The 5G revolution has come to China, where the government views the technology as an essential way to boost its economy. From 2015 to 2018, China sponsored projects to build roughly 350,000 cell sites for the latest generation of cellular mobile communications—more than 10 times the amount of sites the United States added in that time, according to Deloitte. This year promises to be the most robust yet for infrastructure installment.
China Mobile launched a CNY1 billion program to build 2,000 base stations by the end of the year in Wuhan, up from 31 last year. The company also built base stations in Shanghai's Hongkou District, which in March became the first district to have 5G coverage. The city aims to build 10,000 base stations by the end of the year.
China Unicom, meanwhile, partnered with Ericsson to complete a six-month pilot project that wrapped up at the end of 2018 to test the feasibility and benefits of 5G applications at the port of Qingdao. The trial proved that the harbor could save up to 70 percent on labor costs via automation. China Unicom, Ericsson and other partners are now actively exploring commercial 5G solutions for harbors, starting with a full-fledged project at the port of Qingdao.
The 5G infrastructure is “the key to unlock other technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things, therefore providing tremendous potential in China that could not be underestimated,” Steve Lo, managing partner of technology, media and telecommunications at Ernst & Young China, told China Daily.
The 5G smart harbor pilot project was divided into three phases. First, the team developed the scope and technology; then it tested the technology in a controlled lab setting. The final phase was on-site deployment at the harbor, says Eric Ma, program manager for the Qingdao 5G smart harbor project, PMI Global Executive Council member Ericsson, Beijing, China. He worked on the project for the port of Qingdao.
Ultimately, the team was trying to see if the 5G network was reliable enough to handle harbor tasks. For instance, the trial included an automated crane that lifted a container while connected to the 5G network. The network also had to host data traffic from more than 30 high-definition cameras. Not only was the network stable, Mr. Ma says, but it was also able to transmit information in less than a millisecond.
Rigorous testing in a lab environment proved helpful for the eventual deployment. But the lab came with its own constraints, too, Mr. Ma says. “We had to work with a temporary, makeshift communication truck that was brought to the site, and the trial took place in December, when outdoor temperatures went as low as minus 16 degrees Celsius [3.2 degrees Fahrenheit]. This made the conditions for the workers and engineers very tough.”
Getting all stakeholders engaged from the start helped the team execute the project and hit the short timeline, Mr. Ma says. “Six months is a short amount of time to get all of the involved parties to agree to a common target and invest valuable resources in a project.”
For most initiatives, Mr. Ma's teams usually work with only one other company. But this project involved collaboration among four parties: Ericsson, China Unicom, Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries and the Qingdao Port itself. To keep the project running smoothly, the team leaned on cloud-based communication to update working documents in real time and maintain access from both desktop and mobile applications for all stakeholders. The team also used WeChat for daily reports for the four parties and held regular milestone-review meetings with management. “If working processes and the collaboration model aren't easy, some of the involved parties won't follow the protocol, which creates issues and generates delays,” Mr. Ma says.
Additionally, when working with so many stakeholders, he says a clear organizational structure and a robust project plan are necessary. “It's critical for all parties to agree on the planned approach and then to stick to the plan—while being flexible,” says Mr. Ma. “With four parties involved, this can be difficult, so it's important for one of the parties to take leadership.”—CJ Waity
—Eric Ma, Ericsson, Beijing, China