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In conjunction with ZTE’s Analyst Conference 2021, Telecom Review Asia Pacific speaks with Cui Li, chief development officer, ZTE in an exclusive interview to learn how telcos can innovate, transform, and raise competitiveness in the digital economy.

Accelerating digital and intelligent transformation is a national agenda for many countries particularly in the wake of the pandemic. How does ZTE drive transformation to empower industries?

Digital transformation is now an inevitable trend as the digital economy has become a major driving force for high-quality economic growth. We are experiencing transformation from office automation to digitalization and intelligence in all fields to fuel new economic benefits. As the pandemic upended our way of work and life, we have learned to embrace digital transformation to reap advantages such as reduced costs, improved quality, and increased efficiency. For enterprises, transformation facilitates flexible production and intelligent decision-making.

Compounded with accelerated global climate changes and surge in natural disasters, we have become more aware of the importance of environmental protection, biodiversity, and sustainable development. As countries commit to achieving carbon neutrality by the middle of this century, current economic development models must undergo fundamental reforms, to which digital transformation is key.

Dedicated to the ICT industry for the past 36 years, ZTE is a top player with end-to-end, innovative technologies. We are able to integrate strong underlying capabilities and technology innovations into product deployment and delivery to provide cost-effective, user-friendly digital service solutions that are tailored to customer needs.

Over the past few years, ZTE, together with more than 500 global partners, has been exploring innovative 5G-powered digital transformation. With innovation at our core, we manufacture 5G equipment with 5G technology to accelerate digital transformation across industries. We have developed 100 scenario-based 5G solutions for over 15 vertical industries, covering geographies and industries such as Thailand's smart manufacturing, Belgium's smart ports, Austria's smart farms, and China's smart factories. Through innovative designs, R&D, and deployment of end-to-end solutions, ZTE offers capabilities to create value for our customers, empowering digital transformation of enterprises, industries, and even societies.

What are some challenges telcos face when improving network infrastructure to raise core competitiveness in the digital economy?

In an increasingly digital environment, traditional telecom operators face stronger competition from OTT providers which are more capable of agile development and iteration to meet the changing demands of consumers. Against intensifying competition, telecom operators are pressured to raise competitiveness and seize opportunities in the new digital economy by transforming from communications service providers to digital service providers.

In terms of network infrastructure, we believe that applying the three E’s can help address the technical challenges faced by operators. The first E is “Extended Capability”, that is, to provide higher capacity, better coverage, and more connections. The second E is “Enhanced Performance”, which is to support a wider range of new applications. For example, we can provide an uplink bandwidth of 1Gbps or above by applying carrier aggregation to meet special needs in industry scenarios. We can also achieve ultra-low latency of one millisecond guaranteed by five-nines reliability.

The third E is “Efficiency Improvement” of power to fuel a sustainable network evolution. In response to these three challenges, ZTE has various solutions to help operators deploy the “Ultimate Performance”, “Ultimate Experience”, and “Ultimate Operational Efficiency”. In the future network evolution, ZTE will continue to innovate and focus on these three directions to create value for operators.

How can telcos seize new opportunities to generate new revenue streams in the digital age?

Traditional telecom operators have limited offerings. Today, the market’s demands for integrated digital services have become increasingly clear. In the consumer market, for instance, the emergence of smart homes will integrate education, work, and entertainment in a post-pandemic era. This trend will only continue to grow.

Across industries, intelligent Internet of Everything (IoE) will contribute to an exponential growth in connected terminals, as well as the need for increased network capabilities and ubiquitous computing power. Instead of building data centers, enterprise customers will be more willing to turn to DSPs for professional, integrated, and cost-effective services, so that they can focus on other business aspects. The digital transformation of traditional industries would also bring about new incremental space.

These are new market opportunities for operators to tap on to grow, as well as impetus for operators to embark on their journey towards becoming DSPs to build a solid digital foundation to stay ahead. In this transformation journey, ZTE is able to provide underlying core technologies like chipsets, operating systems, and databases. ZTE can also provide complete cloud-network-end solutions, along with professional and efficient digital deployment, O&M, and management tools. In addition, we are committed to sustainable development with green technology.

To provide efficient and reliable infrastructure solutions for the digital economy, ZTE can help operators build a solid digital foundation integrating "network, cloud, and industry".

In this regard, networks are the basis for the IoE while distributed cloud supports various digital applications and hence computing power anytime, anywhere. Combining big data technology with networks and distributed cloud, we can achieve data collection and integration. Furthermore, we can realize high-dimensional perception and intelligent decision-making through AI technology.

Regarding industries, the key is to provide scenario-driven and value-oriented digital services tailored to various verticals. To satisfy the requirements of different customers, we can flexibly integrate underlying capabilities of network and cloud to provide cost-effective and user-friendly digital services. With a network-cloud-industry synergy, operators can effectively drive digital transformation across ToC, ToB, and ToH markets to create a win-win future.

ZTE continually innovates to build competitiveness in core technologies. Can you discuss some key developments instrumental to driving the digital economy?

Over the years, ZTE's core competitiveness lies in innovative technology that creates value for customers. For example, we proposed the concept of the SDR soft base station platform in 2009, and the Massive MIMO technology that won the MWC Best Technology Breakthrough Award and CTO Choice Award in 2016.

