At Huawei’s 12th Global Mobile Broadband event, held this year in Dubai, the Chinese giant celebrated the progress of global 5G rollout during the pandemic, but said more needed to be done to make XR a reality

Since the first commercial launches of 5G over two years ago, the latest generation of mobile technology has come a long way. Despite the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 1.5 million 5G base stations have been successfully deployed worldwide, facilitating over 500 million subscribers, and this number is only going to grow, with various estimates predicting around one billion subscribers in 2022 and roughly three billion by 2024.
But despite the widespread availability and adoption of this new technology, 5G itself is still somewhat in its infancy, with many of the most vaunted technologies set to be enabled by the new mobile technology still notably absent in most markets around the world.
Enabling XR is the next priority
Today, at Huawei’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Dubai, the company’s rotating chairman Ken Hu commended the wider telecoms industry on the pace of the global 5G rollout but said that more work was needed to make networks ready for more advanced use cases, such as extended reality (XR).
Noting that this evolution has been slower than anticipated, Hu said that while there were plenty of exciting use cases incorporating 5G, few had reached widescale adoption, primarily due to limitations in the networks themselves.
“Network performance is the foundation of everything,” said Hu.
Part of the issue here is due to the nature of 5G’s early rollouts – non-standalone 5G, which still accounts for the majority of deployments, simply cannot facilitate the highly anticipated complementary technologies, like network slicing and XR, in a meaningful way. XR, for example, requires 4Gbps downlink speeds and 10ms latency, something that Hu suggests “right now our networks cannot support”.
But of course, it is not just network quality that is holding the industry back from wider use of XR. Despite progress in recent years, the size, weight, and price of XR headsets remain prohibitive for most customers. Similarly, developing high quality XR content remains incredibly complex and expensive, with Hu calling for the industry to make cloud platforms and related tools more widely available to developers.
If the telecoms industry can help remove these barriers, Hu predicts that XR adoption will accelerate rapidly, mirroring the growth of 5G itself.
“XR will see massive growth in both the consumer and business domain,” said Hu, noting that Huawei’s approach to 5G’s evolution – what they define as 5.5G – will help to facilitate this growth.
The challenge of 5GtoB and building a greener network
Beyond network evolution, Hu’s opening remarks focussed the growing importance of ‘5GtoB’, highlighting the increased need for collaboration both within the industry itself with regards to developing standards, but also with new verticals, where 5G will be integral to realising Industry 4.0.
Operators are gradually shifting to become much more than just connectivity providers, offering cloud services and becoming service integrators in a more general sense. However, this will require new skills and, ultimately, a new mindset when working to incorporate 5G within major industries like coal mining, steel, and electrical grids.
Hu’s final point of focus was on the industry’s obligation to build greener networks. He noted that digital technology can reduce global carbon emissions by 15%, but this can only be achieved through technical innovation.
“On one hand, we have a great opportunity to help all industries cut emissions and improve power efficiency with digital technology. On the other hand, we have to recognize that our industry has a growing carbon footprint, and we have to take steps to improve that,” explained Hu. “Right now, Huawei is using new materials and algorithms to lower the power consumption of our products, and we’re remodeling sites, and optimising power management in our data centres for greater efficiency.”
If there seems like something of a clash here between Huawei’s pledge to help create greener infrastructure and their ambitions of working with domestic coal and steel industries, that’s because there is.
In 2019, 58% of China’s total energy consumption came from coal, a major factor in why China accounts for around 28% of all global carbon emissions. China’s reliance on coal power is still growing. Earlier this year, China proposed building additional coal power stations that would generate 73.5 gigawatts of power – the rest of the world combined, meanwhile, is proposing just 13.9 gigawatts.
Of course, Huawei can hardly be held responsible for their home market’s overreliance on non-renewable energy. In fact, their solutions could potentially make these industries themselves greener in the long run. Nonetheless, there is some dissonance here.
Finally, as has become somewhat standard for Huawei recent years, Hu closed his keynote address by emphasising once again the company’s willingness to collaborate, both within the telecoms industry and beyond, in ensure a mutual growth and the transition to a more digital world.
As Dr Mohamed Madkour, Huawei’s VP wireless networks marketing & solutions, who hosted the event said: “Huawei intends to grow with you all no matter what.”
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