ZTE has earmarked 2016 as the year for pre-5G, it declared at a pre-Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona on Sunday.

This year "pre-5G is the key solution," said Zhang Jianguo, a vice president and wireless general manager at ZTE.

The Chinese vendor is working on a number of products that it deems to be pre-5G, which will act as a stepping stone to full 5G, which has yet to be fully defined and standardised. Its pre-5G offerings are largely based on 4G and are designed to be deployed in operators' 4G networks some years before 5G becomes a commercial reality.

While others in the industry are pitching a 4.5G mobile standard, ZTE prefers the term pre-5G. "It's the same concept," Zhang said.

ZTE's pre-5G initiatives include massive MIMO, ultra-dense networks (UDN), and multi-user shared access (MUSA).

One of the first to market looks set to be massive MIMO, which combines transmit and receive antennas in large numbers.

ZTE has trialled massive MIMO technology with China Mobile and Softbank; the product "will be released in the second half of this year," Zhang said.

"[Massive MIMO] will be in commercial use in China and in other countries," later this year, he said.