In a digital economy, ZTE is focused on enhancing connectivity and computing power. Based on continuous innovation in chipsets, algorithms, architecture, and other underlying technologies, we have developed products and services that help operators consolidate their digital foundation in a multi-pronged approach – to enhance network capabilities, expand digital capabilities, and fuel the digital transformation of Industry X.

Through enhanced network capabilities, we can help operators realize the ultimate user experience and network efficiency for ToC, ToB, and ToH markets. For ToC, ZTE improves uplink rate and realizes ultra-high-speed customer experience through 5G innovations such as Radio Composer wireless intelligent scheduling solution, FAST time-frequency dual aggregation solution, and SuperDSS dynamic spectrum sharing solution. For ToB, the industry's original NodeEngine base station engine enables low-cost and rapid deployment of computing power down to wireless sites to meet the digital needs of more than 80% of SMEs. PRB-based hard isolated slicing combined with NodeEngine enables SMEs to use 5G private network with more autonomy and flexibility. Finally, for ToH, ZTE offers HOL (Home Optical LAN) solutions to realize home gigabit fiber experience.

To expand digital capabilities, we launch a cloud-network synergy solution that matches the advantages of telecom operators, providing full-scenario converged hardware in the IaaS layer, including universal servers, integrated cabinets, and NEO acceleration cards, flexibly adapting to the operator's central or edge server room deployment needs, so that computing power is ubiquitous. We propose an edge-driven middle platform reconstruction. The key is to decouple the PaaS layer to facilitate dual circulations.

For digital transformation in vertical industries, ZTE has formed a modularized library of underlying network and cloud capabilities, as a platform to empower industry customers and ecological partners to lower the technical threshold and help incubate innovation and ecological construction of upper layer applications. For example, underlying network capabilities enable enhanced uplink, high reliability, hard slicing, and low latency, and cloud capabilities enable artificial intelligence, automated guided vehicles navigation, and high-precision positioning. On top of the component capabilities, it can be flexibly combined according to different industries and different scenarios for rapid deployment, agile innovation, and scale replication.

The telecom industry is moving towards cloud-native technology. How does ZTE support telcos in integrating cloud?

In the 5G and IoE era, different scenarios and different applications may have very different requirements for network capabilities, and also, require the networks to be more flexible, agile, and supportive of continuous iteration. For example, the 5G network is based on a cloud-native architecture. It has the advantages of flexibility, agility, elasticity, and supports slicing to support all industries with one network. At the same time, a large number of applications also require operators to have the ability to converge digital services.

Already, many operators are accelerating cloud-network convergence and edge expansion. More cloud-native technologies will be introduced and their application scopes expanded. In the next few years, edge cloud presents high-growth market opportunities. According to Gartner’s prediction, 75% of enterprise data will be processed at the edge by 2025. As a result of market-driven ICT technology convergence, telecom operators are challenged to accelerate cloud-network synergy deployment.

From "central cloud" to "distributed cloud", low-cost and agile deployment in edge scenarios will become the key to competition. Telecom operators can leverage on their inherent advantages such as strong network foundation, abundant supporting resources like sites and computer rooms, and local service teams to deploy cloud-network.

Together with ZTE’s solutions, such as the 5G BBU and OLT to provide computing power to support edge applications, operators can make full use of their ICT, software-hardware convergence advantages to realize optimal efficiency of distributed cloud edge resources.

In addition, ZTE offers customized services to accelerate cloud-network synergy deployment according to operators’ needs and strategies. This is aimed to provide operators the most suitable transformation route from CSP to DSP.

Asia has one of the fastest-growing digital economies in the world. How does ZTE aim to be an enabler in driving the region’s economy forward?

ZTE accumulates past and present experiences to propel Asia’s digital economies through four key approaches. Firstly, continuous research and development of underlying core technologies will provide us with competitive solutions that will match the needs of the Asian market. Notably, in a diverse region such as Asia, we provide highly targeted products and solutions for customers in different markets.

Secondly, we are focused on helping customers achieve business success. Taking 5G deployment, for instance, our large-scale deployment in China has equipped us with rich commercial experience to facilitate 5G expansion in other parts of Asia. At the same time, we have supported many 5G industry applications in verticals such as mining, healthcare, energy, and manufacturing. We can partner with operators in Asia to carry out mature replication to help their customers yield successful commercial 5G.

Thirdly, we attach great importance to cybersecurity. ZTE participates in the formulation of international and industry standards on cybersecurity. We have also been working with overseas partners and have established cybersecurity labs in Europe. ZTE is making every effort to raise the level of trust customers and partners have in our 5G products and solutions.

Finally, we emphasize high-efficient overseas delivery to provide operators across all geographies with simplified processes and intelligent maintenance. In Thailand, for instance, ZTE has signed a 5G commercial contract with the True Group to build a leading 5G network in Southeast Asia. ZTE has also joined hands with Thailand’s AIS to promote 5G networks deployment, as well as the Suranaree University of Technology to build a 5G smart demonstrative factory to spur 5G+ industrial applications. In Indonesia, ZTE has also partnered with an operator to launch the country’s first commercial 5G services.

Essentially, we have a clear market expansion strategy in Asia, and believe that the upgrade of existing networks and the rise of new digital infrastructure network in Asia will help operators play a transformative role in the region.

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