A look back at the biggest stories this week

Whether it’s important, depressing or just entertaining, the telecoms industry is always one which attracts attention.

Here are the stories we think are worth a second look at this week:


Facebook reignites the fires of its Workplace unit

Facebook has announced its challenge to the video-conferencing segment and a reignition of its venture into the world of collaboration and productivity.

Full story here


Trump needs fodder for the campaign trail, maybe Huawei fits the bill

A thriving economy and low levels of unemployment might have been the focal point of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, pre-pandemic, but fighting the ‘red under the bed’ might have to do now.

Full story here


Will remote working trends endure beyond lockdown?

It is most likely anyone reading this article is doing so from the comfort of their own home, but the question is whether this has become the new norm is a digitally defined economy?

Full story here


ZTE and China Unicom get started on 6G

Chinese kit vendor ZTE has decided now is a good time to announce it has signed a strategic cooperation agreement on 6G with operator China Unicom.

Full story here


ITU says lower prices don’t lead to higher internet penetration

The UN telecoms agency observes that, while global connectivity prices are going down, the relationship with penetration is not as inversely proportion as you might think.

Full story here


Jio carves out space for yet another US investor

It seems the US moneymen have a taste for Indian connectivity as General Atlantic becomes the fourth third-party firm to invest in the money-making machine which is Jio Platforms.

Full story here


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ZTE and China Unicom get started on 6G

Chinese kit vendor ZTE has decided now is a good time to announce it has signed a strategic cooperation agreement on 6G with operator China Unicom.

For a country with such a novel approach to contract law, they do like to make a public show if signing agreements over in China, almost as if they’re trying to convince themselves they’ll be honoured. The ceremonial signing of the agreement also seems to double as a public show of strategic intent and corporate ambition.

They don’t go so far as to say what 6G actually is, however, other than one more G. There’s talk of technical innovation, integration with satellite networks and various flavours of IoT, so at this early stage we’re basically looking at 5G on steroids, which is fair enough. The announcement does move on to list some potential key technologies, which include three dimensional connectivity, Terahertz communication, and integrated communication/sensing, which all sound fun.

“ZTE and China Unicom will also verify the feasibility of these technologies through both the verification tests and the prototyping trials to achieve the 6G network performance targets, such as the peak data rate of 1 Tbps, the user experienced data rate of 20 Gbps, the volume traffic  capacity of 100Gbps/m3,” says the announcement.

There is a certain symbolism to banging on about 6G when the previous generation has only just got started and the world is preoccupied with more immediate concerns. On the other hand, the announcement could just be a massive trolling exercise designed to wind up the internet nutters. ‘If you thought 5G was bad, get a load of this,’ they seem to be saying.

Huawei and ZTE banned from doing business in the US for another year

US President Donald trump has extended his executive order that prohibits US companies from doing business with companies from certain countries.

This time last year Trump signed the Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain. It skirted around the matter but it was quite clear that it was specifically aimed at keeping Chinese kit vendors out of the US telecoms networks, something that was further confirmed by Huawei’s public ire following the announcement.

Since it would be fair to say that relations between the US and China haven’t exactly thawed in the intervening time, it came as little surprise to see Trump announce the claimed emergency that prompted the executive order is still happening, As a consequence the restrictions put in place have been extended for another year. Here’s the text of the announcement.

On May 15, 2019, by Executive Order 13873, I declared a national emergency pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States posed by the unrestricted acquisition and use of certain information and communications technology and services transactions.

The unrestricted acquisition or use in the United States of information and communications technology or services designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of foreign adversaries augments the ability of these foreign adversaries to create and exploit vulnerabilities in information and communications technology or services, with potentially catastrophic effects. 

This threat continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.  For this reason, the national emergency declared on May 15, 2019, must continue in effect beyond May 15, 2020.  Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13873 with respect to securing the information and communications technology and services supply chain.

We’re not aware of and public reaction by Huawei, ZTE or any other companies that may be perceived to be subject to the jurisdiction or direction of foreign adversaries. Internally, however, the US state seems to be launching new initiatives to control communications in the country by the day. The latest news is that the opportunity to restrict the ability of intelligence agencies to spy on citizen’s online activities has been narrowly missed, so American’s would be well advised to surf cautiously.

ZTE targets China Broadcasting Network with 4.9 GHz boast

Boasting about validation of the industry’s first 5G carrier aggregation on 700 MHz and 4.9 GHz might not be the biggest humblebrag but remember who has access to this spectrum.

