China Mobile is in the midst of expanding its 5G trials in five cities this year —Hangzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Suzhou, and Wuhan. The operator initially started the trials last year with only a handful of base stations. Now, it plans to increase the number of base stations to more than 100 in each city. The trials will use equipment from multiple vendors including Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, and ZTE.
According to China Mobile Chief Scientist Chih-Lin I, Ph.D., the primary reason for the trials is to test interoperability of equipment across vendors and also to measure data rates and verify network efficiency.
China Mobile has also identified 12 additional cities where it will focus on testing 5G applications. Those cities have been identified and will be added to the trial later this year and in early 2019.
Chih-Lin I said that China Mobile is working closely with different industries and vertical markets to work on applications and develop use cases that will make the 5G network more valuable. “We have to build new capabilities and use cases for various vertical industries so the network can be valuable to them and to society,” she said.
Chih-Lin I spoke with SDxCentral in advance of the 5G New Horizons Symposium in Austin, Texas. She will be participating in the conference that takes place May 16-17. The event, which is hosted by 5G Americas, will feature speakers from operators around the globe.
Green and Soft
Interestingly, China Mobile ascribes to two tenets of thought when it comes to 5G: It must be green and it must be soft. Chih-Lin I said that the green part means efficiency from end to end and not just energy efficiency but also efficiency in the air interface and every piece of the network. The soft part means software agility. She said that operators and the consumer tech industry need to be able to squeeze out all of the capacity and maximize performance in a network. “Hence, our industry has been very much hardware centric. Highly customized hardware with tightly coupled software has been hard to upgrade. Whereas the IT and OTT industries are very agile because their capabilities come from software,” she said.
Chih-Lin I added that in the past many people in the wireless industry though that it was impossible to be both green and soft. In other words, if you had efficiency, you couldn’t also have agility. But now that is changing thanks to network virtualization.
For China Mobile that means virtualization throughout the entire network, not just the core network. In particular, it means virtualization of the radio access network (RAN). “The RAN is much more demanding and challenging than the core network,” Chih-Lin I said.
China Mobile has been very involved in C-RAN. The operator formed the C-RAN Alliance, which earlier this year announced it had merged with the xRAN Forum to become the ORAN Alliance. The name change and merger are expected to be finalized in June. The group’s goal is to develop a software-based, extensible RAN (xRAN) architecture. Other operators involved in the initiative include Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, Verizon, SK Telecom, Telstra and NTT Docomo.
Chih-Lin I said that China Mobile believes that ORAN will be an important part of 5G and will complement the traditional network. “Open architecture will enable our industry to embrace many more players and will offer greater opportunities to new and existing suppliers,” she said.