Q&A: Huawei’s Cao Ming on 5G trends, network challenges, and collaborative innovation
Since its launch a little over three years ago, the number of global 5G connections have grown exponentially. By Q2 of this year, more than 813 million connections had been recorded, up 112% on the same quarter in 2021. In the coming years, more than a billion connections are set to be added annually, with the world hitting 5.9 billion by the end of 2027.
Helping fuel that growth is a high willingness from network operators to adopt the technology, increasingly affordable devices, and a wide variety of use-cases. There are, however, still numerous challenges that need to be addressed, particularly on the African continent. The rollout of 5G also doesn’t have to mean the end of 4G, with the two complementing each other.
During AfricaCom (Africa’s largest technology conference and exhibition), which recently took place in Cape Town, South Africa, we got the chance to sit down with Cao Ming, President of Huawei Wireless Network Product Line about these and other 5G-related topics.
Q1: What are the major trends in global 5G industry development?
A1: 5G was first commercialised three years ago, and since then it has grown far more rapidly than its predecessors. So far, more than 230 operators have launched 5G commercial services to more than 700 million 5G users. Entry-level 5G devices are now available for as little as US$100. The affordability of 5G devices has made 5G accessible to more and more users globally, which in turn makes operators' 5G investments more profitable.
5G UHD live streaming, 5G AR/VR, 5G cloud gaming, and other 5G-based mobile applications are booming around the world. Such services, in return, are pushing mobile services to migrate to 5G. Huawei predicts that the cellular data of usage (DOU) for consumer-based services will reach 600 GB by 2030, most of which will be carried on 5G networks. In terms of digitalising industries, 5G has been extensively adopted in mining, ports, healthcare, manufacturing, and steel industries. When it comes to home broadband services, meanwhile, 5G has enabled a plethora of new use cases, such as premium home and speed-based package tiers. Based on extensive explorations, fixed wireless access (FWA) has proven that it takes the least amount of time for operators to start seeing return on investment (ROI). As the industry capabilities continue to improve, global operators will be further empowered to monetise FWA services.
It took less than 10 years for mobile broadband to become the norm, bringing broadband access to users and pushing forward a booming mobile Internet globally. Technology creates value, and innovation is the engine for future growth. 5G has become a key infrastructure to support digital transformation in society and the healthy development of the digital economy.
Q2: What are some of the challenges around 5G network construction for South African operators?
A2: From the operator perspective, sites and spectrum are always limited. That’s going to remain an especially big challenge in South Africa. Even as the rollout of 5G becomes more widespread, operators will have to maintain to operate and maintain 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks in parallel. Multi-RAT coexistence will only make this issue worse, as it makes deployment and maintenance costlier and more complex.
At the same time, we've experienced a consistent increase in DOU around the world, and the emergence of new 5G services is putting the capacity of mobile operators under tremendous strain. In South Africa, DOU has increased from 6 to 8 GB four years ago before COVID-19 to a level of 20 to 30 GB today. To meet these growing needs, our networks will need to provide multi-fold capacity. In other words, we're heading toward a moment of truth. Capacity demands on networks by mobile users continue to increase, but we only have limited spectrum and site resources with which to meet their needs.
The need for green growth has also become a matter of consensus around the world. Unfortunately, multi-band and multi-RAT networks will inevitably consume more and more energy. This means that we will need to resolve the conflict between the complexity growing out of more RATs and bands, and the goal of energy saving.
Since it is theoretically impossible to have inexhaustible sites and spectrum, the only way out is to pursue technological innovation that will lead toward the construction of ultra-wideband, multi-antenna, and intelligent networks. For example, given the same amount of spectrum, Huawei's innovative Massive MIMO solution increases network capacity by 10 times, compared with conventional solutions. In addition, operators generally have five to seven spectrum segments, and one box is conventionally used for one band, meaning that more than a dozen of boxes may be installed at a tower site with five to seven bands. Huawei's ultra-wideband solution can integrate low bands of 700, 800, and 900 MHz in a single box, with mid-bands of 1800, 2100, 2600/1400 MHz also able to fit in a box. If we put together C-band and 2.6 GHz or 2.3 GHz TDD spectrum that operators may have, a maximum of three boxes are required for each sector when Huawei's innovative ultra-wideband solution is used. This dramatically simplifies site configuration, reduces deployment costs, and slashes power consumption.
