5G era presents opportunities, challenges#Oriental Outlook#-Sino-US

Path: Sino-US >> Cover Story>> 2018 >>
5G era presents opportunities, challenges

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, a global telecommunications technology company, said at the 2018 Mobile World Congress that its commercial non-standalone 5G networks will be available from October.

Recently, China’s three major telecom carriers, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Teleccom have launched their pilot plans on commercializing the 5G services, and are setting up cross-industry partnerships with other companies.

Optical communication equipment maker FiberHome Technologies Group and telecom equipment maker Datang Telecom Group merged to form China Information and Communication Technologies Group Corp to better prepare for 5G opportunities.

Companies have made efforts to quicken the research and development of the fifth-generation mobile communication technologies and the commercialization of 5G services.

In the 26th issue of 2018, the Oriental Outlook magazine under Xinhua News Agency ran a cover story on the development of 5G technologies in China and world, discussing the changes and opportunities the new generation technologies are expected to bring.

Below is an excerpt of the article.

Compared with 4G, the outstanding features of 5G are wider bandwidth, faster speed and shorter delay. A metaphor is that 3G has four lanes, 4G has 40 lanes and 5G will have 400 lanes.

The updated 5G technical properties will not only satisfy people’s increasing communication and recreation demands, but also improve the intelligence level of the networks, enabling the “dialogue” among people and things and heralding the era of Internet connecting all things.

From 2G to 4G, the network architecture has not changed a lot, but only the speed has increased. 5G has been considered as a thorough innovation to provide new kind of services not available before.

A simple understanding is that 5G innovation provides customized network services. Telecom operators could set different speeds due to different scenarios to meet individualized demand.

A Qualcomm Inc report in 2017 said that 5G will make a contribution equal to the economy of India to the global GDP growth between 2020 and 2035. By 2035, 5G will create $12.3 trillion economic output and 22 million jobs.

All countries have started to lay out plans in the 5G development, including China which started a special group in February 2013 and launched a timetable for the 5G technological experiments and commercialization in January 2016.

China’s three major telecom operators and industrial companies such as Huawei joined in. Huawei’s coding theory “polar code” has been chosen as the standard for the 5G enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB).

Telecom operators are conducting 5G trials and demonstrations of services in many cities across the country.

A group of industry applications have shown up, such as driverless vehicles running through optimal routes, remote medical services, and artificial intelligence robots for inspection and maintenance work in factories.

All these will come true in near future. According to the telecom operators, the pre-commercial operations will happen in 2019 and the commercial launch of the superfast technology in 2020.

No doubt that the 5G era is coming. We should regard 5G as a breakthrough in scientific and technological innovation and seize the opportunities while facing difficulties.

Gate of opportunities

Starting three years ago, an outdoor test field appeared in the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, Southwest China’s Sichuan province.

Students would pass the test field while going to the canteen everyday, but few of them knew what it was used for.

“It has significant meaning for the country’s development and application of mobile technologies,” said Li Shaoqian, a professor at the university. Li is also a member of an expert group for the country’s 5G development program.

The test field that was in use from the second half of 2015 was established by the university and Huawei. It is the first of its kind worldwide, having 13 base stations, shouldering the verification of key 5G technologies.

“These technologies have to be proved for feasibility many times before going commercial,” Li said. In the future, some 5G technologies used by Chinese people might come from here, he said.

In April, the first phone call using 5G technologies was made in Guangzhou, South China’s Guangdong province. According to the timetables of China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, they will carry out 5G trials on a large scale in 2018, pre-commercial use in 2019 and commercial use in 2020.

“Being the new-generation communication technologies, 5G will be a rare opportunity for China. China has the largest number of netizens and mobile phone users in the worldwide, having great potential in 5G applications,” Li said.

China started to adopt the first generation communication technology in November 1987 and 2G in 1995, which was about four years behind Europe.

“China followed the steps of the US and Europe at that time, passively receiving their products and technologies, having little self-ability in the field,” Zeng Jianqiu, a researcher with the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications.

Changes started to emerge in the 3G era, as China pushed forward its mobile communication mode, TD-SCDMA, Zeng said.

TD-SCDMA, together with the W-CDMA promoted by the European Union and Japan and CDMA2000 of the US, have been considered as the three mobile communication standards in the 3G era. But it is only used in China.

“In the 4G era, there are only two standards, TD-LTE and FDD-LTE, and the former is based on the TD mode promoted by China,” Zeng said. In this stage, China has started to play a role in the field.

Though China played a minor role in these two eras, “the technology accumulation and profound understanding of mobile communication technology development has allowed China to play a bigger role in 5G era,” Zeng said.

“The technological advantages and immeasurable effect on social and economic development have forced us to pay high attention to 5G development,” said Zhang Ping, professor from Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications.

In November 2016, Huawei’s coding theory “polar code” beat other proposals, such as LDPC from the US and Turbo2.0 from France to become the standard for the 5G enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB).

On June 14, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the international 5G standards setting body, released the standalone 5G NR specifications, symbolizing the completion of the first phase 5G standards.

“Besides standards, China has an increasing number of 5G technological patents,” said Li Shaoqian.

A report from investment bank Jefferies in September 2017 showed that by the beginning of 2017, there were 1,450 key patents of 5G network, 10 percent belonging to Chinese, and it predicted that the number would increase.

Cost of base stations

With the help of technologies and standards, China’s construction of 5G is speeding up, and three telecom operators have started the 5G trials.

In the past year, China Mobile has chosen Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Suzhou to carry out field tests, and each site will have more than 100 5G base stations. It will also provide 5G services and application demonstrations in 12 cities, including Beijing, Chengdu and Shenzhen.

China Unicom started to carry out trials of 5G network in 16 cities including Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Wuhan and Guiyang. China Telecom planned for trials in 12 cities including Xiongan, Shenzhen, Suzhou and Lanzhou.

“The operators are facing a dilemma. On the one hand, 5G represents the future core competitiveness and they cannot afford to fall behind, but on the other hand, the cost is too high and they have great pressure,” an industry insider said.

Zhang Tongxu, director of the research institute of China Mobile, said that 5G equipment use large-scale antenna array technologies plus the super bandwidth, which requires higher radio frequency channels and baseband processor’s processing capability, leading to an increase in the cost.

“Currently, building a new 5G base station will cost 1 million yuan, but in the past, a 4G base station only cost tens of thousands of yuan in remolding,” a technician from a telecom operator said.

The technician expected that after forming scale effect in the construction, the cost of a 5G base station will possibly be reduced to 400,000 yuan.

Data from the China Securities newspaper shows that in the future, China will need 5G base stations two times of 4G base stations in number, and operators have to invest up to 1.23 trillion yuan for constructing the 5G network, about 68 percent more than the investment in 4G.

“Generally, telecom operators have not gained back their investment in the 4G construction, and because the policies promote higher speed and lower charges, the huge investment in 5G will be a problem for them,” said Wu Suoning, deputy head of the China Association of Communication Enterprises.

But a white paper from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology showed that by 2020, 5G will create 92 billion yuan economic value added, and by 2030, 5G will create 3.6 trillion yuan output and 8 million jobs.

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