AI Investment and 5.5G Roll-Out in Focus at Huawei Analyst Summit 2024

At Huawei’s Analyst Summit (HAS), the company articulated a strong vision for artificial intelligence (AI) across all its business lines, highlighting the multiyear effort Huawei has made in AI research and development. We had the pleasure of attending HAS in person in Shenzhen — the days of virtual-only events are fortunately behind us now. Alongside AI, Huawei showed a range of products, from a 5G New Calling demo with childlike video avatars created by scanning the user, to use of AI to improve core network performance, extensive radio access network (RAN) demos across a range of Huawei products on its campus, as well as a commercial drone food delivery trial offsite in nearby Shenzhen.

In the keynote presentations, rotating chairman Eric Xu put AI into context as one of five major trends that Huawei is addressing: 5.5G commercial deployments; accelerating AI breakthroughs based on foundation models such as Huawei’s Pangu; shift to cleaner electricity generation; electric vehicle growth, moving on to greater intelligence; and ongoing macroenvironment challenges. Perhaps most intriguingly from the keynote, it’s clear that Huawei sees renewable energy, smart grids and electric vehicles as opportunities for the company inside China now and beyond.

As part of HAS, Huawei took analysts on tours of its campus and nearby cities to demonstrate its latest products, upcoming initiatives and the work of some of its partners.

Digital Twins

To optimize deployments, Huawei demonstrated its RAN Digital Twin System (RDTS). Typically, this needs at least one week of real-world data in a location, after which an operator can simulate the effect of configuration changes on users’ experience, for example from remote azimuth adjustment. The solution uses RAN Intelligent Agents comprising of the telecom foundation model, digital twin and intelligent computing power. The goals are to modernize the operations and management process by boosting efficiency; to improve network experience while saving energy using the digital twin simulation; and to smooth provisioning, for example by providing intelligent estimates for coverage, capacity, speeds and latency for a fixed wireless access (FWA) installation.

Autonomous Vehicles

Further building on the keynote AI themes and new Huawei AI telecom foundation models, Huawei demonstrated an autonomous delivery vehicle that is commercially available, made by Neolix and connected by 5G. Neolix has deployed 3,000 vehicles across China and plans to add a further 10,000 this year.

The 5G connection links the vehicle in Shenzhen with a management centre over 1,000 km away. The system operates with a latency of 20 milliseconds to the RAN and an end-to-end latency of 200 milliseconds. The vehicle can run completely autonomously using lidar alongside 11 cameras, which are important if a human operator needs to step in and take over. The capacity of 5G is needed not just for higher reliability and lower latency, but also because the vehicle transmits 300 to 500 GB of data a month to the data centre to improve the autonomous system by training the AI models.

Ground-based delivery wasn’t the only autonomous vehicle demonstrated. Outside the Huawei campus, in a busy downtown area of Shenzhen, Huawei took a group of analysts out for lunch. Meituan is operating a commercial trial using drones, connected through a wireless network, to deliver food to special drone kiosks in six locations that are up to 1.1 km away from the base. The custom-designed Meituan Flight drones carry a standard box that, for us, included two meals consisting of a burger, fries and a soft drink. The drone lands on top of the kiosk and deposits the box. The diner arrives and punches a code in to receive their lunch.

We also visited China Unicom’s R&D Centre in Guangzhou, where drones and unmanned aerial vehicles played a significant role in the company’s strategic vision. The company is spearheading a concept known as the low-altitude economy in Guangdong. In addition to express delivery, drones will be employed for monitoring, dispatching and emergency communications across public and private networks.

China Unicom has already established a private drone network covering 9,000 km, accumulating 3.5 million flight hours and generating revenue of 50 billion yuan. By 2025, it plans to extend these drone networks to multiple cities, incorporating various networks beyond 5G, such as satellite GPS or BeiDou, sensing networks and device and edge computing technologies.

As part of this national expansion, China’s operators need improved 5G signal coverage at high elevations. To meet this requirement, Huawei has created Massive MIMO antennas with improved azimuth adjustment to increase the vertical spread of degrees they can serve. For now, drones operate under 300 m, but the plan is to create a “drone layer” for 5G extending up to 600 m soon.


Inside the campus, Huawei has a functional cafe using pre-standard passive Internet of things (IoT) tags to track food items moving through the cafe. The ambient IoT tags collect energy from the environment using a small capacitor. On a time interval, usually between one and a few minutes, ceiling-mounted LampSite base stations activate the tags to query temperature and location. 3GPP plans for this technology to be part of its Release 19.

