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Telecom Review Asia Pacific interviews Dr. Han Gang, deputy general manager of RAN market, ZTE. Dr. Han is focused on developing RAN solutions and strategies. He is also responsible for ZTE’s RAN industry partnership programs and ZTE’s international markets.

What are the requirements and challenges for 5G in terms of digitally transforming vertical industries?

5G has been opening up new opportunities for various industries to achieve digital transformation. However, not many enterprises, particularly small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), which account for more than 90% of all businesses in China benefit from it, due to certain challenges.

Firstly, SMEs tend to be concerned with economic feasibility and deployment convenience when engaging in newer technology. One of their key requirements is keeping data within the enterprise’s premise to ensure data security and optimal performance. Solutions such as miniaturized 5GC or edge UPF for private networks require dedicated equipment room or space, new power supply, additional transmission link, and other auxiliaries, which are expensive and slow to deploy, thus holding many enterprises back in embracing 5G.

Secondly, SMEs are usually small-scaled businesses scattered across different industries. They have distinct application requirements that demand more flexible solutions, making widespread deployment across SMEs a challenge.

Thirdly, most industrial businesses are based on indoor scenarios. Centralized 5G services within limited indoor space may pose an uplink capacity challenge for networks. For example, remote control and HD monitoring are typical automatic scenarios in the mining industry, where requirements for video upload of a single camera are usually 2~20Mbps (1080P~4K) and cell uplink capacity can reach 300Mbps~1Gbps for concurrent uploading of multiple cameras.

Finally, huge differences exist between 5GtoB and traditional 5GtoC fields in terms of latency, reliability, rate, and self-service capability. 5GtoC networks adopt the best-effort service strategy for end-users, with more attention paid to network-level KPIs. Basically, for vertical industry applications, each terminal has definite requirements for delay, reliability, and bandwidth, and requires user-level performance guarantee.

How does your solution address these challenges?

Given that most vertical industry applications are based indoors and SMEs require private 5G network solutions with lightweight deployment, fast service commissioning and adaptive SLA guaranteed, ZTE proposes 5G edge solutions. This solution offers the smallest footprint without the need for standalone edge servers, but only a dedicated card inside the existing baseband unit.

Thanks to the latest progress in chipset and radio technology, it also offers three times the capacity compared with traditional solutions. This provides flexible deployment together with strong 5G capability for vertical industries to create value for operators and other users.

Essentially, ZTE's 5G edge solution offers features that address the challenges in vertical 5G deployments. For instance, it leverages on QCell and NodeEngine solutions to make private network deployment as simple as possible, to facilitate quicker and lower cost transformation of SMEs.

ZTE QCell is a distributed indoor small cell solution consisting of a BBU, hub unit, and Pico RRU, a three-layer architecture that offers easy deployment by Ethernet or optical cable widely used in commercial indoor networks in 4G. On the other hand, direct-link QCell features a two-layer architecture without the need for an intermediate hub, configured with compact BBU to fit the requirements of SMEs while keeping Capex low. Essentially, both QCell solutions share all components such as Pico RRU and BBU cards to minimize an operator’s overall investment.

Commissioning of private networks also becomes simplified with NodeEngine, the industry’s unique built-in base station computing engine. It features private network capability requiring just one board inserted into an existing BBU cabinet, to eliminate engineering surveys or reconstruction, and inter-operability between the NodeEngine and core network to significantly reduce time and effort invested into supporting IoT. With one board, one fiber, and two IP addresses, NodeEngine can be turned on within one hour.

Traditionally, SIM card subscription is a prerequisite for networks, which generally involves long procedures such as service type confirmation and QoS mapping to bind SIM cards, CPEs, and industrial devices. However, fast service deployment is now possible with the NodeEngine solution as it provides a more flexible way to support dedicated local private network services for corresponding terminals with all SIM card default subscriptions through intelligent service identification and scheduling policy matching.

Furthermore, 5G small cells offer advantages such as flexible customization, cost efficiency, and lower energy consumption to meet various industry requirements. In fact, ZTE’s QCell has been ranked first, earning a perfect score in the Global Data’s Enterprise SmallCell Rating Report.

