A Key Year for Huawei’s 5.5G Development

MWC 2024 once again asserted its status as a core event in the telecom industry, with 101,000 people attending from all over the world, including CCS Insight. With a plethora of innovative products and solutions on display, the event underscored the dynamic nature of the telecom landscape — for full analysis of the top announcements in the networks space, see Network Innovation at MWC 2024 and Implications for the Market.

Among the key players at the conference, Huawei had a vast stand taking up the whole of Hall 1. The company significantly expanded its portfolio of service offerings, aiming to deliver cutting-edge solutions for 5G.

Huawei’s stand at MWC 2024 spanned the entire Hall 1. Source: CCS Insight

The 5G landscape is rapidly expanding, as seen in the recent commercialization efforts of operators in the Middle East and planned roll-outs across Europe, Asia–Pacific and Latin America. Operators are currently testing peak speeds of up to 10 Gbps, underscoring the urgent need for advanced infrastructure.

Huawei showcased a range of products and solutions marketed as 5.5G, aimed at offering a complete set of products to address networks across all bands. Among these, Huawei claimed that its Native Giga approach, incorporating ultrawideband and multi-antenna technologies, will improve performance tenfold, and that its Native Green architecture complements this by providing energy efficiency.

Let’s take a look at the eight innovations Huawei unveiled at MWC 2024, marking a leap forward in the firm’s ambition in the telecom industry.

1. Extremely Large Antenna Array (ELAA) Upgrade

Expanding single-band ELAA to multiband capabilities on Huawei’s 64T MetaAAU antenna unit enables coverage of both high-band and low-band signals, aiming to deliver ubiquitous 5 Gbps speeds.

Service providers that struggle to meet site capacity requirements will benefit from these increased capabilities, and Huawei pointed to deployments in China and the Middle East as useful references for MetaAAU. As more frequencies become available for 5G use — following the allocation of new spectrum or 2G and 3G switch-offs — equipment with elegant multiband support becomes more important.

2. FDD Ultrawideband Upgrade

The introduction of the Hepta-band remote radio unit, supporting seven bands from 700 MHz to 2.6 GHz, will help to maximize spectral and energy efficiency. Huawei highlighted deployments in Cambodia as evidence of this advancement, seeing enhanced coverage and significantly reduced power usage. It also claimed its frequency-division duplex (FDD) 8T8R and Massive MIMO products offer native ultrahigh-gigahertz bandwidth.

Traditionally, FDD bands have lagged high-frequency time-division duplex (TDD) bands for capacity. But FDD bands remain critical for offering indoor mobile broadband and rural services. With the 8T8R product, service providers can greatly improve 5G performance in locations where TDD bands don’t reach. Additionally, support for up to seven bands on a single unit simplifies site set-up and enables the use of multiple aggregated FDD bands to maximize bandwidth available to user devices.

We expect this upgrade to be of particular benefit to operators that currently hold multiple frequency bands as they continue to shut down and repurpose 2G and 3G networks. As of December 2023, GSA counted 56 operators with completed 2G and 3G switch-offs globally, with a further 101 planning to do so.

3. Instrumental Millimetre-Wave (mmWave) Spectrum

Recognizing mmWave spectrum as instrumental in achieving 10 Gbps speeds, Huawei introduced what it says is the industry’s largest mmWave active antenna unit with over 2,000 antenna elements. According to the company, this supports a beam density that is four times greater than competitor solutions, helping to break through bottlenecks. Deployments in China and Finland demonstrate the effectiveness of mmWave in delivering ultrahigh-speed connectivity in mobility scenarios, producing speeds of about 10 Gbps.

This type of spectrum has several advantages over low-band frequencies, such as faster transmission speeds, lower latency and much higher bandwidth. It’s in the early phases of development, suffering from low availability of sufficient mid-band 5G spectrum in the 3 GHz to 6 GHz range to support initial 5G use. But as 5G adoption increases, data volumes continue to rise. If fixed wireless access needs cause a further jump in data volumes, mmWave will become necessary for its vast additional capacity. For example, Indian operator Jio holds 1000 MHz of mmWave spectrum and rival Airtel has 800 MHz — these dwarf many service providers’ total spectrum holding.

We expect the number of providers deploying mmWave to grow significantly from the current 22 operators in 15 countries. If China or India move ahead with significant roll-outs, the vast market size will result in much greater economies of scale, reducing costs and making mmWave much more attractive globally.

