The global digital economy is witnessing rapid growth with the development of the next-generation information technology. In 2020, the added value of the digital economy totaled USD 32.6 trillion in 47 countries, including China, the United States, and Germany, accounting for 43.7% of the GDP. To boost the development of the digital economy, countries have adopted different strategies. For example, the EU has explored data governance rules and developed the Digital Single Market to create a digital economy ecosystem. The United Kingdom has built a digital government, leading a new round of digital transformation. Based on the strong industrial foundation and market vitality, China has been promoting infrastructure construction and the integration of the digital economy with the real economy, accelerating both social and economic development.

To cover a long journey, we should keep making strides. On the path toward AIoE, highly efficient digital infrastructure and transferable digital capabilities are the core driving forces of the digital economy.

Digital Infrastructure: from Reliable Network to Effective Application

5G and gigabit optical networks, known as dual gigabit, are being built on a large scale, laying a solid foundation for new infrastructure construction. As network development enters a new stage, the focus will shift to the following two aspects: construction of reliable networks in a more targeted and cost-effective manner, and effective and large-scale application of networks in different scenarios.

A reliable network features not only good technical indicators but also high perceived value. The ToC and ToH fields are undergoing transformations, as evidenced by the changes in people’s work and life under the pandemic, the explosive growth of short video and livestreaming Apps, increasing mobile Internet users, and personalized demands for XR, metaverse, and other innovative Apps. To improve perceived value, wider and deeper 5G coverage is the key. In the ToB field, the expansion and convergence of ICT and OT have also given rise to the demands for high-performance, cost-effective, and reliable networks.

To build such networks, multiple factors should be taken into account, including the performance, cost, and deployment complexity. Customized solutions will thus be the optimal choice. For example, pole-mounted base stations and other small cells that can be flexibly deployed; 5G Massive MIMO SSB 1+X solution based on AAPC, increasing the coverage rate by 20-30% for high-rise buildings; overlay networking of 5G indoor WDS and existing DAS, greatly reducing the deployment cost; 700M/900M FDD networks, which expand 5G coverage at low cost; Wi-Fi 6 for “real gigabit” optical access, fulfilling the diversified demands of home users; and deployment of 5G POL, 5G TSN, and 5G LAN to customize services for businesses.

After building reliable networks, what comes next is to promote effective network application, where 5G terminals and Apps play a key role. 5G phones at a unit price of as low as CNY 1,000 (about USD 158) have come on the market. These cost-effective phones are bound to further increase the 5G penetration rate in the future. Moreover, dual-gigabit networks demonstrate competitive advantages in the face of massive HD and livestreaming videos. Based on cloud-network integration, end-to-end one-stop managed services, and industrial Internet platforms, innovative applications keep emerging in the ToB field and are ready for commercial delivery and large-scale replication. Looking back, we find that innovative ideas and products always set the trend of the future. For example, Wintel bolstered the development of the Internet, and iOS and Android ushered us into the era of the mobile Internet. With infinite broadband and computing power, virtual machine will coexist with physical PCs, and Mixed Reality (MR) will create a brand-new ecosystem for mobile Apps. Apps related to metaverse, digital twins, and cloud gaming will gradually grab the spotlight in the ToC market, and promote the disruptive development of 5G.

Digital Infrastructure: from Connectivity to Computing Power

As reported by International Data Corporation (IDC), the global data has grown at a CAGR of about 50% over the past decade. As we are embracing the era of AIoE, the number is expected to become even higher. In recent years, Nielsen’s Law and Moore’s Law have continued to play vital roles, but they have shown trade-offs, that is, the growth of network bandwidth has greatly exceeded the one of CPU performance. Distributed and heterogeneous computing came into being in response to the massive data flow on the terminal, edge, and cloud. Under such trend, computing power and network are becoming increasingly integrated, optimizing the storage, switching, and processing of massive data. More importantly, carbon neutrality has become a goal shared by all the people across the globe. For example, China has launched the initiatives of “New Infrastructure” and “East-to-West Computing Resource Transfer” as well as the dual-carbon goals to step up low-carbon development.

