Our sponsors provide financial support for this website. We endeavour to give our sponsors the opportunity to communicate their messages in placements that are clearly demarcated. Such placements are clearly labelled as Advertisement, Advertisement feature, Sponsored content, Sponsor's perspective, "Brought to you by" the sponsor or words to that effect. Occasionally, we group together content from various sources relating to the same topic. In cases where content from The Economist Group is included, it will be clearly labelled as from The Economist or Economist Intelligence Unit. At all times there is a clear division between our editorial staff and sponsors, and sponsors are never allowed to influence what our editorial teams write. Sponsors are solely responsible for their content, and their views do not necessarily reflect those of The Economist.
The telecoms industry finds itself in a challenging era, with stagnating revenues and suffering a heavy blow from the pandemic. At the same time, operators need to invest heavily in their network infrastructure to meet the rising demand from consumers and enterprises.
At the same time, the industry is under pressure to transition quickly to the 5G era. Operators need to invest heavily to stay competitive in a tight operating environment, while also complying with multiple regulatory challenges, from emissions targets to the complex planning, safety and permit paperwork involved in building out new physical infrastructure.
In this highly competitive environment, mobile operators need to be able to deploy and maintain digital networks that provide an optimal user experience. To enable this, ZTE is helping operators to achieve what it calls an ‘ultimate network’ built on three key pillars: intelligence, performance, and sustainability.
The telecoms sector can, thanks to 5G and broader advances in automation, artificial intelligence and analytics, now deliver an intelligent, responsive and agile network. Through smart orchestration, optimised network deployment, and cloud-based delivery, telecom operators can improve productivity and efficiency by replacing traditional, manual and time-consuming processes by automation and intelligence, according to ZTE senior vice president, Sun Fangping. This brings agility to all of the workflows, processes and documentation involved in network construction, deployment and management.
In the 5G era, the conventional one-size-fits-all approach to building wireless networks and allocating resources, cannot meet the needs of business to business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) customers. 5G requires the balanced development of networks, services, and terminals to allow more dynamic and flexible offerings.
To achieve this, ZTE developed the Intelligent Orchestration Radio Network solution, which dynamically orchestrates network resources according to service requirements. This equates to an improved user experience, while meeting industry requirements in a flexible and efficient way. “For the first time, ZTE has innovatively proposed a knowledge base of network service capabilities-based intelligent orchestration into wireless networks, from the perspective of the entire network and all frequency bands,” says Bai Yanmin, Vice President of ZTE Corporation. “ZTE is committed to achieving the ultimate goal of the strongest network service capabilities and the best user experience.”
The experience of China Mobile offers a real-world example of intelligent planning, delivery and maintenance. China officially launched commercial use of 5G in 2019. As the world’s largest operator in terms of network scale and customer base, China Mobile deployed 390,000 5G stations—340,000 of which were deployed in 2020 alone, and brought 5G services to all prefecture-level cities in China.
But China’s vast territory, complicated topography and dense population, combined with China Mobile’s multiple co-existing networks, posed great difficulties for network construction. ZTE, a strategic partner and major contractor to China Mobile, proposed an end-to-end intelligent delivery solution covering a life cycle’s four key phases (planning, construction, maintenance, and optimization). In the planning phase, for instance, a 4G/5G coordinated network planning solution, using massive data analysis and AI-based forecasting, helped identify valuable areas in terms of coverage, capacity and matching of site-locations and products. The approach, used in eight provinces across China, informed intelligent planning, and increased efficiency by 80%.
In deployment, China Mobile struggled to find space for antenna installation in increasingly dense urban areas and with limits on acquiring new sites. ZTE’s UniSite solution facilitated efficient deployment through automated site commissioning and transport link analysis, and software upgrades after installation. The increased site commissioning efficiency by 50%. Further supports included intelligent maintenance innovations to quickly root out false alarms, meaning maintenance teams can focus on genuine incidents. In assisting China Mobile, ZTE has demonstrated intelligent networks across the life cycle or planning, deployment and maintenance.
Operators often struggle to smoothly upgrade their infrastructure without any blip in service. This challenge is compounded when they have to rationalise legacy infrastructure, as with a merger. ZTE’s partnership with Italy’s Wind Tre demonstrates the company’s ability to deliver ultimate performance in a highly challenging context.
Following the merger of Wind and H3G in 2016, a new Italian company, Wind Tre, emerged. Its legacy networks were dogged with issues including poor coverage, insufficient capacity and ageing equipment, which limited the company’s ability to transition to 4G Pro and 5G.
ZTE won the bid to support the new company’s network reconstruction and upgrade. The initiative was the largest, most complex network consolidation undertaken by ZTE, involving five bands, seven systems, and hundreds of site models. There were also added complexities related to site permits and regulatory compliance around the European Union General Data Protection Regulation and Italy’s strict electromagnetic field exposure limits. It was one of the most complex projects in European telecoms over the last decade.
