China to reach nationwide 5G coverage with 3.7m sites in 2025: ZTE

In 2020, Chinese operators accelerated the deployment of 5G SA networks across the country and now operate more than 700,000 5G sites nationwide. New, massive deployments are expected to occur this year, to further expand 5G coverage in urban and rural areas of the country. To know more about the state of 5G networks in China, RCR Wireless News interviewed Alex Wang, Managing Director of 5G RAN Solutions at Chinese vendor ZTE.

Q: What is the current state of 5G SA deployments in China and what is ZTE’s role in these deployments?

A: In 2020, China completed the large-scale commercial use of 5G SA networks. The deployment of 5G SA networks by the three major domestic operators have exceed 700,000 base stations in total, actively promoting the maturity of the global 5G SA industrial chain.

China Mobile has commissioned 5G SA services in all the prefectures and cities in the country. China Telecom and China Unicom have jointly built the world’s largest shared 5G SA network covering 300 cities. ZTE holds over one third of the market share in China’s 5G market. ZTE’s full range of products support SA deployment and provide customers and strategic partners with a complete set of 5G SA products, including terminals, access network and core network.

Q: What is the outlook for this year in terms of 5G standalone deployments by the country’s operators?

A: China plans to achieve full urban/rural coverage of the 5G network by 2025. It will build the world’s largest 5G SA network with the widest coverage and 3.7 million 5G base stations.

The year 2021 marks the first year of “Five-year Plan”. Operators are expected to deploy nearly 1 million base stations in China in 2021, to continue to expand 5G SA coverage. China is in a leading position in the global 5G SA field. Its successful practice will provide valuable reference for the development of global 5G SA.

Q: What are the main advantages of 5G SA? Do you expect these networks will co-exist with 5G non-standalone deployments?

A: Compared with NSA networks, 5G SA can support larger and broader industry applications as well as the Internet of Things economy, and bring more industry transformation and value-added benefits. NSA will co-exist with SA during in a period of time. 5G SA networks offer significantly better performance and will help operators open a new B2B market. The promises of 5G would never be fully realized without B2B applications and services made possible through 5G SA.

Q: What is ZTE currently doing in terms of 5G SA deployments in China? Is the company also seeing business opportunities for 5G SA deployments outside the Chinese markets? In which particular countries or regions?

A: After introducing SA, the biggest benefit for operators is the added flexibility to cater to the vast B2B sector.

In China, ZTE and operators have already opted to work with industry partners in the manufacturing, energy, transportation, entertainment, health and public safety sectors.

China Telecom and ZTE joined hands to explore deploying smart factory applications at the BinJiang Industrial Park in Nanjing city.The two companies deployed a 5G NR network, with macro and small cells as well mobile edge computing, to enable real-time network slicing. Smart manufacturing services introduced in May 2020 included 360-degree remote production monitoring, automated quality inspection and AR guided repair. In December the industry park will add robots to the production line and start to run autonomous minibuses around the park.

ZTE worked with Tianjin Port Group and China Unicom in 2018 to demonstrate the world’s first 5G and MEC smart port applications. Early services focused on customs inspection and remote real-time monitoring, with video streams uploaded via a 5G network at a speed of more than 80Mb/s and then distributed through the MEC to the port’s video cloud.

Besides China, ZTE has been working closely with Orange from 2017 to study 5G SA. And in 2018, ZTE cooperated with European operators to test and verify SA in Spain. in 2020, ZTE and MTN Uganda have jointly launched the first 5G SA network in East Africa, and showcased a high-speed 5G SA network under the 60 MHz spectrum bandwidth with an actual rate of more than 1.494 Gbps

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