We’ve seen how this can work in the real world too. Huawei has helped an operator modernise its networks. The operator once used three boxes for three bands and there are nine boxes in total per site. With low band 700 MHz and TDD C-band newly obtained, the operator has a total of five bands. Huawei's multi-antenna and ultra-wideband solution used just three boxes for these five bands, helping the operator boost network capacity eight-fold with just a 10% increase in power consumption.
Ultimately, rapid service development is accelerating the increase in DOU. The arrival of 5G means more bands and RATs, and thus network spectrum and sites will become insufficient. That in turn makes it difficult to balance network experience, capacity, coverage, and energy efficiency. Huawei has therefore sought to innovate solutions and technologies, with an emphasis on ultra-wideband, multi-antenna, intelligence, and green capabilities to enhance user experience, reduce investment costs for operators, and preserve more energy for the rest of society.
Q3: Under current network conditions, what innovative direction is Huawei taking to support 4G/5G collaborative development?
A1: Huawei's software and hardware solutions are 5G ready. With simple software upgrades, we can deploy 5G to countries that need it, now or at any time in the future, even if such countries are still building 4G, or even 3G and 2G.
We seek to develop innovative wideband technologies to adapt to the trend of operators having more bands. As mentioned above, Huawei can implement three low bands in one box, as well as four mid-bands. Spectrum is the most valuable resource for operators. In terms of radio principles, if the spectrum cannot be increased, we can only attempt to improve spectral efficiency and the technology needed is multi-antenna technology. Huawei has implemented a full set of low-band 4T, mid-band 8T, and Massive MIMO solutions. In addition, Huawei introduced the trailblazing MetaAAU last year. Based on Massive MIMO, it enhances the number of passive antenna elements to improve coverage and reduce power consumption, while maintaining the pre-set power. Huawei doesn't just innovate components; we also develop innovative materials, basic processes, and algorithms to support the implementation of ultra-wideband, multi-antenna, and intelligent energy saving technologies.
We have deployed a broad range of ultra-wideband, multi-antenna, energy-saving, and intelligent solutions around the world. We refer to them as the 4-8-M solution. For example, in Brazil, we deployed Massive MIMO to achieve a peak rate of 1.4 Gbps, in order to fulfil capacity requirements of both 4G and 5G based on a limited bandwidth of just 20 MHz. In addition, dual-low-band 4T4R and multi-band intelligent coordination based on SingleCell were used in the Philippines, to improve the average low-band performance by 136% and edge low-band performance by 150%. These cases illustrate the unique value that Huawei's 4-8-M solution brings to customers.
The need for ultra-wideband, multi-antenna, intelligent, and green technologies has become a matter of consensus in the industry. This can also explain why Huawei's 4-8-M series solutions could take home the GSMA GLOMO Award for "Best Mobile Network Infrastructure" at the MWC2022 in Barcelona. Huawei will continue to work with industry partners, operators, and regulators to accelerate the development and deployment of 5G and 5.5G and bring the benefits of digitalisation to various industries.
Huawei is a leading global provider of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and smart devices. With integrated solutions across four key domains – telecom networks, IT, smart devices, and cloud services – we are committed to bringing digital to every person, home and organization for a fully connected, intelligent world.
Huawei's end-to-end portfolio of products, solutions and services are both competitive and secure. Through open collaboration with ecosystem partners, we create lasting value for our customers, working to empower people, enrich home life, and inspire innovation in organizations of all shapes and sizes.
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