ZTE’s QCell has been customized for various industries. One example is the mining industry where safety is a key requirement. Owing to the flexibility of the QCell architecture, ZTE has customized QCell for the mining industry, with features such as the industry’s first 700MHz QCell, low transmission power, redesigned heat-dissipation fin for better heat-dissipation in an explosion-proof box, and high voltage resistance.

Another example is indoor location services. Rich indoor location services such as navigation, asset management, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) have different location precision requirements. Different technologies such as 5G, Bluetooth, or UWB have different location precision capabilities and costs. To combine the advantages of all technologies to reduce deployment and O&M costs, a cascading port has been customized on QCell to provide connection and PoE for third-party Bluetooth or UWB equipment. Also integrated is NodeEngine’s location computing capability to provide unified and efficient location-based service (LBS) for upper-layer service applications, as well as open API interfaces for third-party apps.

To address the challenge of increased uplink capacity to satisfy industry application requirements, one solution is using ultra broad bandwidth radio to support more frequency resources. A 300MHz QCell can support up to 3 carriers NR with 100MHz each and has been deployed in Olympic venues in Hangzhou city to provide enhanced live broadcasting services for the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022.

Another solution is using the 1D3U frame structure with more uplink time slots. This is suitable for the mining industry. Since underground private networks and operators’ public networks are isolated and tend to not have interference problems caused by different frame structures, QCell, with 100Mbps NR carrier, and 1D3U can provide about 700Mbps uplink peak rate. 

ZTE QCell SuperMIMO function is also an innovative way to improve the capacity of both uplink and downlink by coordinating multiple QCells. Combining the technologies of Super Cell, MU-MIMO, and Joint Beamforming effectively addresses the contradiction between "interference" and "capacity" and increases user perception. Field applications have shown that with SuperMIMO, indoor cell capacity and user experience can be improved by 3 to 4 times.

In addition, as AI computing and applications usage accelerate, NodeEngine realizes closed-loop guarantee of service quality through the complete process of intelligent identification, intelligent scheduling, intelligence orchestration, and real-time SLA monitoring.

Citing an industrial park as an example, NodeEngine can receive the SLA requirements of the services through a self-service portal defined by an enterprise. As traffic is offloaded locally, service characteristics based on the local data from local applications can be easily identified. SLA requirements from the portal and learned service characteristics, such as packet size and packet cycle of service flow, can be transformed into the scheduling strategy of a QCell network to schedule wireless resources accordingly. At the same time, end-to-end delay of service is monitored and feedback to the policy engine for closed-loop SLA guarantee. The results will be presented on the portal in real-time for ease of operation.

Is this solution applicable to different markets on a global scale?

This solution has been widely applied in more than 10 vertical industry scenarios and 50 projects in China. It is also successfully applied by AIS, the largest mobile operator in Thailand.

To date, there are over 20 projects in smart manufacturing. For instance, ZTE intelligent manufacturing base uses 5G to power 5G smart manufacturing for Xinfengming Group and 5G+Intelligent manufacturing for SANY’s smart factory. For the latter, 5G enabled machine vision helps the factory implement functions including intelligent material cutting, multi-system collaborative operation, unmanned dangerous production, automatic assembly, and intelligent quality inspection. This reduces labor cost by 64% and product defect rate by 14%. 5G intelligent storage improves the connection quality of unmanned AGV trolleys and ensures a latency of no more than 10 ms. It achieves high-speed and stable operation of AGV operation and scheduling control, increases storage management efficiency by 50%, and reduces overall costs by 20%-30%. These successful applications allow SANY to reap the many benefits of digital transformation.

In the area of smart mining, 5G edge solution powers high reliability, high bandwidth, and low latency capabilities in  underground explosion-proof 5G equipment and overground remote control via low-latency HD videos. This minimizes the number of tunneling workers and significantly enhances security levels and operational productivity. This solution is deployed in many mines across Anhui, Shanxi, and Shangxi provinces in China.

In terms of digital city management, indoor location can be applied in various scenarios. High-precision 5G indoor positioning with QCell and NodeEngine in Grandview Mall, Guangzhou, provides accurate shopping location navigation services for 5G users. Combining 5G network capabilities such as location information, 5G Messaging, and 5G cloud edge network technology, ZTE will continue to deliver the benefits of 5G+ digital business solutions to positively impact industries and economies.

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