Huawei invests in 5G mobile networks, but eases back on the hype

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Huawei invests in 5G mobile networks, but eases back on the hype

With expectations around future 5G mobile networks reaching fever pitch in the wake of Mobile World Congress 2018, networking sector behemoth Huawei set out a more measured approach to the technology at its 2018 Analyst Summit, which kicked off today.

Now becoming an annual fixture on the technology conference circuit, Huawei’s 2018 Analyst Summit saw hundreds of industry experts descend on the supplier’s home city of Shenzhen in southern China to hear the firm’s latest updates.

Eric Xu, Huawei’s rotating chairman, said Huawei did have expectations on 5G, but they were not as big as some people might think.

“If you look across our entire portfolio, 5G is just one product,” said Xu. “It’s just a natural evolution of the technology from 2G to 3G to 4G, and now we’re going to have 5G, but you don’t have a fundamental difference between 5G and 4G.”

In fact, said Xu, there are only really three big material differences between 4G and 5G – faster speeds, more connections and lower latency, and the average consumer would only really perceive a difference in speed. When it came to features such as lower latency – critical for use cases such as autonomous cars – he pointed out that current 4G technology is already good enough for this in many cases.

“Since 4G is robust, we don’t see many use cases or applications we need to support with 5G,” he said.

Nevertheless, Xu added that this did not mean it was not worth investing in 5G, at least in part because if it got out that Huawei was doing so, its telecoms customers would head elsewhere.

Chaobin Yang, president of 5G products at Huawei, shed some light on where the supplier’s substantial R&D budget is being directed. This year it plans to expand its portfolio around core and transport network hardware (X-Haul), radio access networking (Ran) and 5G customer premise equipment (CPE). It also hopes to commercially launch massive MIMO for macro and pole sites, and indoor small cells, as part of a drive to provide “an end-to-end solution, ready for commercialisation” before the year is out.

Meanwhile, the day before the event opened, Huawei’s Peter Zhou, chief marketing officer at the firm’s wireless business, launched a 5G-ready version of its SingleRAN wireless network platform technology, SingleRAN Pro.

Zhou said that, overall, the mobile broadband business model was very positive, with data use per person increasing, cost per bit decreasing, and operator revenues still increasing slightly despite this. However, he said, if this scenario was to continue into the imminent 5G era, developing equipment that makes the most efficient possible use of available spectrum (which ultimately equates to lower cost per bit) was a priority.

Like its predecessor, SingleRAN Pro brings together 2G, 3G and 4G networking on a single chassis, but now adds 5G support too, alongside an agile mobile cloud architecture for diverse services, and an automated intelligent management system.

Zhou said the solution addressed three key challenges around 5G: how to quickly and cost-effectively deploy 5G networks, how to flexibly manage 5G network resources to maximise the network’s value, and how to efficiently manage complex 5G networks while reducing operational and maintenance costs.

“Huawei launched its SingleRAN solution in 2007 during the initial stages of large-scale 4G deployment,” said Zhou. “The all-in-one approach is an excellent answer for multi-RAT network deployment and also helps to significantly cut operators’ capex.

“The release of SingleRAN Pro is the result of continuous innovation combined with extensive experience of several hundred network deployments over the past decade. Huawei looks forward to teaming up with global operators and industry partners to embrace the future challenges and opportunities of the 5G era.”

5G smartphones 15 months away

Elsewhere at the Shenzhen summit, chairman Xu said the firm would be ready to launch 5G-ready smartphone devices around June 2019, while Shawn Sheng, who is leading on 5G smartphones at Huawei, shared some insight into the development process.

Huawei began 5G device research in 2009, said Sheng, and as a result it has already brought to market 4G network hardware that can support 5G, based on its Balong 5G01 chipset, which offers a peak data rate of 2.3Gbps.

Building on this, by the middle of 2019, Sheng claimed, the first 5G smartphone will also be able to work on both a standalone and a non-standalone basis. This means it will run on both 4G and 5G networks, which is a critical distinction because it is virtually unthinkable that any national 5G network will be operating in June 2019. The device is likely to be able to achieve a peak data rate of 5Gbps.   

Huawei said its inaugural 5G device will address a number of design challenges that exist around 5G devices, including enhanced processing ability, power consumption, and increased motherboard size. It has been researching additional features to meet these goals, such as enhanced cooling technology.

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