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Digital FIRST for Health & Education in Ningxia

Explore the FIRST concept: Fast, Intelligent bandwidth, Reliability, Security, and Time latency.

By Qian Bin and Tian Hui

In July 2018, China's National Health Commission officially approved Ningxia's plan for building an inclusive Internet + Healthcare demo zone by 2020. To improve healthcare experiences and home health management services, the aim was to unify private information networks and build a telemedicine network from the village level right up to the regional level. To do so, the project included consolidating connections, building a big data center and regional medical center, and constructing the following five platforms:

  • National health information
  • Online medical platform
  • Online diagnosis
  • Online pharma platform
  • Online operations oversight 

Also in July 2018, Ningxia got the green light to build the first Internet + Education demo zone in China. Scheduled for 2022, the project will make the region a leader in areas like sharing education resources, creating a model that can be replicated nationwide.

The principle for these FIRST networks are Fast delivery, Intelligent bandwidth, Reliability, Security, and Time latency. 

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Healthcare needs interconnectivity and education needs bandwidth

Healthcare and education are the dual pillars of a prosperous, well-functioning society. In both sectors, digitalization is now in full swing. These are also two areas that carriers are prioritizing for B2B, which in turn require new interconnection models to ensure a smooth user experience.

Interconnectivity for health

To enable information exchanges between the urban medical alliances and county medical communities in Ningxia, hospitals need to migrate to cloud and interconnections must be established between different medical institutions. A county-level medical community is led by a tier-one county-level hospital, which links with township health centers and village clinics in a hub-and-spoke network. 

Urban medical alliances are led by a leading public hospital, which connects with county hospitals also in a hub-and-spoke network. County and city hospitals may also need to connect with each other via a mesh network to support the telemedicine needs of different urban medical alliances.

However, county and city hospitals under an urban medical alliance are still independent entities for which linked IP addresses may not fall within the same network segment. As the weakest link in the entire medical system, primary care hospitals need remote robots, digital ICUs, managed care services in wards, bedside consultation services, and remote managed care services. However, interconnections between township health centers and village clinics are poor and cannot support such services. If they moved to the cloud or networked via a passive optical network (PON), congestion on an Internet egress could easily occur. This would slow down service provisioning and may create a poor user experience in rural areas where wait times could be as long as 10 seconds.

The healthcare sector won’t benefit from a host of independent private networks – it needs an interconnected private network. User experience would benefit greatly if township health centers and village clinics access the Internet and cloud through a wide private network.

Bandwidth for education

Education digitalization in China is heading towards its 2.0 iteration. It aims to make teaching applications available to all teachers, make learning applications available to all school-age children, enable all schools to go digital, boost the digitalization and information literacy of teachers and students, and build up a broad Internet + Education platform. 

The education sector needs a large WAN egress bandwidth where 1 Gbps is a common standard. In the Ningxia education demonstration zone, China Telecom Ningxia has proposed the construction of a 10-Gigabit Ethernet campus network. Considering requirements for high bandwidth, China Telecom Ningxia hopes that traffic can be diverted to the shortest route locally, without going to the provincial core network.

Private school networks are moving from PON with asymmetric bandwidth to STN with symmetric bandwidth. Schools and education bureaus generally agree that the former is a better choice. To make the interactive classrooms in Education Informatization 2.0 reality, schools need to connect with each other. That means each classroom generally needs to have three cameras. Ningxia is also piloting VR classrooms, which require very low latency in network transmission and the diversion of traffic to the shortest route. Schools are expected to connect with each other via both a mesh network and private networks.

As a demo zone for Internet + Healthcare and Internet + Education, Ningxia is committed to intelligent networks, intelligent operations, and a service ecosystem that will provide customers in education with 2,431 cloud access points and healthcare with 2,921 cloud access points. Industry applications like telemedicine, distance education, and video surveillance require carriers to have fast full-mesh connections between different access points and to provide secure, reliable, high-quality private networks.

To connect city hospitals and county hospitals, service channels must be established in a few days. Medical institutions, including small clinics and larger hospitals, need to increase access speed to between 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps. To ensure that bandwidth can handle emergencies, the network latency for migrating the core medical system to the cloud, as well as using services of the Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) and Hospital Information System (HIS), must be kept under 10 ms.

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Private industry networks for differentiated digital services

Facing the new challenges brought by new services, China Telecom Ningxia launched an integrated ICT solution based on STN networking technology for governments and enterprises in April 2020. This solution has implemented China Telecom Group's concept for FIRST private networks and integrated industry applications, cloud, and network resources. China Telecom Ningxia used Huawei's intelligent private line solution, iMaster network cloud engine (NCE) and end-to-end physical isolation, to build high-quality FIRST private networks for government and enterprise users. These private networks meet needs for fast service provisioning, rapid service response, security, and reliability.

The FIRST private industry network offers the following three advantages:

Flexible networking and fast interconnection: The private industry network spans the region, cities, counties, townships, and villages, and is also connected to the Ningxia e-government resource pool. Users can quickly access multiple clouds at speeds reaching 10 Gbps in the autonomous region, and have access to fast networking and cloud migration.

Secure service isolation and committed SLAs: This solution has the smallest hard pipe in the industry. Different services can be carried through different pipes. Exclusive pipes are used for critical services with high SLA requirements, such as telemedicine and remote monitoring, whereas common office services, such as Internet browsing and email, share a pipe. Different pipes are physically isolated, so that even when other pipes are congested, services in exclusive pipes aren’t affected. This can help ensure stable bandwidth and low latency for critical services, delivering an optimal experience for users.

Automated services and intelligent O&M: NCE is used to automate management throughout the entire network lifecycle. With automatic service provisioning, private line services can be provisioned in minutes and bandwidth can be flexibly adjusted in seconds. With in-situ flow information telemetry (iFIT), customers can monitor service performance in real time and locate faults within minutes. Network availability exceeds 99.99 percent, meeting customer requirements for high reliability.

FIRST private networks embedded with Huawei's intelligent private line solution can meet industry customers' requirements for high bandwidth, high reliability, and secure isolation, in addition to supporting agile service provisioning, automatic speed adjustment via mobile apps, and visualized O&M.

In the traditional private line market, carriers offer similar solutions and mainly provide fixed bandwidth for governments and enterprises. However, FIRST private  networks for healthcare and education by China Telecom Ningxia streamline the entire process vertically and provide multiple one-stop services, including service handling, provisioning, charging, and operations. These private networks help strengthen the foundation for the Digital Ningxia portal. Network capabilities are now provided as services, and value-added features, such as self-service provisioning, on-demand bandwidth selection, SLA visualization, and private networks, are provided for end users. This has reshaped the business model of private networks to better meet customer needs for differentiated network services.

Moving forward, China Telecom Ningxia will continue partnering with Huawei to build private lines for governments and enterprises that deliver better quality, faster services, and cloud-network synergy. The two parties will continuously optimize product types and enrich their offerings to provide diversified and differentiated digital services for different scenarios.