Basestation elements and antennas might not be as visually exciting as a foldable smartphone (though that was on display too), but the performance capabilities Huawei is managing to squeeze out of 5G New Radio (NR) specifications -- with heavy reliance on in-house developed chipsets -- were very impressive.
A centerpiece of Huawei's booth was a live demo of its 'foldable' and 5G-enabled Mate X device. Although the smartphone was guarded behind a glass case, the test results were displayed on an attention-grabbing large screen. Using Huawei network gear, Mate X achieved a giddy peak-data throughput speed of 3.21 Gbit/s and average data throughput speed of 3.03 Gbit/s.
The state of the 5G market
Huawei's prowess has enabled it to win more than 30 commercial 5G network equipment contracts, which apparently accounts for around half of 5G contracts awarded by mobile operators to date. At the end of 2018, the company had 22 5G contracts to its name, so despite concerns expressed by some national governments and security agencies about the security of Huawei technology -- and we'll come to that later -- the Chinese supplier has clearly not lost carrier support or 5G business momentum.
Our tour guide told us that the majority of Huawei's 5G contracts – around 18 to 20 -- are in Europe, while nine or ten are in the Middle East. It is in South Korea, however, where Huawei is making one of its biggest 5G splashes in the radio access network (RAN). Of the some 40,000 5G New Radio (NR) cell sites that Huawei has installed with operators in different parts of the world to date -- each using massive multiple input, multiple output (massive MIMO) antenna configurations that work alongside the non standalone (NSA) version of 5G NR -- around 10,000 sit in the network of LG U-plus. Like South Korea's other two mobile network operators, LG U-plus hopes to launch 5G for consumers by the end of March.
The rest of Huawei's 40,000 NSA 5G NR cell sites are primarily based in Europe and the Middle East. They all support the C-Band (3.4GHz 3.8GHz), which is where Huawei is pushing hardest in the first phase of 5G commercial rollout.
It's not just Huawei, of course, that has skin in the 5G game. According to the GSA, 201 operators in 83 countries had initiated 5G investment and conducted 5G technical verification and pre-commercial tests by mid-January 2019. LG U-plus, like many other early 5G movers, is focused first on enhanced mobile broadband applications for consumers, such as VR gaming on 5G terminals.
Broad RAN range
Huawei showcased a full suite of 5G basestations at its MWC stand for different scenarios, including: macro-site for outdoor coverage; 'pole site' to cover dead zones on the network; and 'lamp site' for indoor coverage.
On the macro side, Huawei boasted support for the largest bandwidth channels (200MHz) and the highest power output (200W) compared to any other vendor using C-Band frequencies. Throw in massive MIMO, using 64 transmitters and 64 receivers (64T64R), and Huawei showed that 5G cell capacity could increase 97 times compared with typical LTE cells, increasing from 150 Mbit/s to 14.85 Gbit/s.
Huawei is also proud of having the lightest and smallest 5G basestation elements. The 64T64R version weighs in at 40kg, measuring 795mm×395mm, while the smaller 32T32, at 699mm×395mm, weighs 20kg (and which also supports 200MHz channels like its big brother). Comparable massive MIMO 5G basestations from other vendors are 40% bigger and heavier.
There are also significant power consumption benefits to be had from deploying Huawei technology. Typical power consumption per sector on its equipment, says the Chinese company, is 880W for 64T64R and 550W for 32T32R. Other vendors are consuming 30% more power on their 5G NR cell sites.
Huawei showed off some clever innovation, too, in order to lower cell site acquisition costs as operators move to 5G. Rather than have low-frequency antenna (700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz), mid-frequency antenna (1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2600MHz) and C-Band antenna each occupying their own separate site, Huawei can pack everything into one unit. Cell site acquisition times can also be lowered if operators can use existing cell sites to support C Band antenna deployment.
While fully complying with the open air-interface standards, Huawei has undertaken technology innovations to achieve better data throughput rate between Huawei smartphone and Huawei basestations than a combination of different vendors. That is not to say that the Chinese supplier is not willing to work with other chipset vendors on 5G, but rather that no other chipset player can yet support 200MHz channels.
In the meantime, Huawei can provide 'end-to-end' 5G solutions based on its own technology. In another live demo, Huawei showed off its 5G CPE Pro for fixed wireless access users. Using Balong 5000, Huawei's recently announced 5G multi-mode chipset, the 5G CPE Pro achieved downlink speeds of 4.6 Gbit/s.
The end-to-end live demo involved an 8K camera placed on a beach 2km away from the MWC 2019 show site to capture live images. The camera then streamed the data to the 5G CPE Pro, which then connected to Vodafone Spain's 5G NR basestation. Going through the 4G/5G core network, the data was then steamed to the 5G CPE at Huawei's demo stand via the Vodafone 5G NR basestation situated near the MWC showgrounds (the Fira). The video was then cast to the 8K display. Both the resolution and the smooth play of the demo were, again, impressive: The latency of the end-to-end streaming was an impressive 11ms.
When it comes to driving the 5G ecosystem, Huawei has launched a number of initiatives, in particular nurturing ecosystems that will help enterprises and industries to adopt 5G.
Huawei's Cloud X framework has brought together telecom operators, technology vendors and partners from different industries to explore future mobile applications and technological innovations to build an open ecosystem. Applications being explored on the Cloud X framework are mainly of three types: Virtualization; Cloud Gaming; and Cloud AR/VR.
The Digital Transformation Practice Centre is an innovation incubator where Huawei provides a simulated 5G environment for its partners to develop, test, and mature their business ideas. In different industry verticals, Huawei has been working with more than 280 industry partners and has started more than 50 projects to develop specialized applications for industry use.
Security risk? Let’s take a rational approach
The topic of security is high on everyone's agenda currently. At a roundtable discussion during MWC, Peter Zhou, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for Huawei's wireless solutions business, denied outright the allegations that the Chinese supplier might pose a risk to national security. He indicated that geopolitics was getting in the way of a rational and fact-based approach.
"Security is basically a technical issue which cannot be politicalized," asserted Zhou. "We really hope that engineers and scientists from all over the world work together and work out the security standards."
Zhou echoed the position of Ren Zhengfei, Huawei's CEO and founder, when he strongly refuted the suggestion that the company was at the beck and call of the Chinese government. Ren said he would rather shut down the company than be part of any cyber espionage that might harm other countries.
Despite recent developments, Zhou believes the Huawei brand is now stronger than it was before the recent flurry of allegations about security risks. "[Some people] didn't know Huawei in the past but they know it very well now, and they also understand that Huawei's 5G technology is a very good one," he said.
This blog is sponsored by Huawei.