Over three years, ZTE successfully relocated over 10,000 sites and achieved network consolidation, greatly improving Wind Tre’s network performance. The Wind Tre network supported smooth integration of 2G, 3G and 4G networks. Data volumes increased by 270%, call drop rates of 2G and 3G fell by 38.2%, network availability increased by 2.4% and the LTE DL throughput by 18.1%. The number of base stations was streamlined from 21,000 to 19,000, bringing energy savings of 25%. ZTE further reduced energy consumption through improved system efficiencies. A network quality evaluation conducted by, a third part testing organisation, found Wind Tre ranked first overall in Italy.
5G systems are more energy-intensive due to the greater capacities they offer sites, and energy consumption could grow by as much as 140% in some sectors and scenarios. With an estimated one million 5G sites globally, that equates to nearly $1.5 billion in electricity costs and over 10 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year. Without innovation, 5G could worsen the already serious climate emergency. With it, digital transformation could radically reduce waste and improve the industry’s environmental profile as well as helping all of the sectors that rely on it to re-imagine their operations in a digitally enhanced way.
The telecoms sector understands its role and responsibility, with major operators signing a commitment in 2020 to meet science-based environmental targets. Operators are embracing carbon reduction efforts as a core business objective and helping the wider economy to transition. According to one estimate, mobile technology successfully powered emissions reductions of 2,135 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018, ten times larger than the carbon footprint of the mobile industry. ZTE is committed to the green transition, and views digital transformation as a critical enabler of the green economy by cutting waste, improving efficiency and saving mobile operator expenses.
China is a central testing ground for proving the telecoms industry’s contribution to emissions reduction. Over one third of 5G sites belong to China Telecom, meaning just one percentage point of 5G energy saving could result in 110,000 metric tons of carbon emissions saved, equivalent to planting over 600,000 trees. China Telecom’s size provides a powerful point of leverage to achieve meaningful progress.
ZTE’s PowerPilot project is a strong case study of how innovation can ensure that network transformation cuts, rather than increases, energy usage. PowerPilot exploits differences in energy efficiency of different types of services, or the same services on different spectrum bands, compared to other energy saving solutions which are service-insensitive and cannot leverage service differentiation to improve network energy efficiency.
PowerPilot finds the most efficient balance of network performance and energy consumption in a flexible and dynamic way, achieved through an artificial intelligence-driven tool that steers users away from less power-efficient spectrum bands; and traffic forecasting that saves energy by shutting down non-vital resources and keeping network capacity to a minimum. PowerPilot can be easily deployed via software upgrades to base stations, meaning minimal additional carbon footprint is involved in rollout. Steering services to the most efficient network can also improve battery life in 5G terminals.
Powered by AI and big data, this energy saving optimization can be continuously implemented through machine learning without human intervention. So far, PowerPilot, through its pioneering combination of shutdowns, smart traffic forecasting and intelligent service awareness, has been deployed in nearly 800,000 sites worldwide including Italy, South Africa, Malaysia, and Belarus, saving more than US$1 billion in electricity costs for the operators.
In 2020, ZTE and China Telecom jointly unrolled PowerPilot for commercial use in Chengdu, including the latest features of service awareness-based energy saving. The project achieved an over 34% reduction of network energy consumption of 4G/5G without any impact on network performance or user experience. This equates to a 14kWh daily energy saving in each site. Given the over 800,000 5G sites in China, the reduction is akin to reducing 2.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. PowerPilot is unique as it is the first solution in the industry to coordinate 4G and 5G for a much improved overall network energy efficiency.
The telecoms industry finds itself in a challenging era, with stagnating revenues and suffering a heavy blow from the pandemic. At the same time, operators need to invest heavily in their network infrastructure to meet the rising demand from consumers and enterprises. Working with partners such as ZTE, the industry can not only survive but thrive, and in so doing, be part of the most exciting transformations on our economies and society towards a cleaner, smarter world.
READ NEXT ARTICLE
Addressing the speed and scale of digital change is one of the most pressing issues for global decision makers. 5G offers a more secure, more connected future, but this requires all stakeholders to work together to build a transparent, open and equitable environment.
This article was produced by (E) BrandConnect, a commercial division of The Economist Group, which operates separately from the editorial staffs of The Economist and The Economist Intelligence Unit. Neither (E) BrandConnect nor its affiliates accept any responsibility or liability for reliance by any party on this content.
ZTE Corporation is a global leader in telecommunications and information technology. Founded in 1985 and listed on both the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges, the company has been committed to providing innovative technologies and integrated solutions for global operators, government and enterprise, and consumers from over 160 countries across the globe. Serving over 1/4 of the global population, the company is dedicated to enabling connectivity and trust everywhere for a better future.