ZTE is set to double its annual 5G research and development spend to around $400 million (€350 million) and add another 800 engineers to laboratories focused on the next generation technology in 2015, the company's chief scientist said.
Xiang Jiying told the Wall Street Journal that the Chinese vendor will double the number of R&D staff working on 5G to 1,600 people at its four dedicated research facilities in Europe, the U.S. and China. Xiang added that ZTE began researching 5G in 2012, and said the company has already developed some pre-5G upgrades for current LTE networks.
The next generation technology has enabled ZTE to close the gap on Ericsson in terms of development, Xiang told the Journal in an exclusive interview. While the Chinese vendor lagged far behind Ericsson in the 2G and 3G era, the company closed in when it came to developing LTE, and is almost on par in terms of 5G development.
Xiang concurred with most rival infrastructure companies regarding the timing of the launch of the first 5G networks, putting the date at 2020. However, he noted it is already technically possible to launch 5G networks, and said progress is slow due to the difficulties in establishing common specifications and standards for the technology.
Rival infrastructure vendors including Ericsson and Huawei have their ideas of what 5G technology should be, Xiang explained, adding that once a standard is defined, it could take another two years for chipset manufacturers to produce working silicon and for network operators to upgrade base stations.
When 5G networks do come, they will signal a shift in the mobile device market, Xiang predicted. Wearable devices including spectacles and watches will improve over the next five years to become the device of choice of consumers who no longer want to carry around a large smartphone, he said.
Xiang's prediction echoes consumer research by Ericsson that revealed many smartphone owners want to use wearable devices to communicate using their thoughts by 2020.
ZTE's domestic rival Huawei in November announced plans to invest £5 million (€6.7 million/$7.6 million) in the UK-based University of Surrey's 5G Innovation Centre, as part of a $600 million investment in 5G R&D through 2018.
- read this Wall Street Journal interview
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