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5G winners and losers. Who are they and why should we care?

1a_5G mmWave

  • Is there ever a 5G trial fail? Not that we’ve noticed.
  • Ironic that Huawei, barred from the US infrastructure market, has just scooped one of the top awards at MWC
  • Huawei’s technology seems to focus what 5G is really all about 

Inevitably, MWC this year seemed mostly about 5G and all the vendor and telco tests, trials and tribulations which were already undergone, or were about to take place, at least on the exhibitor floor.

Is there ever a trial fail? Not that we’ve noticed. They are all ‘successful’, but in this new software world, whether the trial revealed lots of little ‘gotchas’ that were quickly put right with a few tweaks is never reported.

We’ve always presumed that this was the case, but then NDAs probably make that sort of detail unknowable. So what we press end up with are press releases, very similar in content, covering dozens of trials of different components with different telcos - none of them a ‘fail’. It’s all highly predictable.

I suppose virtualisation is partly to blame. When the industry was about how many black boxes were sold to who for how much, there was at least something quantifiable to report. Today everyone ‘engages’ or ‘partners’ like a large tribe of Bonobo chimpanzees in a getting to know you session. It seems that there are no longer many sales, just services offered, partnerships formed.

So who’s winning and who’s losing? This seems to be a matter of huge concern for nation states for reasons which aren’t quite sane. How does a country ‘win’ on 5G when the industry itself has become completely global. How does one country get its nose ahead in terms of intellectual property and knowledge when the industry itself is increasingly driven by open source software engineered by all and available to all?

Perhaps the illusion of cut-throat competition needs to be maintained to make the politicians feel they’re doing their job?

MWC saw a parade of FCC senior officials stressing that 5G was all about competition and that America intended to be the global leader. Pai, of course, but also commissioner Brendan Carr have been banging the nationalist drum. As have European politicians, 5G fans for several years.

So it’s ironic perhaps that Huawei, barred from the US infrastructure market, has just scooped one of the top awards at MWC.

Its Ultra-broadband Radio Frequency (RF) Solution Family won the Best Mobile Infrastructure award and did so because it tackles head-on the real challenge that 5G is trying to overcome. It’s not (or not just) about incorporating yet another higher frequency band or two so that adopting carriers can paint a ‘go faster stripe’ on their marketing literature. LTE already provides more than enough theoretical speed for smartphone applications - on that basis, and to stay with the car analogy, 5G should be viewed as more about ride and cornering than straight ahead speed.

Smoothly absorbing multiple radio types onto and through one set of antennas is key and Huawei had targetted the multiple-frequency network to make such a beast more coherent and cost effective. Huawei says its solution's advanced power amplifier technology and algorithm allow each module to support higher bandwidth, more frequency bands, and more radio access technologies (RATs). One highlight of the solution is that it supports multiple-antenna technology, which effectively boosts network capacity.

In the past, carriers could only build single-frequency and single-mode networks, says Huawei. Its solution has reshaped this traditional model, and the result is shorter installation time and lower rental. Carriers don't have to replace as many antennas and reconstruct as many sites during capacity expansion and evolution as they did in the past.  

Huawei's ultra-broadband remote radio unit (RRU) and active antenna unit (AAU) provide coverage in common scenarios by simplifying site configurations and cutting construction costs. For urban traffic hot spots, Huawei's Massive MIMO products increase network capacity by five-fold and decrease cost per bit.

According to the MWC judges: “An impressive step forward for this vendor. It takes the single RAN concept into the 5G era bringing significant capex and opex savings to its mobile operator partners.”

Huawei’s technology seems to focus what 5G is really all about - not just speed, but virtualizing and refining the things that currently load up the cost, gobble the power and strap on the concrete overshoes for the RAN, thus allowing 4G to morph smoothly into 5G.  

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