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17 May 2022

ZTE stages 5G SA demo in Austria’s low frequency bands for rural areas

Qualcomm and ZTE claim their recent demonstration of 5G Standalone (SA) coverage in two lower bands, conducted with Three Austria, will encourage deployment of 5G in rural and less densely populated suburban areas.  


The demo also exemplifies ZTE’s continued involvement in 5G in a number of countries that are under pressure to sanction Chinese technology firms, to a greater extent than its bigger rival Huawei.  


The main point was that, with help from Qualcomm, ZTE demonstrated 5G SA using the 700 MHz (Band n28) and 1.4 GHz (Band n75) bands, over Drei’s network. These are two out of 102 bands defined by 3GPP for 5G New Radio (NR) for both SA and non-standalone (NSA) 5G. They are narrower bands than many of the others and therefore have lower capacity, but have greater range, making them more suitable for less dense coverage areas. 


Enrico Salvatori, SVP of Qualcomm Europe, noted: “This milestone will take the ecosystem further down the 5G path, unlocking more of the exciting benefits of 5G to people and industries across Europe, and making 5G an even more compelling proposition to mobile network operators in rural areas.” 


As Christian Woschitz, president of ZTE Central and Eastern Europe, pointed out, most 5G commercial services in Europe launched so far operate in the 3.5 GHz (n78) TDD band in NSA mode. Migration of these to SA will increase performance and capacity further and at the same time, legacy FDD bands originally used for 3G and 4G, such as 800 MHz, 1.8 GHz, 2.1 GHz and 2.6 GHz – with bandwidths varying from 5 MHz to 20 MHz – can be repurposed for 5G to serve rural areas. FDD makes less efficient use of spectrum because paired bands are needed for symmetric communications, but enables longer range for a given bit-rate because the full bandwidth is always available, rather than being sliced by time.  

It is this that appeals to Drei. “In 2020 we acquired 5G spectrum in several frequency bands, especially the new supplemental downlink (SDL) band at 1400 MHz, which has the potential to improve the downlink experience substantially,” said Matthias Baldermann, CTO at Drei. “The first implementation and successful testing of this band worldwide, together with Qualcomm Technologies and ZTE, is a major step towards commercialization of the full 5G potential and bringing high quality broadband coverage also to remote rural areas.” Drei is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Holdings. 


The 5G collaboration between ZTE and Qualcomm dates back several years, and embraces several other countries. In fact, Qualcomm has been extending its partnerships with Chinese tech companies, despite or perhaps because of being hurt itself by the sanctions imposed originally by President Trump on some Chinese firms. These precipitated a plunge in Qualcomm’s share of China’s smartphone chip market during 2019 and 2020. Its efforts to claw some of this back were evident at the China International Import Expo held in Shanghai during November 2021, where Qualcomm was visible demonstrating various 5G and IoT components.  


Another recent example of Qualcomm’s partnership with ZTE showed up in April 2022 when the pair demonstrated 5G NR-DC (Dual Connectivity) in 2.6 GHz and 26 GHz bands in the network of Thailand’s largest MNO, AIS. This attained 8.5Gbps peak downlink speed and 2.17Gbps peak uplink speed, from a single mobile device. It combined a sub-6 GHz midband and a millimeter wave band to create a single high-speed link, taking in a single 100 MHz carrier at the 2.6 GHz, and four 200 MHz carriers at 26 GHz. 


Such trials come as 5G SA deployment is ramping up, according to the GSA, which counted 99 operators in 50 countries worldwide investing in public SA networks as trials, planned or actual deployments as of January 2022, out of over 400 operators known to be investing in 5G. This compared with 68 operators in 38 countries worldwide investing in public 5G SA earlier in 2021. There are now 20 operators in 16 countries that have actually launched public 5G SA networks, including China Mobile, Vodafone in the UK and Germany, Japan’s Softbank, T-Mobile USA, Singapore’s SingTel, STC in Saudi Arabia, Rogers in Canada, RAIN in South Africa, and AT&T.