Fresh from a restructure, ZTE is focusing much of its efforts on cloud capabilities and analytics as it tries to carve out a role helping operators navigate an uncertain future.
ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) recently created three business groups -- operator solutions, enterprise, and mobile devices. The fast-growing devices unit accounted for a third of the vendor's revenues in 2012 and is expected to report impressive numbers again for 2013, but the operator division is still the biggest, representing more than half of total revenues. (See ZTE Returns to the Black, ZTE Reorgs for Mobile Device Domination, and ZTE Revamps Its Top Team.)
Sean Cai, vice president, operator solutions, says telecom networks are becoming "more IT-like," adding that operators are seeking help from their vendors on new technologies and business models.
He cites ZTE's cloud-based modular datacenter as the kind of virtualized, cost-effective solution that operators need. "It's a basic building block of the datacenter, very scalable, very software–defined," says Cai, who notes that the datacenter is one of the most likely initial business cases for software-defined networking (SDN).
The introduction of SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV) into wide area networks will take longer, though, because of the scale of legacy equipment, he adds.
ZTE believes the cloud will play an important role in wireless access as well. "Today our solution is software-defined radio. Next we are working on cloud radio," says Cai.
ZTE's cloud radio product is similar to offerings from other vendors, such as Nokia Networks 's Liquid Radio: It takes mobile network management, which is typically done on a cell-by-cell basis, and centralizes it, an approach that creates operating efficiencies and a more uniform experience, according to ZTE (and others -- see C-RAN Blazes a Trail to True 4G.)
Cai says the solution, now being trialled by several operators, will take on greater importance in the 4G era, where the denser deployment of LTE sites will increase the level of interference.
"Network management has become very complex," Cai notes. "2G is not going away, and 3G will be there for a long time. That is why our solutions are all 2G/3G/4G."
Cai also notes that the mobile packet core is set to become "more cloud-based and more distributed."
The other area where ZTE sees potential for growth is big data and analytics. The vendor is currently working on projects for telco network optimization, using traffic and consumption data to help carriers better invest in and deploy networks.
Operators are also looking to mine their databases for information that can be sold to other organizations. "They have a lot of valuable information. They know [user] habits and the traffic patterns, and that's valuable for others," such as government departments and transportation firms, Cai says.
ZTE is aiming to take its big data expertise into other verticals. "We started with operators, but it is applicable to others."
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading