China Telecom's Bid for 'Leading' 5G Latency Should Unsettle US

China Telecom's latest financial report was clearly not calculated to soothe US fears about China's strength in 5G and artificial intelligence (AI).

In a detailed presentation today, the Chinese telco, one of three national operators that serve China, hailed various 5G-related breakthroughs, including the launch of the industry's first 5G-plus-AI handset standard. Its next-generation cloud network, it proclaimed, will be "industry leading" in latency, a signaling delay that could become a new battleground for 5G competitive advantage.

Latency on today's 4G networks is too high for whizzy new applications based on virtual reality (VR) and AI, say experts. To reduce it significantly, operators will have to move processing power much closer to end users. This investment in smaller data centers at the "edge" of the network could ultimately spur gadget and service development.

"In the longer term, the expectation is that it will not transform the smartphone but allow you to use new devices like glasses," said Juan Carlos Garcia, the director of technology and architecture for Spain's Telefónica, in a discussion about 5G at last month's Mobile World Congress. "Those have not been successful because they currently require a lot of computing power in the glasses. But if you can take processing capacity to the edge, then the devices we enjoy will be different."

That references to latency and the edge turn up several times in a China Telecom investor presentation shows where the 5G value lies, as far as the Chinese are concerned. Useful and cost-efficient as it may be, faster smartphone connectivity will not be a paradigm shift. But with low latency on a secure mobile network, 5G might just provide the foundation for all sorts of economically important new services -- and the companies behind them.

Including a few buzzwords in a PDF does not put China Telecom way ahead of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile US in 5G, of course. AT&T and Verizon already claim to have launched some 5G services, while commercial offerings are not expected in China until next year. Most of China Telecom's talk is about its pre-commercial progress, including trials on 1,000 basestations spread across 17 cities. This year, the company will spend just 9 billion Chinese yuan ($1.34 billion) on 5G -- about 12% of total capital expenditure.

But overall expenditure is set to rise 4% this year, to roughly RMB78 billion ($11.6 billion), after dropping 7.9% in 2018. And it will include a 21% increase in spending on "information and application services," to about RMB10.5 billion ($1.56 billion), as China Telecom prepares for a 5G future. Extensive 5G application trials have been underway, the operator points out, in areas include remote-control driving, VR live broadcasting and electricity distribution. In the case of the latter, the chief 5G attraction is not latency but network slicing -- a clever and secure way to reserve part of the network for a specific type of service.

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China's preparations have already given it a big 5G lead, according to some observers. In a paper published last summer, consulting company Deloitte said China had outspent the US on 5G-supporting infrastructure by around $24 billion since 2015. Last year, the 1.9 million mobile sites across China worked out at 14.1 for every 10,000 people. With just 200,000 sites, the US had an equivalent ratio of just 4.7, according to Deloitte. Catching up with China in 5G may be "near impossible" for the Americans, said the consultancy.

Scott Petty, the chief technology officer of Vodafone UK, is dismissive of US claims to 5G leadership. "They are making it up. They are rebadging 4G Evolution as 5G," he recently told Light Reading. By contrast, during his own trips to China, he has been impressed by the networks the Chinese are building. Much of that equipment comes from Huawei, a Chinese national champion whose presence in international networks has alarmed its US critics. Citing concern over national security, US politicians have warned the biggest US operators not to use the Chinese vendor. But some of Huawei's European customers rate its 5G technology as the world's best.

With its huge population and model of state capitalism, China could be a fertile testing ground for new 5G applications. China Telecom alone had a staggering 303 million mobile customers at the end of last year -- an increase of 53 million on the number in 2017 -- including 242 million on 4G networks. Revenues were up 3%, to RMB377.1 billion ($56.2 billion), thanks to customer growth, and net profit rose 14%, to RMB21.2 billion ($3.16 billion).

Seeking advantage in AI, China's government will undoubtedly look for support to a such a large, financially stable organization, with its vast reserves of customer data and stake in 5G. Demographics and democracy make the task much harder for US authorities worried about falling behind in the new technology arms race. Amid recent political talk of building a nationalized 5G network, the US operators may be under government pressure on a generation of mobile technology like never before.

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

susantem 5/17/2019 | 9:39:51 PM
Re: No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation It's hard to see anything that domestic operators in China (or elsewhere) are doing as a geo-political/industrial policy threat. It's not as if they are in direct competition with Verizon, Telfonica or NTT. It really doesn't matter if they're a few months behind on commerical 5G eMBB, or a few months ahead on URLL. 
ajwdct1 3/21/2019 | 5:20:27 PM
Does 5G Latency include the cloud network? In some cases it certainly does (e.g. remote surgery in a village from a hospital thousands of kilometers away), but in others it doesn't (any real time critical/ultra low latency IMT 2020 use case).  For the latter, mobile edge networking is urgently needed.  The edge network is likely to be closer to the 5G endpoint than the cloud network point of presence.




iainmorris 3/20/2019 | 12:18:27 PM
Re: No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation I'm not sure if we are disagreeing or just talking about slightly different things. I know from recent discussions with service providers that several big operators in Europe expect only some of the latency improvements to come from investment in new 5G access technologies in the next few years. The key thing for many of them is rearchitecting the network and building a distributed cloud to support the 5G services they want to offer. There is a Light Reading feature that covers this here: https://www.lightreading.com/the-edge/europes-big-telcos-are-getting-edgy-about-5g/d/d-id/750084?

ajwdct1 3/20/2019 | 12:01:44 PM
Re: No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation Let's agree to disagree Iain.  All 5G low latency claims I've read or heard about refer to the 5G access network- not the cloud network which is carrying many different types of traffic.  In my definition, latency should include the 5G access network, 5G mobile packet core and edge network (if any). 

The 5G-IMT2020 radio access network latency objectives, which Ericsson and others often say will faciliate many new applications, are specified in ITU-R M.2410-0: https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-r/opb/rep/R-REP-M.2410-2017-PDF-E.pdf

The minimum requirements for user plane latency are:  4 ms for eMBB and 1 ms for URLLC assuming unloaded conditions (i.e. a single user) for small IP packets (e.g. 0 byte payload + IP header), for both downlink and uplink.


There is no spec or even target for cloud network latency related to carrying 5G packets. In fact, the cloud network might not be used at all for real time control applications of 5G such as V2V or IoT

iainmorris 3/20/2019 | 11:25:41 AM
Re: No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation I'm not sure what point you're making. Industry-leading latency in a 5G future could provide an advantage whether it relates to access, core, transport or something else that comes out of a standards group. The article doesn't anywhere tie the stuff about latency to a specific part of 5G standardization activities.
ajwdct1 3/20/2019 | 11:18:04 AM
Re: No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation
Slide 16 describess China Telecom's CLOUD NETWORK & Cloud led network integration (with other subnetworks like 5G Core-yet to be defined/specified).  The company's cloud centric network is "industry leading in latency."  Copy/paste:
Cloud-Led Network and Cloud-Network Integration

  • IDC/cloud-centric network + optimized network architecture 
 Industry-leading in latency  
  • To support rapid deployment of entirely cloud based 5G 
✓Large bandwidth ✓Low latency  
How they will do entirely "cloud based 5G" is a mystery to me.  However the "industry leading low latency"  claim refers to its cloud network- not 5G access or 5G core network (yet to be defined)
iainmorris 3/20/2019 | 11:13:19 AM
Re: No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation It depends on your perspective. If you think 5G is just an evolution of 4G - a nice to have that will speed things up a bit but not make a radical difference on the services or productivity fronts - then I agree there isn't much advantage if China's operators get there before US operators. If, on the other hand, it ushers in a new wave of services, and particularly if those services are of critical value to enterprise customers, it is hard to see how countries like Germany won't lose out if they are slow off the 5G mark. This is exactly why there is such anxiety about Europe's perceived 5G lag.
Duh! 3/20/2019 | 10:57:01 AM
Re: No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation " To support rapid deployment of entirely cloud based 5G
     ✓Large bandwidth ✓Low latency"

I read that as they're investing in a cloud architecture that will ultimately support eMBB and URLL 5G services. Nothing on that slide that I wouldn't expect from any of leading edge Tier-1s in North America, Europe or Northeast Asia.

It's hard to see anything that domestic operators in China (or elsewhere) are doing as a geo-political/industrial policy threat. It's not as if they are in direct competition with Verizon, Telfonica or NTT. It really doesn't matter if they're a few months behind on commerical 5G eMBB, or a few months ahead on URLL. 

Technology suppliers on the other hand....

iainmorris 3/20/2019 | 4:10:36 AM
Re: No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation The references to latency, as well as the edge and 5G core, are on slide 16 of the investor presentation.
ajwdct1 3/19/2019 | 8:02:26 PM
No reference to low latency in China Telecom presentation I could not find one reference to low latency in China Telecom's March 19, 2019 presentation: https://www.chinatelecom-h.com/en/ir/presentations/annpre190319.pdf

5G low latency will be defined in 3GPP Release 16- due to be completed in Dec 2019 and then submitted to ITU-R WP 5D for that IMT 2020 use case in 3GPP's IMT 2020 RIT proposal sometime in 2020.


China Telecom to accelerate 5G deployment; 100% Fiber network coverage; Gigabit fiber broadband deployment



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