can be considered a success, he argued.
“At the beginning of last year, we hoped the number of 5G connections worldwide would reach 1 billion by the end of 2023; however, this milestone was reached earlier this year. By the end of 2025, global network operators will spend around US$530b on 5G networks, which shows their confidence in 5G.”