China Telecom has reached a milestone in its quest to refashion itself as a cloud and 5G business, launching what it calls the world's largest standalone (SA) 5G network.
Executives announced the start of commercial SA operations during a company cloud conference last week.
They say the SA network is currently supported by 30 devices, with 100 expected by year-end.
They also stressed 5G SA is a cloud-based network, thus combining China Telecom's two emerging growth engines.
The operator is restructuring its networks and business around the cloud in a process it acknowledges will take more than a decade.
The 5G SA network is backed by China Telecom's Tianyi Cloud, which can guarantee "five-nines reliability," secure network slicing and latency of below 5ms, company leaders said.
President and COO Li Zhengmao said the arrival of the 5G era provided the opportunity and the technical ability for the integration of cloud and network.
"The unique characteristics of 5G SA such as network slicing and edge computing require better cooperation between cloud and network," he said.
The telco completed SA end-to-end capability testing with Tencent and Huawei in September.
It has also collaborated in building a series of new enterprise services, including network slicing for Shenzhen Public Security, a smart factory solution for appliance firm Midea, and an experimental smart grid with Qingdao State Grid.
A white paper issued at last week's event describes China Telecom's cloud-network integration as driven by open sharing, open network capabilities, multi-network access 5G and SD-WAN support.
It said the operator is pursuing a hybrid multicloud strategy, integrating Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud, Huawei Cloud, AWS, Azure and others into its aggregation platform.
Currently China Telecom's cloud and network platforms are relatively independent of each other, the paper said, forecasting it would take the operator until 2030 to achieve full integration.
By that stage it aims to have eliminated all the technical boundaries between cloud and network "in terms of infrastructure, underlying platforms, application architecture, development methods, operation and maintenance tools."
The telco has also unveiled the first cloud mobile phone, the Tianyi No. 1, based on the integrated virtualization of the terminal and the cloud.
Priced at 999 yuan (US$151.80), it gives users the choice of moving into cloud mode, in which functions are performed off-device, thus greatly reducing power consumption.
Li Zhengmao said the operator plans to jointly launch more than 100 cloud terminals with developers, chip and device vendors, solution providers and others.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading