The 2020 OFC Optical Networking and Communication Conference, held in San Diego in March, served as the setting for a candid and informative analysis of the evolution of global 5G deployments to date, and how network operators around the world can work together to ensure 5G achieves its full potential in the future.
At the event, Qi Bi, president of the China Telecom Technology Innovation Center and CTO of the China Telecom Beijing Research Institute, shared his first-hand perspectives of 5G to dispel some of “the media hype” surrounding 5G and to map the current trajectory of 5G innovation and deployment.
For the first time, Qi said, the world is deploying a technology designed to support both broadband data connectivity and a range of business-focused machine-to-machine applications for vertical markets. Despite using a common 5G standard, operators are taking different paths to get to the same destination. According to Qi, China has been one of the true pioneers in 5G, becoming the first country to grant commercial 5G mobility licenses using the 3GPP standard in 2019. As a result, China Telecom currently has more than 8 million subscribers on its 5G network.
For all the progress operators have made developing and deploying 5G technology, Qi said, there are still many opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Multiple access technologies may have reached the saturation point, making it more difficult to innovate in wireless.
Most of the remaining opportunities for innovation lie in the antenna area, including massive MIMO, which has become, in Qi’s words, “the trademark of 5G technology.”
Overall 5G KPI results have been mixed.
Qi said they can be divided into three categories:
- User speed
Reachable (with future investment)
Failed to reach
- Energy improvement
- Peak rates
5G may be one standard, but it’s not one system.
“The hyped future of 5G by one unified standard actually requires the deployment of separate hardware systems,” Qi said.
The promise of 5G includes providing enhanced broadband connectivity, connecting millions of M2M/IoT devices, and enabling ultra-low latency applications such as AR/VR and autonomous vehicles. One 5G standard can’t do that alone. Making them a reality will require the evolution of multiple systems deployed in phases.
An integrated approach to the design and deployment of 5G networks will drive the success of 5G technology.
The challenges inherent in deploying 5G technology – including higher CapEx and OpEx costs, increasing hardware complexity, multiple applications requiring multiple systems, and unclear and uncertain new revenue opportunities – will be better served by collaboration between vendors and operators rather than competition, Qi said. He cited China Telecom’s collaboration with competitor China Unicom to build a 5G network in China as an example of the type of joint efforts that will be required to ensure 5G’s success.
A stand-alone network strategy will lead to more ubiquitous 5G coverage.
According to Qi, China Telecom is pushing the industry to adopt a stand-alone 5G network strategy versus a non-standalone strategy. A stand-alone strategy entails building a dedicated 5G network. A non-stand alone strategy involves an operator relying on its existing 4G LTE network to provide coverage and building a 5G network on top of it to act more like a “hotspot.” A stand-alone strategy is China Telecom’s preferred approach, Qi said.
Qi concluded his talk by reiterating:
- 5G and next-generation systems will drive growth in the wireless and optical industries.
- Ever-growing 5G data rates will revolutionize the ways we live and do business.
- 5G and future access systems are expensive – vendors and operators should collaborate more than they compete.
- A healthier global ecosystem with less focus on protectionism will be necessary as 5G and next-gen systems become more complex.
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