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‘5G Capital’ Answers How 5G to Be Developed in a Huge City

by Guang Yang | Nov 24, 2020

Beijing as the most challenging mobile market in China

Beijing is the world's most populous capital city, with over 21 million residents within an administrative area of 16,410.5 km2. As the political center and one of the most important economic and academic cities of China, a lot of talents and enterprises gather in Beijing. There are residential areas with the highest population density in the world, such as Tiantongyuan area where the population density is over 60K per km2. There are two international airports. Over 100 million passengers travelled through Beijing Capital International Airport in 2019. There are more than 90 universities and colleges. The average data consumption of university students is 30-40 GB per month, according to the statistics of Chinese universities. There are headquarters of 55 Fortune Global 500 companies. Many of them have launched the digital transformation programs. There are also ministries of China’s central government that have the highest requirement for information security and network reliability.

To serve for residents, enterprises and the central government, Beijing city government has set an ambitious goal of smart city program. Smart transportation, smart education, smart construction, etc. is the focus of the program to improve the city operation efficiency, to provide better protection for working labourers, etc.

All three Chinese incumbent operators also see Beijing as their top priority market and invest in the city heavily. This sets a high standard for network quality and customer satisfaction of the mobile networks in Beijing. Even if the 4G data speed in Beijing is the 2nd highest in China, just behind Shanghai, according to China Broadband Alliance, the customer satisfaction with Beijing’s mobile network is always ranked in the lowest group among major Chinese cities.

Therefore, a high quality network infrastructure is an important foundation for operators to win the competition and also for the city to advance its smart city program. 

China Unicom’s ‘5G Capital’ builds the foundation of smart network and smart city

During Huawei’s Mobile Broadband Forum held on Nov 12-13, China Unicom revealed the staged result of its ‘5G Capital’ program that was jointly launched by China Unicom and Huawei in early this year. The program targets to build the first class 5G network in the capital city to provide compelling services for both consumers and enterprise customers.

Since the first 5G basestation was deployed in August 2018, China Unicom’s Beijing branch has rolled out 14 thousand 5G basestations. China Unicom’s 5G network availability in Beijing has been up to 92%. The average download data rate is over 460 Mbps. It’s around 7 times the download speed of China Unicom’s 4G network in the city.

To develop the advanced services and applications needs not only the high quality radio coverage, but also a strong and flexible core network platform. China Unicom Beijing branch kicked off the Standalone Architecture (SA) based service for friendly users in June. The end-to-end network slicing service platform was launched in August. Totally 10 MEC nodes have been deployed, according to geography and traffic distribution, to improve 5G user experience and support the applications that require ultra-low latency. China Unicom has also deployed the dedicated MEC servers for industrial campus, such as in the campus network of SANY, a well-known heavy machinery manufacturer.

Because 5G network architecture and service provision are increasingly complex, China Unicom introduces the smart operation platform to enhance the network visibility and improve the operation efficiency. The 5G smart operation platform, the network slicing platform, and the MEC platform together enable China Unicom to quickly respond market demand and to provide better support for Beijing’s smart city program.

Serving for consumers and enterprises

With these platforms, the China Unicom Beijing branch has developed new services for consumers and vertical industries in Beijing market. For instance, China Unicom has collaborated with Tencent to develop the cloud gaming services. Through leveraging network slicing capabilities, China Unicom not only can provide the data connectivity to individual players, but also can guarantee the network service quality for gaming service providers. The solution combines the B2C and B2B service offers to improve user experience and also create new business opportunities for operators.

In vertical market, China Unicom has collaborated with China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) and Eastone to develop the smart construction service portfolio. Based on 5G’s ultra-low latency capability, MEC platform and network slicing, China Unicom and partners have developed the smart construction applications, such as tower crane remote control, automatic site inspection, etc. They will further develop more applications to lower the labour cost of construction projects and to provide better protection for workers.
5G capital

China Unicom also collaborated with China Eastern Airlines and Huawei to launch a 5G smart travel service system at Beijing Daxing International Airport. The smart travel service system enables a greatly improved airport experience for passengers, through deploying Huawei 5G digital indoor system, and cloud computing system with AI technologies. In February, the service system won GSMA’s “Best Mobile Technology for Work Award.”

It is expected that, as the 5G vertical application ecosystem matures, more and more 5G vertical applications will be deployed to support the smart city development.

Implications from the ‘5G Capital’ development

China Unicom’s 5G Capital program illustrates how an operator could kick off 5G service in a challenging city market and how 5G network could serve for the smart city ambition of a city.

Implication 1: The network slicing and MEC capabilities can help operators to explore new business opportunities.

Either the cloud gaming service of Tencent or the remote control of tower crane in CSCEC’s sites is based on the low latency / high bandwidth guaranteed by the edge computing and network slicing platform. It’s the first time in the history of telecom industry that the guaranteed E2E SLA can be implemented in a wireless network. The E2E SLA capability enables operators to provide more compelling services in consumer market, such as cloud gaming or VR / AR services. More important, the combination of E2E SLA and the deployment flexibility of a wireless technology gives telecom operators a unique advantage in the B2B market. It empowers operators to meet the specific requirements of enterprises and smart city applications. This will help operators to touch a broader market and develop new revenue sources.

Implication 2:  Good radio network performance is key for fully exploiting the network platform capabilities. 

A seamless network coverage and good capacity elasticity are the foundation of the E2E SLA. Only when a high standard radio network is implemented, can the network slicing and MEC platforms reach their full potential. Cell site and spectrum are crucial resources for operators to get a good radio network performance. Through the active sharing with China Telecom, China Unicom is able to expand its 5G coverage rapidly. Currently inside Beijing’s 5th ring, the number of 5G basestations has exceeded the number of 4G basestations by almost 30%.  Most of the new cell sites were obtained through the sharing agreement with China Telecom. Meanwhile, the active sharing agreement with China Telecom enables China Unicom’s 5G network to use the 200 MHz bandwidth in an outdoor environment and 300 MHz bandwidth in indoor deployment. The ultra-wide bandwidth significantly improves the data experience of 5G network users.

Unlike the previous generation networks, the indoor coverage becomes important at the early phase of 5G network rollout, because most of the compelling 5G services, such as VR / AR or smart factory applications, mainly happening in the indoor environment. China Unicom has worked with Huawei to deploy the 5G Digital Indoor System (5G DIS) in transport hubs, stadiums, theatres, office buildings, etc. The virtual massive MIMO of Huawei 5G DIS can significantly improve the indoor data experience. That can help operators to accelerate the customer migration from 4G to 5G and to develop new services, particularly the B2B applications.

Implication 3: 5G network is an important digital infrastructure for a city.   

Based on the 5G capabilities, telecom operators can strengthen collaboration with equipment vendors and vertical industry players. Through the collaboration, telecom networks with diverse vertical applications can make the life in the city easier and safer, and can make the city operation more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

Only with the collaboration with industry partners and city governments, can telecom operators build strong end-to-end network and healthy ecosystem for 5G. In the collaboration, the city government could give operators more supports for 5G network deployment, such as to simplify the cell site acquisition and to open public facilities for network deployment. City government and telecom operators can reach a win-win situation through accelerating 5G deployment.   

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