Most looking at this statement might find it slightly unusual. The 4.9 GHz spectrum is a band few around the world are looking at now or even considering in the foreseeable future. The US is, but that is of little use to state-owned vendor ZTE, but so are a few Chinese telcos.

Looking at the number of base stations which will be needed in China to ensure 5G works as intended, the estimates vary quite considerably. However, they are in the millions, an absurd amount of business should you be lucky enough to be selected as one of the vendors.

With this trial, perhaps ZTE has cast its gaze towards securing additional contracts with China Mobile and China Broadcasting Network, both of whom are trialling 5G in the 4.9 GHz spectrum band.

What ZTE is claiming today is to have validated 5G carrier aggregation on 700 MHz and 4.9 GHz spectrum bands. The team also happens to offer a 700 MHz + 4.9 GHz dual-band networking solution, to allow telcos to make better use of the 700 MHz spectrum licences for 5G connectivity.

In March, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) approved the release and refarming of certain spectrum bands.

March release of spectrum licences in China
Operator Spectrum band Total allocation
China Mobile 2515 – 2675 MHz 160 MHz
4800 – 4900 MHz 100 MHz
China Telecom 3400 – 3500 MHz 100 MHz
China Unicom 3500 – 3600 MHz 100 MHz
China Broadcast Network 703 – 798 MHz 80 MHz
4.9 GHz TBC

Source: Light Reading

As it stands, only China Broadcast Network has access to the 700 MHz band, though it is in discussions with China Mobile regarding co-construction. China Mobile is also operating around the 4.9 GHz spectrum bands, so will be very interested in the trials being conducted by China Broadcast Network.

Alone, these two spectrum bands aren’t the greatest foundation for a China Broadcast Network assault on the 5G market. 4.9 GHz doesn’t offer the coverage and 700 MHz lacks the download speeds. But a carrier aggregation solution to marry the two is an interesting proposition.

Huawei and ZTE win 88% of joint China Telecom/Unicom 5G tender

Apparently seeking to demonstrate even greater patriotism than their larger contemporary, the other two Chinese MNOs went big on domestic vendors for their 5G rollout.

Neither company seems to have made any formal announcement of their own, with the information originally channelled through the paywalled Shanghai Securities, then reported on by Sina Tech. We are once more indebted to our China correspondent for an accurate account of what was reported.

The long and short of it is that China Telecom and China Unicom, having decided to pool their 5G network resources last year, jointly put out a bunch of 5G RAN business for tender. Huawei and ZTE between them accounted for 88% of the business, an even greater share than they won of China Mobile’s 5G work in its recent tender. Ericsson got most of the rest, which puts it in a similar position across all three giant Chinese MNOs.

The split between Huawei and ZTE doesn’t seem to have bee published but we do know that out of the 250,000 base stations included in the tender, 110,000 will be built by China Unicom and the rest by China Telecom, at a cost of CNY 32.27 billion. Additionally, the total spending of CNY 76 billion ($10.6 billion) by all three operators equals 42% of the three operators’ total 5G CAPEX budget for the year.

Once more Nokia was totally frozen out of the process, leading some to ask whether Nokia’s 5G business may be finished (pun opportunity missed there, alas) in China. The linked piece goes on to note that things may be a lot better on the fixed line side and that may be a reason for the RAN snub. Who knows?

While the UK and EU set out their positions with respect to ‘high risk vendors’ earlier this year, the coronavirus pandemic probably means all bets are off and China knows it. It would be very surprising if this global crisis, combined with China’s stated economic expansionist ambitions, don’t result in greater restrictions on the participation of Chinese interest in foreign economies. In response China will strive to be as autonomous as possible and a global Balkanisation is the inevitable result.

China Unicom and ZTE Made Spectrum-Sharing Breakthrough Using SuperDSS

Recently, China Unicom and ZTE enabled SuperDSS, the industry’s first Tri-RAT dynamic spectrum sharing solution, in China Unicom Henan Branch live network, which implements fast 5G deployment and legacy 3G service guarantee simultaneously. The test result shows average 35% throughput improvement within same bandwidth comparing with LTE/NR DSS while maintaining legacy 3G voice experience, greatly improving spectrum utilization efficiency.

