ZTE Deploying 5G ATG for Commercial Carriers in China

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Chinese airlines will deploy 5G air-to-ground (ATG) services using two networks in 2021, thanks to a system being deployed by ZTE, according to the Mobile Network (TMN), an online publication.

ZTE, which deployed a 3G ATG system in 2009 and a 4G ATG system in 2014, is deploying a 5G ATG infrastructure on “several major airline routes” with the goal of covering the entire airspace over the country in less than three months using 1,000 base stations, according to a ZTE executive quoted by the publication. 

“Therefore, final 5G ATG deployment plans will be driven by market factors,” Liu Weiwei, General Manager of ATG Products at ZTE, told TMN. “Currently, the network deployment strategies are not finalized. It might be feasible to start from experimental routes then progress to national coverage but roll-out could also start with national deployment.”

ZTE’s ground base stations cover a radius of 186 miles and must overcome the Doppler Effect to support communications with aircraft travelling at 745 mph at altitudes of more than 32,000 feet. Download speeds of 800 Mbps and upload speeds of 150 Mbps are possible with 100 megahertz bandwidth, supporting 160 passengers watching a 1080P HD video simultaneously, according to TMN.

China has another ATG provider working to provide next generation internet connectivity for airline passengers. Skyfive, which purchased Nokia’s ATG assets in 2019 and began a strategic technology partnership with Airbus in 2020, created an independent sister company in May to develop 5G ATG connectivity for the Chinese market. 

Skyfive’s ATG network consists of a 5G core and 5G base stations that cover an airspace with a radius of 186 miles. The ATG terminal consists of a small drag-free antenna installed under the belly of the aircraft and a baseband unit inside the aircraft. The ATG terminal can be installed on small aircraft, such as regional airliners and turboprop aircraft.

Base stations will be deployed in a dense grid to ensure that all aircraft in the airspace can access enough throughput. Each aircraft will experience speeds ranging from 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps (depending on the spectrum) with a delay of less than milliseconds, according to Skyfive. 

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