Under the trends of digitalization and low carbon, computing power-network integration is accelerating. As the key to “evolving from connectivity to computing power” is the new IaaS featuring computing power-network integration, computing power networks are emerging. Currently, the entire industry is working together on slicing, TSN, cloud-network integration, network self-evolution, and computing power network, aiming to achieve the goal of “ubiquitous networks, computing power, and intelligence”.

To attain that goal, we need to strive for key breakthroughs along the way. To build an agile, intelligent, green, secure, and efficient “digital foundation” supporting high-speed and ubiquitous connectivity, space-air-ground integrated networks, and cloud-network integration, we need to achieve synergy of software, hardware, and chipsets as well as the integration of AI, Blockchain, Cloud, Data, Network, Edge, and Terminal (ABCDNET). Specifically, we need to work on the following aspects:

Innovate in DSA, packaging, and systematic design, and develop acceleration hardware based on DPUs and FPGAs to improve cost effectiveness and Marginal Efficiency of Capital (MEC).Accelerate the deployment of SRv6-based SD-WANs to achieve efficient cross-domain orchestration of network resources while continuously pursuing higher spectral efficiency.Establish more modular data centers to reduce the PUE, meeting the requirements of low carbon and power saving; build integrated and efficient cloud platforms that incorporate heterogeneous resources and support elastic resource allocation in a scalable manner, lightweight deployment of edge cloud, and agile trials and iterations; explore computing metering, awareness, routing, and orchestration.In addition to efforts in performance optimization and self-evolution of networks, we need to build an orchestration center integrating “connectivity, computing, and capabilities”. As open APIs enable easy management in multi-vendors and multi-cloud environments, the services integrating “connectivity, computing, and digital and intelligent capabilities” can be provided for consumers and verticals.

Digital Capabilities: from Consumers to Industries

With the widespread use of 5G and other new infrastructure, innovative digital applications are expanding from individual consumption to industrial transformation and social governance.

Unlike individual consumption, the essential goal of industrial digitalization is lower costs, higher efficiency, and business growth. Various industry scenarios and enterprise development stages have given rise to digital silos. Moreover, industrial digitalization in its early stage will certainly undergo application innovation, exploration of business models, and ecosystem incubation. Customers are expecting on-demand, scalable, reliable, and cost-effective digital resources and capabilities. To satisfy such expectations, we need to develop digital capabilities focusing on modular components, so as to enable fast iteration and continuous innovation for key scenarios and business. 

The 4th “Bloom Cup” 5G Application Competition in 2021 has collected 12,281 industrial application projects from nearly 7,000 companies. An increasing number of projects with commercial value and high potential are emerging.

Yunnan Sunho Aluminum connects over 10,000 sources of data to its platforms, and enables massive data connectivity among its production, control, and management systems. With digital applications, such as crack detection on conveyor belts, real-time electrolyte leakage detection, and remote control of overhead cranes, the pass rate of anode assembly increases by 15%, idle running of conveyor belts decreases by 80%, and operating efficiency of a single overhead crane improves by 60%. In addition, manufacturing electricity consumption is saved by over 90 million kWh annually.

Shandong Energy Group Co., Ltd. deploys 5G base stations with intrinsic security, the built-in computing engine (NodeEngine), and 5G gateways for underground mining, reducing the latency of video transmission on the mining sites by over 50%. In addition, real-time remote control of the fully mechanized coal mining equipment, such as mine development machines and excavators, reduces 50% of underground workers, significantly improving production safety.

Sinopec Geophysical Research Institute (SGRI) applies the vehicle-mounted solution that integrates the lightweight i5GC and movable 5G base stations, guaranteeing flexible and agile deployment of 5G private networks on fields and reshaping the exploration business process. In this way, the overall efficiency improves by 500% and the exploration period and labor cost reduce by over 50%.

In Tianjin Port Group, 5G applications, such as the intelligent tally system, real-time remote control of quay cranes, and unmanned electric container trucks, not only improve the overall efficiency by 20% to 30%, but also facilitate pandemic prevention and control.  