SuperDSS offers a great solution for those operators who are enthusiastic about rolling out 5G with DSS but are unable to do so with limited spectrum as 2G or 3G legacy services still matter. SuperDSS enables quick 5G roll-out while offering smooth transition of legacy voice service, empowers 2G or 3G, 4G and 5G triple RAT dynamic sharing over the same spectrum with flexible and efficient scheduling capability, in which, 2G or 3G bandwidth can be adjusted according to service requirements, so more bandwidth can be used for LTE and NR sharing and improve LTE and NR user throughput accordingly. Taking 20MHz bandwidth for example, to have 2G/3G service, at least one GSM frequency or UMTS carrier will be reserved, so the LTE/NR DSS can only be performed in 15MHz bandwidth, which is not the optimal way of spectrum utilization. With SuperDSS, 2G or 3G, 4G and 5G can share all of the 20MHz bandwidth dynamically according to service requirement, so as to maximize spectrum utilization.

China Unicom spares no effort in exploring innovation for field network modernization, among which, dynamic spectrum sharing is without doubt the hottest topic. Since 2015, ZTE has been working closely with China Unicom in spectrum sharing involving 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, from GSM/LTE dynamic spectrum sharing to UMTS/LTE dynamic spectrum sharing, and now SuperDSS with UMTS/LTE/NR dynamic spectrum sharing, helping China Unicom Henan improve user experience based on our deep understanding of the network and user behavior.

ZTE has the industry most comprehensive multi-RAT dynamic spectrum sharing solution Magic Radio Pro, supporting up to seven scenarios inter-RAT sharing (GSM/LTE, UMTS/LTE, GSM/UMTS, LTE/NR, UMTS/LTE/NR, GSM/LTE/NR and etc.) with five radio technologies(GSM, UMTS, LTE, NB-IoT and NR) as ZTE is dedicated in the innovation of spectrum sharing field since 2014. Besides inter-RAT dynamic spectrum sharing among FDD modes, ZTE further explores the spectrum sharing possibilities and capabilities, SuperDSS is the key innovation of ZTE Magic Radio Pro solution in 5G era. In China Unicom Henan, the sites empowered with ZTE Magic Radio Pro solution are more than 10,000 and will further increase in the 5G evolution.

Based on our technology know-how and valuable experiences in commercial deployment of dynamic spectrum sharing, ZTE spectrum sharing solution will continue to help operators explore new possibilities and flexibility in 5G and network migration, bringing the most advanced technologies for even the most subtle yet important requirements. We have every reason to believe that SuperDSS will benefit China Unicom and global operators to address the challenges of 5G evolution and business development sustainability.

ZTE wins a chunk of China Mobile’s 5G core work

Chinese kit vendor ZTE has won the bid for a bunch of work on the standalone 5G core of China Mobile.

Any deal win with China Mobile is significant as it’s the world’s largest mobile operator. It is generally expected that the majority of any such work will be given to Chinese vendors, as that’s the way things seems to be done over there. Most recently China Mobile awarded 86% of its 5G RAN work to Chinese vendors, with ZTE getting around 30% of the work.

It’s hard to work out precisely how big a piece of the 5G core pie ZTE has got, because the English language press release seems to have just been put through Google Translate, but it looks like ZTE did a bit bet in the core than it did the RAN.

“For the public-oriented network, ZTE has won the bid of 12 provinces in six regions, and secured the bid for 35% shares in 31 provinces in China for the industry-oriented network,” said the press release. “This well demonstrates the company’s industry-leading strength in the 5G SA core network.”

We also got a rare update on ZTE’s global 5G deal wins. “To date, ZTE has obtained 46 commercial 5G contracts in major markets, such as Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (MEA),” we’re told. “ZTE commits 10 percent of its annual revenues to research and development and takes leadership roles in international standard development organizations.”

That number still puts ZTE well behind Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia. But is still a decent tally. Huawei doesn’t seem to have made any announcements regarding its share of Shina Mobile’s 5G core work, but it seems safe to assume it got most of the remainder.

Chinese vendors win nearly all of China Mobile’s 5G business – there’s a shock

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, has completed the second phase of its 5G tender and 86% of the work went to Huawei and ZTE.

The news comes courtesy of C114.com.cn and is written in Chinese, so we’re once more indebted to our China correspondent for a translation, as Google Translate really struggles with that language. “China Mobile’s second phase 5G construction has selected bid winners, total investment CNY 37.1 billion. Huawei and ZTE combined win 86% of the total,” reads the headline.

