A tour of Huawei’s Darwin Exhibition Hall at the company’s Shenzhen headquarters provides a fascinating and timely insight into the status of 5G.
The facility is at the same time a showcase for Huawei’s technology, a staging ground where 5G solutions can be experienced at first hand by industry leaders, customers and the media, and a glimpse into the company’s expectations as to how 5G will impact life and work in the years to come.
Almost half a billion subscribers are already benefiting from 5G connection, with around 170 networks deployed worldwide at 1.3 million sites, meaning that 5G networks are proliferating significantly faster than any previous mobile technology including 4G. As services become more widely accessible so the cost of 5G smartphones is falling meaning that a $150 smartphone providing gigabit speeds can be available to all users, not just those with the deepest pockets.
By offering faster speeds, lower latency and greater efficiencies 5G is opening up new opportunities and resonating with businesses as well as consumers in both developed and emerging markets, says Huawei. The benefits of cutting edge 5G applications and use cases will embrace consumer, enterprise, industry, the public sector and much more besides, and will include manufacturing, transport, healthcare, entertainment and the digital village.
Huawei highlights key technical advances in 5G and related areas such as wireless networks, cloud data center technology, rural connectivity and customer premise equipment (CPE), which are bringing both performance gains and cost benefits to customers and end users alike.
By building its own antenna solutions, for example, Huawei enables operators to leverage existing cell-site resources, combining 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G equipment into a single modular system. The company’s 5G outdoor Super Blade Site incorporates all of the key elements of a mobile base station including active antenna (AAU), remote radio unit (RRU) and power, allowing a smaller footprint, reduced power consumption, dynamic allocation of spectrum band resources, rapid site construction and substantially lowered total cost of ownership (TCO).
Reducing the carbon footprint of base stations is another area of focus for Huawei, such as the provision of a solar-driven base station on one of Greece’s tourist islands. This 5G Power joint innovation has achieved big reductions in site energy consumption through the introduction of AI, superimposed solar technology, high-efficiency site transformation, and indoor to outdoor deployment.
While providing connectivity for remote and rural communities is already high on Huawei’s list of priorities, Huawei is committed to sustained innovation to bring digital to every person, home and organization. In the 3rd year since its initial launch, Huawei's RuralStar solution has been continuously evolving, and the company’s RuralStar Pro solution is also on show in the Shenzhen exhibition. Commercial deployments are leading to an explosion in rural connectivity, providing enhanced coverage to around 50 million subscribers in remote and underserved areas around the world.
RuralStar Pro’s cost-effective technology and enhanced signal performance are achieved by deploying compact, highly integrated small cells with BBU (baseband unit), RRU (remote radio unit) and relay all incorporated into a single unit. By employing LTE relay for backhaul which supports NLOS (none-line-of-sight), the need for line-of-sight connection as necessitated with most microwave systems is removed.
Through working with vertical industry partners, Huawei has been putting effort on ruggedized CPE for indoor coverage in challenging environments. The CPE with multiple 4x4 indoor antennas can deliver the equivalent benefits of massive MIMO performance for factories with special requirements such as dense indoor video coverage.
For its data centre solutions, Huawei is developing all-optical networks and high-capacity optical backplanes to achieve efficiencies. New cooling technologies that combine traditional air-cooled and modern evaporation cooling approaches are adding to the efficiency and range of options available.
Focusing on 5G for B2B
Business to business (B2B) applications are rivaling consumer services as a major growth area for 5G. There are more than 1000 commercial 5G contracts concluded in the Chinese market, where Huawei is the main provider of the 5G equipment in these projects.
Through these engagements, the company is developing a deeper understanding of where and how these solutions can be replicated. At its Darwin facility, the company has been showcasing some of its groundbreaking work in a variety of sectors where 5G technology is having an impact, driven by a combination of enhanced performance, cloud technology, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and IoT.
Examples on show range from creating immersive experiences for shoppers in retail malls, practical applications such as technical support for smartphone users, navigation aids for drivers, potentially lifesaving medical services and diagnostics, and use cases for heavy industry such as steel production and mining where often dangerous working conditions are already being changed for the better.
During the pandemic, 5G coupled with AR/VR has even been delivering a virtual tourism experience for those unable to travel, by offering a 360-degree aerial tour of China’s famous tourist sites.
Among the more life-critical use cases, Huawei’s connected ambulance is already familiar from having been shown at various industry events. It uses 5G to relay full details of the patient’s condition and critical data from monitoring equipment inside the ambulance vehicle while in transit to the medical facility. This allows doctors at the receiving hospital to be fully prepared to continue care of the patient on arrival with all critical data already at their fingertips.
In the same field, Huawei is exploring the wider use of 5G in China to support remote monitoring for elderly villagers with chronic health conditions living in difficult-to-reach parts of the country, by providing remote support for diagnostic tools such as ECG or mobile CT scans.
In Thailand, Huawei is working with leading medical professionals to explore how 5G’s speed, high reliability and lower latency fits well with a range of healthcare applications, enabling the rapid analysis of large amounts of data in order to accelerate diagnosis, facilitate telemedicine for medical procedures, and to speed research and aid collaboration.
The challenging working environments traditionally associated with many industrial and commercial operations are also being transformed by the introduction of 5G.
With the help of Huawei Shenzhen’s busy container terminal is being transformed from a frequently hazardous, labour-intensive operation into a smart facility where highly complex freight movements and the work of operatives such as drivers and crane operators, are being handled instead by remotely controlled and monitored vehicles, all at the touch of a control room button. Operatives seated in a safe, comfortable environment have a 360-degree view of operations, with the ability to track and monitor every movement of goods and vehicles, all connected and coordinated over 5G.
Still more challenging, heavy industrial processes such as mining and steel production can often combine hostile or hard-to-reach environments with exposure to extreme conditions such as high temperatures or dust and are both unhealthy and physically demanding.
For these environments, Huawei is exploring options such as the use of robots to monitor equipment and to access hard-to-reach areas and AI to analyze production in high-risk conditions and recommend changes to processes without the need for human intervention.