4. LampSite X Indoor Solution

Huawei’s LampSite X product supports multiband and multiple radio access technologies to provide indoor connectivity. Huawei claims deployments in Hong Kong have yielded strong results, transforming business areas into 10 Gbps hubs and driving revenue growth.

Most of the capacity bands needed to support high data volumes at very high speeds are relatively high-frequency — above 3 GHz. Although 5G New Radio improves the reach of these bands compared with LTE or 4G, it doesn’t remove physical constraints. As a result, indoor 5G solutions are a vital way to ensure high-quality 5G experiences.

Notably, these new LampSite systems can be paired with the transparent indoor antennas that Huawei unveiled in late 2023, shown for the first time at MWC 2024. Together, they offer an extremely low-profile system that increases the number of suitable sites for small-cell deployment. Plus, support for mmWave as well as frequency range 1 capacity bands in this solution gives service providers more flexibility in countries where mmWave is available.

5. Energy Efficiency

Huawei introduced its “zero bit, zero watt” ethos to its 5.5G full-series equipment, which it says increases energy efficiency tenfold based on Native Green hardware and software. Alongside this, the company claimed that power usage falls below 10 W in idle mode and drops by 30% in active mode.

Cost has been a major barrier for operators considering launching 5G networks. High energy costs and a desire among many service providers to improve their sustainability credentials make it even more important to reduce energy usage and operational expenditure. Cutting operating costs can also help the business case for deploying upgraded equipment, in part by negating initial capital expenditure for deployment.

Therefore, we expect to see more networks using such energy-efficient equipment, especially in urban areas, where not all bands are needed all day, and in remote rural areas that may have few users most of the time.

6. MAGICSwave for Carrier Aggregation

Huawei’s MAGICSwave solution supports microwave 2T in all scenarios, alongside a stated capacity of 50 Gbps. The company said that an operator in China was able to deploy 5G backhaul to an isolated island in less than two days, and in Nigeria the long-haul microwave solution required 50% less hardware across all scenarios, reducing the cost of ownership by a significant 30%.

Increased 5.5G bandwidth and speed on the radio requires improved backhaul, but fibre isn’t available or cost-effective to use on every site in many markets. Huawei claims that MAGICSwave helps providers deploy 5.5G capability more widely if it can increase transmission distance at a given throughput.

Service providers will find improved microwave equipment particularly valuable in markets where there’s little existing fibre or for sites serving rural or suburban areas. Furthermore, requiring less antenna installation space — Huawei claims a 50% drop — means providers will have to do less work on passive metalwork to upgrade the microwave links, helping with the return on investment.

We believe this product will have a positive impact on 5.5G investment in South-East Asia, Central Asia and Africa, as these regions are large and difficult to serve, struggling to achieve stable, high-performance and reliable 5G coverage.

7. Signal Direct Injection Feeding (SDIF)

Huawei is introducing SDIF across all its antennas to enhance energy efficiency and operational cost savings. It says the Eco antenna will improve all-band energy efficiency by 20% depending on configurations, and describes Marconi as the industry’s first digital antenna with a low wind load. It also claims support for 2D beam adjustment without site visits, helping operators lower operational costs. Huawei mentioned examples in Saudi Arabia, where operators saved 50% on rental fees, and in the Czech Republic, where digital antennas increased traffic by 30%.

SDIF should result in more-efficient and reliable networks by reducing base station transmit power without affecting performance; reducing cable and feeder usage; eliminating feeder loss and increasing antenna efficiency; and providing greater amplitude and phase precision, leading to more-accurate signal transmissions and greater network reliability.

8. IntelligentRAN Implementation

Huawei’s IntelligentRAN aims to aid with proactive network operations and maintenance capabilities. The company highlighted deployments in Hangzhou and Hubei as examples of IntelligentRAN enhancing network performance and optimizing energy usage.

It’s becoming harder for service providers to manage configurations, ensure good performance and minimize energy usage, because of rising complexity in the radio access network with more bands in simultaneous use, and a greater range of quality-of-service settings with 3GPP Release 17 and soon Release 18. Outages because of faults or maintenance further complicate the problem.

Service providers need tools that can analyse groups of sites together to ensure the best overall balance of network performance and operational spending. Video streaming continues to be important, but people expect higher-resolution streams in real time. Service providers must balance the twin challenges of higher energy costs and higher performance expectations.

These eight practices unveiled by Huawei at MWC 2024 show the firm aiming to position itself as the market shaper and technological leader in the market, developing products and solutions it sees as vital to the successful implementation of 5.5G globally.

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