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During the MWC Shanghai Exhibition, ZTE and GlobalData officially released the white paper “Precision 5G Transport-The Foundation of Future Mobile Network”. As 5G networks develop, it becomes obvious that the quantum leap in capabilities of radio network also brings significant shift in system-wide architectural requirements. In this context, transport network, connecting 5G radio to the core of the network, needs to evolve in several directions: provide significantly higher capacity and scalability, support varied deployment models, have sophisticated slicing capabilities, in addition to precise, varied, and robust timing and synchronization, and low and controllable latency characteristics, to the point of determinism.

These requirements effectively define the new mobile transport network, purposely built to support mature 5G networks, capable of supporting major new revenue-generating use cases, such as IIoT, AR/VR streaming content and gaming, critical communications, and autonomous driving. In the context of system-wide performance, 5G transport network that effectively delivers capabilities in line with the above requirements represents a key element for operators’ 5G network development strategy. In an interview with Telecom Review Africa, Wu Jianjun, CTO of ZTE, MEA region, gives more insightful details regarding this topic.

With the theme “ZTE, A Driver of Digital Economy”, ZTE Corporation focused on displaying innovative solutions and industry practices for the 5G era at the MWC Shanghai exhibition. As the CTO of ZTE MEA region, do you think this era reached Africa?

Currently, 5G in Africa is still in its fledgling stage, yet digital and intelligent transformation has already gathered full momentum. The next few years will be the window for 5G network deployment and even 5G industry layout. With the experience of 5G pioneers in other regions, the African telecommunications market can avoid detours, accurately deploy, and benefit from reduced product costs after the large-scale commercialization of 5G.

Thanks to leading end-to-end product series, completed network construction solutions, and rich commercial practical experience, ZTE has won by the end of September 2020 a total of 55 5G commercial contracts and launched 5G cooperation with more than 90 operators worldwide, covering more than 500 industry partners. Hence, in the same year, we achieved 11.73% year-on-year increase with the overall revenue recording 101.37 billion CNY. During the same period, ZTE MEA reached the highest peaks in the past three years in ordering, revenue, profit, operational efficiency, network services and customer satisfaction. This also reflects that the MEA telecom market played a mainstay role during the epidemic and will play a greater role in the digital economic transformation in the post-epidemic era. ZTE will continue to maintain its leading position in technology, and cooperate with industry partners to promote 5G commercial deployment, lift the development of telecommunications market, and boost digital transformation in Africa.

Talking about 5G construction in China and other developing countries, what experience do you think might be worth learning from in order to best plan and deploy 5G in Africa?

After deploying 5G networks, most operators will find themselves operating four-generation networks at the same time (2G/3G/4G/5G). The core network needs to provide support for multi-mode network convergence and long-term evolution, since transport network cannot provide differentiated deterministic services, and since the complexity of the entire network operation and maintenance has also doubled. How to invest in the most economical way to ensure that 5G scenarios can be seamlessly covered and maintain excellent network performance, as well as the necessary conditions for long-term evolution, is the most urgent problem that operators need to solve. But for ZTE, it is an advantage after fully participating in 5G commercial construction.

In the time window for the switch from 4G to 5G, ZTE has 5G end-to-end capabilities, and it has as well the advantages of integrated debugging and spectrum utilization. ZTE’s industry-first commercial 5G Common Core can achieve a one-step architecture and reduce investment costs by 40%. The price of 5G mobile phones and SA industrial application modules will also drop rapidly. In response to the deployment pace and business expansion of African operators, ZTE proposes solutions for miniaturized deployment to help African operators create minimalist network deployment, smart network operations, and provide extreme user experience. ZTE will work together with industry partners to promote the commercial deployment of 5G on the African continent and facilitate a 5G win-win situation.

We know that ZTE released “5G Precision Transport Network White Paper” during Shanghai MWC, do you really think the time for large-scale reform of the transport network in Africa is ripping now?

Basically one generation of transport services two generations of wireless network. The last large-scale transformation of the transport network began with the handover from 2G to 3G. In the 4G era, it basically focused on upgrading and expanding. The new demand characteristics of 5G wireless networks require that the transport network be innovated, which will inevitably bring large-scale transformation of the transport network and new wave of investment. However, we also see that the current status of the transport network in African is still uneven. The basic interconnection in many places has not yet achieved all-optical interconnection, and metropolitan area networks are still using microwaves extensively. The deployment of IP transport networks is very small, with a penetration rate of less than 15%. In other words, compared with other regions, Africa's transport network has the greatest potential for future reconstruction. With the rapid economic recovery in Africa and the further release of the demographic dividend, 5G networks will promote the large-scale transformation of IP networks. This trend also conforms to the global network development trend.

According to your forecast of 5G network construction in Africa, how should the pace of transport network construction be grasped? What are your suggestions for operators?

Currently, most countries in the MEA region are still in the 4G development period, and some countries have started 5G pre-commercial in main cities. It is expected that large-scale deployment will start in 2023. The transport network as the road of 5G will be the first to be transformed. We think there will be two major stages to reform the transport network for 5G: The first stage is from 2020-2022, where underlay hardware of the transport network will be completely renovated, mainly to meet the 4G transport needs, be 5G ready at the same time, and 5G transport network feature will be open for commercial use in some the small-scale commercial use of 5G. The second stage will kick-off starting 2023, after 5G had been commercialized on a large scale, and SDN, FlexE, and slicing had been widely introduced to the transport networks. IP will be deployed to access sites.

What role do you think ZTE will play in the subsequent transformation of the African transport network?

As a pioneer in the 5G industry and a road builder in the digital economy, ZTE took nearly 30% of China’s 5G transport network market, completing China Mobile’s SPN project, China Telecom’s STN project and new metropolitan area network projects, and China Unicom’s smart metropolitan area network. ZTE Corporation has a deep insight into the challenges faced by operators in expanding the 5G market and put forward the concept of precise 5G transport networks. ZTE realizes the end-to-end capability construction and continuous evolution of the network around the concept of automation, intelligence, full integration, and full service. It uses slicing technology to achieve global resource scheduling, network-based resource orchestration, and end-to-end SLA strategies and guarantees. Users provide an end-to-end precise network. Precision networks will help operators quickly deploy 5G networks, cope with the long-term development of vertical industries, and help operators achieve a competitive edge in the era of 5G Internet of Everything.

Africa is still in the fast development stage of 4G, and 5G is in its infancy. Regarding how the transport network adapts to the development of 5G, ZTE has accumulated rich experience in China and other countries and regions, and has the ability to build precise 5G-oriented networks and precise 5G transport networks for African customers. Integrating innovative technologies such as precise pipeline, precise management and control, precise diagnosis and precise time. In addition, it can provide users with 10Mbps-level hard slices and lossless bandwidth adjustment, minute-level slice automatic opening, millisecond-level business monitoring, and a single node 5ns smart clock, etc. To achieve comprehensive coordination between cloud, network, edge, and terminal, and create greater value for customers, the transport network also needs to strengthen the coordination with the radio access network and core network. This is precisely the advantage of ZTE as the world's leading provider of end-to-end products and solutions. ZTE is confident to contribute more to the transformation of the transport network in MEA region under the promotion of the China-Africa joint construction of the "Digital Silk Road".

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