Eric Xu, one of Huawei's rotating chairmen, has tipped cold water over the global 5G rush, declaring the technology to be overblown.
"You don't have a fundamental difference between 4G and 5G … You don't have a material difference," the Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. boss told an analysts' conference in Shenzhen today.
"Over the last couple of years, the entire industry, and also governments around the world, have regarded 5G too highly, as if it is going to be the digital infrastructure for everything."
But, he said, 5G was merely "a natural evolution of the technology" that started with 2G.
"We do have expectations [for 5G], but maybe the expectations are not as big as some people may think. Because if you look across the entire portfolio of Huawei business, 5G is just one product."
Xu said there was a lot of "follow the leader" behavior among telecom players and consumers.
He said telecom vendors are obliged to build 5G because "if you are not doing 5G your customers won't invest in [your] 4G."
"The same [goes] for operators. If one telco in a market says 'I have 5G-enabled services,' then the other service providers will also have to follow, if only for branding or marketing reasons."
Given the choice of 5G, consumers might embrace it. What remains unclear is whether consumers actually need 5G functionality, according to Huawei's boss.
"To actually purchase 5G services, and how much and where they use 5G -- those remain questions."
For example, in China, 50% of phones are 4K-enabled, and yet there has been insufficient demand for even a single 4K channel, he noted.
"We don't see many clear use cases for apps that we can support only with 5G. Therefore it won't be a national coverage network -- it will start in urban dense areas."
While Xu's remarks reflect some concern about the value of 5G technology, they are at odds with the position of his own government and that of the US White House.
In China, 5G is a part of the current Five-Year Plan, and authorities desperately want China to be one of the first countries deploy the technology.
Just last week, Luo Wen, vice-minister at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, declared that China had "made a major breakthrough" in no longer being a technology follower.
"There is a significant opportunity for China to take the lead in 5G," he said.
US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has described 5G as a game-changer, and US administration officials have cited 5G as one of the reasons for blocking Broadcom's acquisition of Qualcomm (See Trump on 5G: It's a 'Gamechanger'.)
Despite his reservations, Xu said that Huawei would launch end-to-end 5G solutions in the second half of 2018 and its first 5G-capable phone in the third quarter of next year.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading