5G services: Mission-critical sure, but how do we keep them green, affordable and secure?

Jaishun Tu of ZTE

5G is here so all is clear and simple, right? Well, not so fast. 5G networks bring opportunities but challenges too.

So, in the wake of Mobile World Congress in Shanghai, the first major Live telecoms event since the world went into Covid-induced lockdown, we talked to the China-based vendor ZTE. We wanted to find out more about 5G’s risks and rewards, in standalone networks, network efficiency, cybersecurity, and commercialisation.

IoT Now: Why do standalone 5G networks offer operators better value than non-standalone?

Jaishun Tu, ZTE: The 3GPP defines two phases of 5G, Non-Standalone (NSA) and Standalone (SA). The NSA phase is implemented by accessing the 5G frequencies as an extension of the 4G core network enabling Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB). eMBB means higher bandwidth, which is one of the most important benefits of 5G networks.

However, 5G SA requires building a whole new network based on cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data technologies and takes the speed of 5G even further. 5G SA can not only provide eMBB but also ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLLC) and massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC), allowing 5G to connect the Internet of Everything (IoE). uRLLC is a ground-breaking feature for providing networks with high reliability and low latency, crucial for accessing and communicating with robots, Automated Guided Vehicle (AGVs), sensors, or hospital consoles. mMTC, meanwhile, is the basis upon which mass IoT (Internet of Things) terminals with low costs and power consumption access networks.

Taking a factory as an example, these advancements in 5G technology allows, not only workers, but also all smart devices and some simple devices, to access the entire network safely, reliably, and economically. Ubiquitous and high-quality 5G links will ultimately lead to smart factories, hospitals, communities, and cities.

IoT Now: What problems are posed by vertical industry 5G applications? And what solutions do you offer?

ZTE: Different SA networks are required for applications in vertical industries, such as office applications, robot control, video monitoring, AGV navigation and more. For vertical industries, different applications need to have independent networks with high reliability, low latency, and high bandwidth or a combination of these.

However, this is obviously too expensive and can waste resources, even large enterprises cannot afford to build multiple physical private 5G networks at the same time. ZTE provides 5G end-to-end network slicing solutions to meet this requirement. Based on cloud, NFV/SDN and 5G SA technologies, different network slices with different network qualities of service can be built for different applications on the same physical network. This means that we only need to build on network for multiple applications.

IoT Now: Consumers of telecoms services are increasingly aware that services are energy-hungry. What work has ZTE done to reduce power consumption, particularly in 5G. And what results have you achieved?

ZTE: Frankly, 5G consumes more energy than 4G networks. According to the typical commercial scenario of 5G/4G networks, the power consumption of a single 5G base station is 2.5 – 3.5 times that of a single 4G base station, which is mainly caused by the increased power consumption of the AAU of the 5G base station.

But an important purpose of the 5G vision is to increase the energy efficiency of the network, i.e. the energy consumed by transmission per-bit up to 100 times. Considering that 5G currently provides much more traffic than 4G, the energy efficiency of 5G is improved by almost 10 times in full speed mode.

There are some key new technologies in the industry to improve the energy efficiency of 5G. For example, ZTE’s award-winning Massive MIMO technology. The beam of traditional base station is like a light bulb, casting its signal across a large area (usually a 120-degree arc area in front of the base station). Some of the signal is received by users, but most of the energy is wasted. Therefore, the energy consumption of the base station is high.

With Massive MIMO technology, the signals are directly sent out like a flashlight to the terminal, and the energy is converged. Therefore, the energy efficiency to achieve the same signal strength can be reduced up to 100 times.

Another consideration is to try and conserve as much energy usage as possible when the network is idle. For example, traffic on the network fluctuates during the course of the day, because of this it can save huge amounts of energy to partially shut down the base station when there is reduced network traffic. This has led to the development of ZTE’s AI-based PowerPilot solution.

The solution analyses historic operational data to and actively navigates services to the most appropriate network layer for bearing, thus ensuring the lowest energy consumption per bit of data. ZTE’s PowerPilot has already been put into commercial use in more than 20 networks worldwide, with over 600,000 sites. The cumulative electricity fee saved for operators is over US$1 billion €0.84 billion) .

IoT Now: 5G offers the prospect of mission-critical, data-intensive services. What strategies should service providers and customers adopt to protect their applications?

ZTE: 5G raises new development opportunities for vertical industries but also more security risks. High-value assets in fields such as manufacturing, energy, transportation and finance will become the primary attack target.

ZTE has launched its 5G Software-Defined Security Solution to meet this challenge. Through the self-adaptive security guarantee and service of 5G slicing, the 5G Software-Defined Security Solution helps industry customers meet basic regulatory requirements such as GDPR, and at the same time supports the diversified security requirements for various scenarios, such as cars, AGVs, robots, and sensors etc.

It includes:

5G network Slicing security service orchestration: Based on the service-based architecture, security slicing is generated on demand, security services are deployed on demand, and security policies are used with network self-adaptive adjustment.

Carrier-class security resource pool: The distributed resource pool, forwarding acceleration and N+M backup are used to implement a carrier-class security resource pool with dynamic elasticity.

High security throughput: Virtualised software/hardware security acceleration and high performance.

Secure tunnel aggregation and other technologies: The encryption and decryption capabilities of a single VM can reach up to 100Gbps, and the encryption and decryption capabilities of a single UE can reach 1.4Gbps, meeting the requirements of ultra-high rate 5G secure communication.

IoT Now: Which aspects of 5G use will offer the fastest Returns on Investment (RoI) for enterprise users and telco service providers? Will it be 5G indoor coverage? 5G Massive MMO? 5G uplink enhancement? Multi-mode dynamic spectrum sharing? 5G for different vertical industries?

ZTE: 5G eMBB-based VR/AR and 4K/2K videos, especially the multi-view live broadcast, will directly increase the traffic from consumers, which will increase the income of the consumer service. In the long run, however, digital transformation of vertical industries is a more promising source of revenue for 5G.

ZTE’s Jaishun Tu was talking to IoT Now.

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow

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