With over 60 5G applications for 16 scenarios, ZTE Global 5G Intelligent Manufacturing Base boasts flexible production lines, automated warehousing and logistics, and remote control in various scenarios. In this way, the manufacturing base has saved labor costs by 28% while improving its overall turnover and production efficiency by 15% and 40%, respectively.

Innovative 5G applications are also available on the high-speed rails of Guangzhou, commercial complexes, and telemedicine scenarios, reducing cost and increasing efficiency for companies while improving people’s livelihood through technology.

To sum up, large industrial parks in the metallurgy, steel, and mining industries have been the first to experience the mature, large-scale digital transformation of verticals. Moving with the trend, ZTE has established special teams to build stronger capabilities and make faster responses to various scenarios. As 5G deterministic network capabilities improve continuously and 5G is integrated with video more deeply, 5G application is growing mature and will be replicated at scale in industries, such as ports, electronics manufacturing, and new media.

Digital Capabilities: from Tools to Transactions

In addition to expansion in the OT field, enterprise digital transformation is also a high priority. Efforts are needed for data connectivity, process visualization and control, highly efficient internal and external collaboration, and ubiquitous intelligent applications, so as to build agile, flexible, and resilient enterprises.

Solutions focusing on tool application and process automation are no more than quick fixes. As the nature of business is transaction, digital transformation of an enterprise is to connect users and suppliers with the most cost-effective transaction structure that provides ultimate experience, thereby creating economic and social value.

Here is an example about ZTE, a winner of the Ram Charan Management Practice Award for its digital practices. Since it started digital transformation in 2016, ZTE has been making great efforts in the following aspects:

Improve infrastructure based on the company’s transaction structure, laying an efficient digital foundation to provide a unified business platform for better team collaboration.Prioritize key issues and develop tools for operating personnel to provide ultimate user experience.Improve systems and data governance in various scenarios, especially those in which the frontline teams are in direct contact with customers.Take into account the requirements for cost-effective data management raised by all business fields, foster data thinking throughout the company, and promote end-to-end data governance.

So far, the iCenter platform that provides all employees with a unified portal for communication and office automation has increased the telecommuting efficiency to 95%; and the DevOps-driven R&D Cloud has enabled real-time online collaboration among over 30,000 R&D personnel. “From tools to transactions”, the company has built up a systematic structure through digital transformation, bringing higher benefits and efficiency as well as greater potential to expand its boundaries of transactions, capabilities, and value circles.

Seek Both Collaboration and Diversity

As for the evolution from reliable network to effective application, from connectivity to computing power, from consumers to industries, and from tools to transactions, both collaboration and diversity are indispensable. In the current complex environment, the digital economy can sustain high-quality growth, and gain competitive edge and high productivity globally only when a diverse, systematic, and open innovation ecosystem is established across industries. In such ecosystem, digital operational systems, enterprises from various industries, and telecom equipment vendors can exploit their advantages and play different roles in the industry chain to maintain effective collaboration and achieve win-win development.

In the ever-changing era, it is necessary to maintain determination and insights. ZTE, as a faithful driver of digital economy, remains open-minded for win-win development. As a supplier of infrastructure and technologies, ZTE provides world-leading cloud, network, edge, and terminal equipment customized for various scenarios to guarantee ultimate user experience. In addition, ZTE is willing to share its core underlying capabilities with digital operational systems and large enterprises, and empowers SMEs. In this way, the company is building a prosperous ecosystem via continuous technological innovations and reliable supply chains together with all partners for win-win success.

In the field of underlying technologies, ZTE constantly deepens the software-hardware co-optimization of chips, algorithms, and architectures through innovations in DSA, packaging, and architecture, satisfying the diversified requirements for computing power and networks in various business scenarios.

ZTE is committed to promoting its digital transformation in R&D, office work, and manufacturing. Furthermore, ZTE shares exemplary 5G use cases in verticals by providing cloud and network capabilities as well as modular components.

As always, ZTE is willing to join hands with all partners for win-win sustainable development.

Mr. Wang Xiyu, EVP, CTO, ZTE

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