The main event is the table below, which displays the following information, from left to right: Province | Number of base stations | Huawei | ZTE | Ericsson | China Information Communication Technologies Group Corporation. Underneath each vendor is the bidding price in CNY and the proportion of the base stations won.

Some of the mechanics of the bidding process remain a mystery, especially with such similar bids yielding such different proportions. In one province Ericsson seems to have out-bid CICT but got a smaller proportion of the work. Notable by its absence is Nokia, which apparently did get involved but failed to win anything.

While we’re sure everything about the bidding process was totally transparent and above board, it comes as no surprise to see the process dominated by Chinese vendors. All the aggro around Huawei and the US was already threatening a balkanisation of the technology industry and growing western criticism of China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic will surely only accelerate that process.

ZTE says it has heard nothing about fresh US bribery investigations

US media is reporting that ZTE is the subject of a fresh bribery investigation, but the Chinese vendor says that’s the first it has heard of it.

NBC was the first media to report that ZTE is ‘the subject of a new and separate bribery investigation by the Justice Department.’ Before long the WSJ did that thing where they suddenly dig up an anonymous source of their own to independently leak a story that’s already in the public domain, with the headline U.S. Probes Chinese Telecom Giant ZTE for Possible Bribery.

If that report is accurate it must have been a very gentle probe, more of a prod or an askance look, because ZTE insists it has no knowledge of any such thing. Under the headline of ‘clarification of news articles’, ZTE acknowledged reports such as the ones above, but stressed the US has not contacted it.

“The company would like to clarify that it has not received notices from the relevant government departments of the United States in this regard,” said the announcement. “The company will proactively communicate with the relevant government departments of the United States, and will make announcements as and when required.

“The company is fully committed to meeting its legal and compliance obligations. The top priority of the company’s leadership team is making the company a trusted and reliable business partner in the global marketplace.

“Currently, the production and operating activities of the company are carried on as normal. The company wishes to remind investors that only information published by the company on its website and the websites of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange should be relied upon. Investors are urged to base their investments on rational considerations and beware of risks.”

That last paragraph is a bit strange as companies aren’t known for being in any great hurry to publicise any bad news unless they have to. It looks like ZTE doesn’t really get what the point of journalists is. Having said that, it does seem strange for US authorities to leak this story to the press before formalising proceedings, which means this could just be a shot across the bows by the Trump administration, to put additional pressure on China in their trade war.

Innovating to Unleash the Value of Fixed Networks in the 5G Era

Last year saw an explosive growth of Fixed Broadband (FBB) and Mobile Broadband (MBB) networks as well as the volume deployment of gigabit access. The compound annual growth rate of the 10G PON market will exceed 30 percent in the next five years and more than 70 countries worldwide have started or are planning 5G rollouts. Judging from the broadband initiatives of different countries, the business strategies of operators, and the competitive landscape, an era of dual-gigabit speeds based on FBB and MBB has arrived and the two access technologies will coexist for a long time. FBB and MBB will work together to further accelerate technical innovation and network transformation.

China accounts for 60 percent of the global Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) market. Back in 2018, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) of China launched an initiative to “promote gigabit rollout, increase the adoption of both fixed and mobile broadband, and offer the same speeds on the same networks”. China’s three national operators released detailed gigabit broadband plans in 2019 and have since deployed gigabit access for homes and 10G speeds for enterprise buildings in some cities. In 2019, the China-based Broadband Development Alliance (BDA) proposed 10 application scenarios for the gigabit network in a bid to guide the industry on how to commercialize the technology. In their broadband buildouts and broadband acceleration deployments, the Chinese operators have come up with a number of measures that include “driving the development of FBB with MBB, maintaining the competitiveness of MBB with FBB, and promoting MBB with FBB”. These approaches have been proven to help FBB and MBB networks grow together and complement each other.

The difference between the user bases of FBB and MBB also means that the two broadband access modes will live a coexistent, mutually-reinforcing manner for quite some time. Homes and enterprises constitute the vast majority of FBB users. This largely fixed user base demands that FBB meet high standards in terms of stability, reliability, security, bandwidth, Quality of Service (QoS), and so on. By contrast, MBB as represented by 5G mainly serves individual users and a few indoor coverage scenarios. Although 5G vastly improves bandwidth, security and QoS over 4G, it still lags behind FBB in bandwidth. Thanks to the different user groups they target, FBB and MBB have different characteristics and employ different technologies. They will promote and complement each other in the foreseeable future.

