Technological innovation is the key to achieving 5G success
5G technology is maturing at a blistering pace, accelerating far faster than its predecessors, begging the question: can the operators keep up?
The new technology is flush with opportunities, bringing with it a wealth of innovative new use cases which are sure to change every element of our lives. In our homes and businesses, 5G’s mobile edge computing capabilities will make the IoT ecosystem a reality. In industry, 5G will facilitate automation, machine learning, and AI, helping to boost efficiency and bring about the industrial revolution 4.0. 5G technology even has scope for a whole new range of experiences never seen before, such as augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR).
“We believe AR and VR will be very important in the 5G era, because they represent an entirely new medium of experience,” explained Ritchie Peng, Chief Marketing Officer of Huawei’s Wireless Network Product Line. “This is not simply faster video or online shopping – this is really something different.”
5G is far more than just a faster connection, but none of these exciting new opportunities will be possible without modern 5G infrastructure. 5G networks are fundamentally different from 4G, requiring ultra-wide, high-frequency bands and multiple antennas. The complexity and density of RAN infrastructure for the new technology is greatly increased, requiring more power and capacity than ever before. If operators insist on deploying 5G using the same strategy as they did with 4G, their new networks will come at a considerably higher cost.
By the end of 2019, there were around 60 commercial 5G networks worldwide, and this number is set to increase rapidly in 2020 as the world embraces 5G. In such a fast-paced environment, it is imperative that operators keep costs down and their efficiency up if they are to remain competitive and capitalise on 5G’s new use cases.
For Huawei, the answer to the complicated issues faced by the operators is to simplify the whole network deployment process, whether that be related to hardware, software, or accessing new verticals.
“Huawei is launching a new product portfolio aiming to simplify everything. We are trying to make it easier for the operator to deploy their 5G networks,” explained Peng.
At Huawei’s most recent product launch, site-specific hardware saw much innovation, helping to lower the physical deployment and maintenance costs of the RAN network, one of the operators’ central concerns when launching a 5G network. Among the products on show were the Blade AAU (active antenna unit), which can support 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G, as well as reducing the amount of space required at the site and lowering the total cost of ownership by over 30%. They also launched a wideband 400 MHz product that helps resolve the problem of fragmented spectrum availability, and a lightweight (25 kg) massive MIMO AAU, specifically designed to eliminate the need for expensive engineering equipment (i.e., cranes) during deployment.
It was not only hardware upgrades that were revealed at the product launch. Software advances were also on offer, in the form of Huawei’s Hybrid Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) solution, building on the development of CloudAIR. This solution will apply to situations where 5G uses continuous large-bandwidth spectrum greater than 20 MHz, and 4G uses 20 MHz, as well as those where non-standard bandwidths are used (such as 19.8 MHz) and when three different network modes need to interact seamlessly (such as 2G, 4G, and 5G). This DSS innovation will drastically improve spectrum efficiency and can be seamlessly incorporated with existing Huawei RAN equipment.
Huawei innovation is also helping operators to capitalise on emerging industries like drone services, unmanned driving, and telemedicine. Currently, an industry-wide bottleneck surrounding uplink speeds is preventing widescale adoption of these new technologies, but Huawei has a solution. The latest updates to Huawei’s 5G Super Uplink solutions solve the issue of uplink throughput by fully leveraging the advantages of complementary nature of the TDD and FDD bands, ultimately delivering ultra-large bandwidth and ultra-low latency. Huawei is helping to meet the technological demands of these exciting new technologies, further simplifying their implementation for operators.
This product launch was also an opportunity for Huawei to reiterate their lead over the competition when it comes to 5G technology.
“We are 12–18 months ahead of our competitors in terms of technology, and I want to emphasise that this statement is based not on our own opinion, but on our customer feedback last year,” said Peng.
Huawei’s strategy to retain this lead seems to rely on two interconnected pillars: investment and close customer relations.
When it comes to R&D expenditure, they simply invest more extensively than their competition.
“R&D is at the heart of our achievements and the overall expenditure is increasing every year. Last year we invested $15 billion, and this year we hope to raise that to $18 billion,” said Peng.
But expenditure alone is not enough, explained Peng, research must be targeted to meet the customer’s specific needs.
“Europe is very important for us in this regard,” he said. “We have many innovation centres in Europe with our customers, like Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, and Deutsche Telekom. This allows us to put our R&D specialists close to the customers, to better understand their requirements and ultimately develop the right products.”
With 5G devices in our homes, our pockets, and our businesses, the 5G world of the near future could look very different from how it does today. Huawei has proven itself capable of pivoting to meet these shifting demands and retain its technological leadership. Now we must wait to see if the operators can evolve to do the same.