Huawei flexes its R&D muscles at pre-MWC briefing
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

Huawei’s pre-Mobile World Congress briefing saw the unveiling of several new products and an emphasis on the company’s lead on R&D spending and the work it is doing to reduce mobile carriers’ operating costs.

Ryan Ding, Huawei’s carrier business group president, said that the company has already supplied more than 40,000 5G base stations (as of 20 February and has won more than 30 5G commercial contracts worldwide, including Europe, the Middle East and also in the Asia Pacific Region.

Huawei claims to have 80,000 R&D engineers, invests 15 per cent of its revenue in R&D (some €11.3 billion in 2018, which it says is more than that of all the other telecommunications vendors combined).

Huawei also claims that its 5G infrastructure equipment consumes (at a conservative estimate) thirty per cent less power compared with its competitors. Peter Zhou, Huawei’s chief marketing officer, said that a key reason for this is Huawei’s use of 7nm chipsets – “Our competitors have not even used the 10nm chips yet, they are still using 16 nanometres.”

Ding said that he firmly believes “that all our competitors now have useable 5G base stations. However, useable is different from good… I strongly encourage you to compare our products with the competition in terms of power consumption, performance, weight, size, deliverability and maintainability.”

He added that Huawei believes that 90 per cent of sites can be upgraded to 5G using Huawei’s equipment without the need to upgrade the AC power supply, due to its energy efficiency and that its new 5G base station is sufficiently light-weight that it can be installed by two people without the use of cranes.

Huawei is also pursuing a modular approach to 5G sites, using outdoor equipment that does not require equipment rooms or cabinets to reduce the total cost of ownership for operators.

Like its competitors, Huawei is looking to AI/machine learning to provide operators with additional gains in performance and it is working to enable this at the equipment level (with new hardware for base stations) and at the network level. In the case of the latter, Zhou said while announcing its MBB Automation Engine (MAE) that Huawei expects its automation system to move from enabling partial automation to a conditional autonomous network in three years (with AI-aided decision making and the AI working at the domain level).

Some of the products that were announced may create no small amount of cognitive dissonance for those countries which have expressed national security concerns over the use of Huawei equipment, given the need for systems that can bring down the cost of mobile broadband coverage to meet the high requirements of public safety organisations.

Huawei launched its RuralStar Lite solution to provide affordable coverage to users in remote areas. The company claims that it reduces the capex per site to around $20,000 and shortens the return on investment cycle to about two to three years, even for situations where a site serving a small community of 500 citizens.

Another product on show was the 5G SkySite, which as its name suggests has a 5G Book RRU base station integrated into a drone/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to provide temporary coverage. The company claims to have reduced the base station’s size and weight by 42 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively, compared with the 4G version and increased its capacity by 110 per cent. The onboard base station weighs 7kg. Flying at an altitude of 100 metres, Huawei claims that the 5G SkySite can provide coverage to a 20-30km2 area.

The event featured what was billed as the first 5G multi-operator call between multiple operators’ 5G networks. It took place in conjunction with three major UK operators (BT, Vodafone, and Three UK) and used 5G-enabled routers to create fixed wireless access connections. However, both the audio quality and latency seemed somewhat underwhelming – highlighting the risks inherent with trying to demonstrate cutting edge technology to a large audience.

Inevitably, the national security question came up. Ding said “There is some impact on some countries but there will not be [an] impact on 95 per cent of our market… In other markets Huawei has become a very popular topic, so we are known by more customers and known better by the public – so to some degree this is [a] free advertisement for us.”

He added that the GSMA’s recent call for a common, consistent and agreed security assurance, testing and certification regime for Europe would be an improvement in terms of efficiency and that “Huawei greatly supports such calls”. Ding also said that the security concern had encouraged Huawei to invest more in R&D this year.

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