Innovation in Cost-Effective Bandwidth Upgrades Ensures Basic Broadband Capabilities

10G PON is one of the major technologies of gigabit networks and it is expected to be deployed on a large scale in the next five years. As the successor technology to 10G PON, 50G PON is projected to be put into use in around 2025. An important consideration for operators choosing gigabit broadband technology is that the network equipment must have good evolution capabilities. For example, a platform should support multiple technology generations and existing network resources should be reused to reduce upgrade costs. ZTE provides a family of end-to-end solutions to implement fixed gigabit access. At the system side, ZTE offers the industry’s first three-rate Combo PON solution for 10G PON networks to be built on a large scale in the most cost-effective manner. One Combo PON port supports both GPON and XG(S)-PON access, thus creating a smooth upgrade of bandwidth. Different Optical Network Units (ONUs) can be deployed on demand at the user side, where they can form part of a mesh Wi-Fi network to deliver seamless whole-home gigabit coverage and enhance user experience. Since its launch, the Combo PON solution has led to more than 30 operators around the world collaborating with ZTE to test, trial and deploy it. In the process, the solution has become a preferred solution for operators to build 10G PON networks.

Innovation in Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) Expands and Exposes Network Capabilities

To make FBB and MBB work in tandem, concerted efforts from standards organizations, operators, equipment vendors and other industry stakeholders are needed. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project Group (3GPP) and Broadband Forum (BBF) are jointly formulating 5G-FMC standards. 3GPP works on producing standards for 5G Core (5GC) networks to support the convergence of FBB and MBB, while BBF focuses on enhancing wired access networks so that they can interconnect with 5GC networks. In the FMC field, ZTE is an ardent promoter, an active industry player, and a member of multiple standards bodies. It actively participates in the formulation of 5G-FMC standards.

As its standardization advances, FMC is gaining wide attention in the industry, with some operators already implementing FMC at the service and network levels. FMC brings operators two benefits. On the one hand, they can provide FMC-based packages to increase user loyalty and boost market competitiveness. On the other hand, they can use the convergence of FBB and MBB networks to improve network resource utilization and reduce network construction cost. Years ago, ZTE began to work with Indonesian operator Telkom to implement mobile backhaul over the operator’s existing FTTx network. It has connected 16,000 2G/3G/4G base stations through an FTTx network for Telkom and helped the operator build the world’s largest FTTM network. Meanwhile, ZTE continues to tap the potential of copper infrastructure. It released a copper-based enhanced Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) solution that utilizes G.fast technology and in-building copper resources to route 5G signals into the home in a low-cost, stable and reliable fashion.

Innovation in IT+CT Integration Boosts Network Efficiency and Value

As video becomes a basic service of broadband networks and as user attention shifts from bandwidth to experience, operators are also changing the focus of their service operations. To meet users’ increasing experience requirements, operators need to find a way to make the most of their legacy network resources and employ differentiated means. Building Information Technology (IT) functions in Communications Technology (CT) devices is an industry trend. With IT capabilities introduced into CT devices, a network can have higher utilization, more functional scalability, higher elasticity, and more freedom to accommodate future services.

ZTE actively explores the application scenarios, technologies, and product practices of IT+CT integration. One innovation of ZTE in this area is embedding blade servers in an Optical Line Terminal (OLT), which is a telecom access device, to further expose its capabilities. Based on the blade servers, ZTE launched the Access CDN solution to move the Content Distribution Network (CDN) to OLTs in Access Offices (AOs). By locally accelerating services such as video and pushing service provision closer to end users, the Access CDN solution can significantly reduce packet loss, latency, and pressure on upper-layer networks. The solution has been commercially deployed by multiple operators to cache and accelerate video services, helping them address network issues including traffic congestion, poor experience and insufficient upstream bandwidth. Through the deployments, the solution has demonstrated that it can offload 50 percent video traffic, relieve pressure on upper-layer networks, slash the proportion of video stalling time by 98.5 percent, and increase the play success ratio from 98 to 100 percent, thereby drastically enhancing user experience.

As a leader in the field of FBB, ZTE understands that only innovation can lead to steady, sustained development, create more value, and win the future. Over the years, it has been committed to bandwidth acceleration and technology innovation. In the 5G era, ZTE will go on innovating and creating success for customers.