Intelligence Brief: Does Huawei innovation align with market demands? - Mobile World Live

Intelligence Brief: Does Huawei innovation align with market demands?

27 FEB 2020

With MWC traditionally being a showcase for network vendor innovations, keeping up with all launches from all key players is never an easy feat. That’s why suppliers often take time to update the media and analyst communities just before the show begins. MWC20 might have been cancelled, but those pre-briefs still went ahead.

Taken as a whole, these events might seem to present a picture of how networks will evolve. They don’t. Instead, they simply provide insight into how specific suppliers see the market. And, while it’s important to understand what each vendor is doing to move the market forward, Huawei’s analyst event from last week stands out for a few reasons:

  1. Huawei is the market’s biggest networking player.
  2. With network infrastructure, device, and enterprise businesses, it brings a unique perspective.
  3. Winning a total of six GLOMO Awards, suggests impressive R&D efforts; and
  4. The status of its annual analyst conference (an opportunity to dig deep into its product and technology roadmaps, traditionally scheduled for April in China) remains uncertain.

Returning, then, to the idea a vendor’s messaging (and products) reflects their view of market realities, we can ask “what have we learned from Huawei?” What does it see as major market priorities and drivers? What products follow? And, most importantly, do these views align with market realities?

5G credibility: momentum and solutions
Message and credentials
Like most vendors, Huawei is quick to point out its 5G successes (91 commercial contracts) and the breadth of its 5G offering. Including RAN, core, transport, IT and cloud infrastructure, and devices, the offer is certainly comprehensive.
Market view
While end-to-end solutions and references are a staple of vendor marketing, operators don’t necessarily prioritise them in their purchasing decisions: our latest research shows security, pricing and performance being more important. That said, if the value of early momentum and broad assets can be explained, it will be convincing.

Spectrum: 5G versus fragmentation
Message and credentials
With 5G best deployed in large bandwidths (100+ MHz), Huawei highlights the need for operators to leverage disparate spectrum assets, something few in the industry would dispute. To cope with this, Huawei introduced wideband radio assets (up to 400MHz across the C-band), an all-in-one active antenna unit (AAU) supporting multiple sub-6GHz bands, and played up the use of software algorithms to optimise 5G performance in a given amount of spectrum along with its CloudAir Dynamic Spectrum Sharing solution.
Market view
As a scarce (and costly) resource, operators continue to view any technologies which maximise the use of their spectrum as critical: in the 5G era, new spectrum allocations are one of the top investment considerations. Disappointingly, operators do not yet see the use of AI and automation for spectrum management being as important as other use cases, making messaging on this front all the more important.

Spectrum: super uplink
Message and credentials
Use of TDD spectrum has long promised an ability to tune uplink versus downlink capacity to meet market demands. Unfortunately, FDD spectrum allocations remain the norm in most markets and, regardless of allocation flexibility, propagation in higher frequencies represents a fundamental uplink barrier. Allowing TDD/FDD coordination and TDD/TDD coordination for improved uplink, Huawei highlighted its Super Uplink technology as a solution for improved uplink speeds and latency.
Market view
The Super Uplink solution isn’t new: it was released in June 2019. New messaging around end-to-end support, however, add credibility. This helps to move the technology from a concept to something that operators can understand how they might deploy. Perhaps more importantly, though, a reference highlighting the 3GPP has “officially accepted this innovative technology” takes it from a proprietary offer to something that could be supported by a broader ecosystem.

5G Services: slicing and the core
Message and credentials
Improved uplink and latency performance, speak directly to the specific requirements of enterprise and industrial 5G use cases. And, supporting consumers alongside enterprise verticals (leveraging a common network) speaks to the value of network slicing, with Huawei spotlighting its end-to-end offer including service management, slice management, performance management and AI-based operations tools.
Market view
Like its Super Uplink solution, talking up network slicing in support of industrial digital transformation is not new for Huawei. And, Huawei wasn’t alone in doing this: Nokia announced its own, end-to-end, network slicing offer just this week, claiming to be first for 4G and 5G support. Regardless, added details around the components included in Huawei’s Slicing offer (CSMF, NSMF, et cetera.) and the network components touched (UE, RAN, transport, core) paint a picture of a more complete, and credible, offer. Compared with capabilities like URLLC support and a simplified network architecture, network slicing does not rank high as a standalone 5G benefit. If, however, end-to-end solutions (including simple operations and management) can bring network slicing closer to a scalable, commercial reality for operators, then that prognosis could improve.

Green operations: power consumption versus data consumption
Message and credentials
With the launch of every new mobile technology generation, a renewed focus on network operations energy efficiency is only natural. After all, electricity bills add to overall costs. In 2020, with signs of climate change registering across the globe, energy-efficient network operations are a greater priority than ever. For its part, Huawei highlighted AI and automation tools which regulate network operations (turning off channels, carriers or symbols as appropriate) across technologies and spectrum bands, while outlining how 5G paired with its massive MIMO innovations can deliver much more data (50-times compared with 4G) for a given amount of power consumption.
Market view
There can be no doubt that green network operations is a key operator priority. But, where the headline energy efficiency stories from Huawei (automation, and 5G data-versus-energy consumption) are also likely to be claimed by competitors, a host of other innovations tell a more complete story: silicon-level integration for improved efficiency, gallium nitride (GaN) power amplifiers, use of green technologies (solar, wind) in rural areas, and energy efficiency included as a consideration in site survey tools. Competitors will, doubtless, make similar claims. Regardless, treating energy efficiency holistically signals it is more than just a passing fad or narrow marketing message.

Enterprise communications: Wi-Fi for the campus
Message and credentials
In a departure from the discussion around 5G and mobile networks, Huawei took time to announce its HiCampus solution for Wi-Fi connectivity across enterprise campuses. Why? In part, because the vendor can claim its new Wi-Fi 6 products borrow from its 5G R&D. In part, because the enterprise campus is a critical centre of business activity. In part, because of some impressive product and performance claims: ten new Wi-Fi 6 APs, 10 milliseconds latency, 10Gb/s throughput, 100 Mb/s guaranteed across the deployment.
Market view
As a part of their 5G deployment planning, integration with Wi-Fi is not a major focus for operators: it’s one of the least important 5G RAN priorities. For Huawei, however it’s an important asset. It helps the vendor differentiate against others which don’t have the same depth of enterprise assets or scale. And, while Huawei’s Wi-Fi messaging could raise questions about use cases around Wi-Fi versus private networks versus network slicing, any discussions on this front simply provide solution suppliers with another opportunity to engage (and sell to) their customers.

Of course, these products and messages are just a sample of what was discussed at Huawei’s product and solution showcase last week, and a fraction of what they will likely be announcing over the next weeks. But, if we expect 5G roll-outs to pick up pace this year, then there’s no doubt competition across 5G network vendors will pick up as well. Understanding the strategic priorities of leading vendors, then, provides a glimpse into how that competition will play out over the year.

– Peter Jarich – head of GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.