At MWC Shanghai, China Mobile was everywhere, showing off the progress of its 5G tests and trials, and of the development of multiple phases of its planned platform. Two innovations stood out in particular, one related to Massive MIMO, a cornerstone of the giant operator’s 5G coverage strategy; and one to intent-based networking for the transport layer.
The former involved cooperation with Nokia – interesting because the Chinese vendors have been more prominent than their western rivals, to date, in Massive MIMO, a technology heavily driven by China and Japan.
In the current tense climate between the USA and China, Nokia will have been particularly pleased to trumpet a strategic development with the world’s largest MNO. The two firms have co-developed a 160 MHz, Massive MIMO adaptive antenna, whose 320 Watts of output power – the highest available in the world – will boost capacity and coverage.
China Mobile has been deploying 5G in the 2.6 GHz band on a pre-commercial basis. Because of the power levels of the new technology – at 320W, it is at least 80W greater than other MAA products on the market – it will be able to support 4G and 5G in concurrent mode in the 2.6 GHz band. That will make it smoother to transition customers from 4G to 5G when its networks start to go live next year, because it allows network resources to be allocated flexibly from 4G to 5G as the user migration gathers pace.
Nokia will be able to offer as vanilla version of the solution, under the brand name of AirScale mMIMO Adaptive Antenna (MAA), to other operators, but China Mobile clearly gets first dibs, since it was part of the R&D program, and has a customized version for its particular bandwidth and coverage requirements.
The MAA supports 160 MHz bandwidth with a 64×64 array, which delivers the record-breaking power output to extend range and spectral efficiency as well as boost capacity.
Mark Atkinson, head of 5G and small cells at Nokia, said: “The development of the AirScale MAA with its industry-first 320W output is the direct result of input from the China Mobile team on what they needed to speed the deployment of 5G services to their customers. We look forward to continuing to work with CMCC as its 5G plans evolve.”
Another China Mobile innovation was an intent-driven 5G transport network, co-developed by Huawei and the China Mobile Research Institute (CMRI), and now put to commercial use for the first time by the operator’s subsidiary in Zhejiang.
The platform supports a Slicing Packet Network (SPN) technology invented by China Mobile, and designed to provide optimized performance for different vertical industry services with different 5G and transport requirements, such as 4K/8K videos, virtual reality live streaming, and telemedicine services being deployed for the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University.
SPN is used to implement network slicing and service level agreement (SLA)-based intelligent route selection to support vertical industries and demanding applications such as the Internet of vehicles (IoV) and smart grid.
Such services will increase the demands on the transport network tenfold, said the operator, and will rely on intelligent, highly automated operations and management (O&M).
At MWC, Yang Zhiqiang, deputy director of CMRI, and Kevin Hu, president of Huawei Data Communication Product Line, talked up the potential of SPN to improve performance in current and future networks by boosting the automation, intelligence, bandwidth and flexibility of transport networks.
China Mobile Zhejiang started its work with Huawei in 2016 and constructed China’s largest pilot 5G transport network using SPN in 2018. So far, the operator has built out nearly 1,000 5G base stations plus its Network Cloud Engine.
The use of NCE allows for automatic site addition and intelligent clock synchronization, improving both the base station service provisioning efficiency and clock synchronization deployment efficiency by over 85%. In-situ flow information telemetry (iFIT) helps achieve fast fault demarcation and location, improving network O&M efficiency, said CMRI. The combined use of NCE and big data analytics facilitates intelligent O&M and the automation of the 5G transport network lifecycle.
“Facing challenges in 5G transport networks, China Mobile Zhejiang chose to partner with Huawei and the two companies jointly established the 5G transport innovation project team,” said Zhou Ping, deputy general manager of the planning and technology department of China Mobile Zhejiang, “China Mobile Zhejiang has continuously invested in 5G transport network research and innovation, the results of which have been very fruitful.”
He said existing equipment is being reused at the core and aggregation layers, and board capacity can be expanded on demand. At the access layer, 10GE/50GE access rings have been constructed to meet the data access requirements of 5G base stations. All this is designed to reduce network total cost of ownership (TCO).