Indoor 5G

Indoor 5G coverage has been a particular challenge for operators globally because of their reliance on time-division duplex bands in the 3 to 4.5 GHz range to boost speeds and capacity. But although 5G works considerably better at these frequencies than older technologies like 4G, these bands still penetrate buildings less well than 5G on lower frequencies. To improve indoor 5G, Huawei has two approaches: one is for operators to deploy LampSite small cells, as used in the smart cafe, and the other is to improve the reach of lower-frequency bands based on frequency-division duplex (FDD) from outdoor cell sites.

On the tour, Huawei demonstrated an improvement in FDD performance using its new Massive MIMO FDD solution. The test compared two systems using 2.1 GHz on a 20 MHz channel: an existing 4T4R antenna and a new GigaGreen Massive MIMO 32T32R system. Huawei claims this triband solution can deliver 10 dB better coverage, a tenfold capacity improvement and a tenfold boost in experience too.

In the demo, as signal blocking units were placed over each phone, the older solution saw downlink speeds fall from around 65 Mbps, first to 35 Mbps and then to 1 or 2 Mbps, or eventually dropping the call. By contrast, the new Massive MIMO system delivered 150 Mbps initially. But the difference continued as the signal blocks were added, with performance first falling to around 85 Mbps — faster than the older system was at the start — and then to around 5 to 10 Mbps as received signal strength dropped. Huawei also highlighted a smoother livestreaming experience to show that the uplink also benefits from the new system.

Energy Efficiency

Energy usage is even more important for operators now with energy costs high and ever-increasing data consumption. Huawei showed a roof site implementation of its Meta AAU system compared with a traditional active antenna unit. It believes operators will be able to save 4 kWh per site per day.

The demo showed both systems delivering an output power of 320 W and both connected at 53 V. Initially, the older system consumed 12.5 A compared with 8.2 A for the Meta AAU. But the Meta solution was able to drop to just 0.12 A, in contrast with a much higher level of 7.15 A for the older system, indicating it consumes considerably more power during low usage times than the Meta AAU. The demo also included a solar power system to further improve efficiency.


5.5G is a major focus for Huawei and goes somewhat beyond the scope for 5G-Advanced to include millimetre-wave (mmWave) systems as well as some older Release 17 features. In a moving vehicle using off-the-shelf smartphones powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Gen 3 and X75 modem, Huawei highlighted the extreme performance that is possible aggregating low, mid-, high and mmWave bands together.

The company is targeting a 10 Gbps peak cell throughput with 5.5G. In the demo, the smartphone hit download speeds of 4 Gbps using three carriers. This Qualcomm hardware is compatible with Release 17 and Release 18, but it will need a software upgrade for Release 18 and therefore 5G-Advanced support.


Huawei showed two different uses for RedCap, a component of 5.5G. CCS Insight sees RedCap as one of the key technologies enabled by Release 17 that will extend 5G use throughout sectors and accelerate a transition from older wireless technologies. One example showed outdoor RedCap cameras using a commercial 5G connection to track vehicles. This is ideal for sites where there is already power present but no fibre connection or where it is easier to supply power than it is to install fibre. Each camera has a connection of 3 to 6 Mbps for video transmission with a resolution of 1,080 pixels.

China Unicom and Huawei emphasized that RedCap is being commercialized this year. As recently as late March 2024, China Unicom and China Telecom made headlines by activating a RedCap network across 120,000 sites in the Guangdong province, accomplished in just two months primarily through over-the-air software updates. RedCap is poised to significantly increase the number of 5G IoT-connected devices, with the companies seeing module costs that are already nearly 50% lower than 5G New Radio modules. We expect costs will drop further with scale. In China Unicom’s lab, rigorous testing and validation of RedCap devices is underway, with plans to collaborate with manufacturers to certify devices for deployment.

FWA was the second use for RedCap that Huawei demonstrated. Here, RedCap enables operators to use 5G-specific spectrum but at a similar cost to older 4G equipment. Huawei’s H151-370 Redcap consumer premises equipment is 1T2R, meaning it features one transmit and two receive antennas — it has more receive antennas because of the importance of the downlink connection for FWA — using a 20 MHz maximum channel, which is the same as 4G, but much less than standard 5G’s maximum 100 MHz channel size.

This unit has peak data rates of 169 Mbps for downloads and 27 Mbps for uploads and includes Wi-Fi 6. However, Huawei argues its cost of $40 to $50 in 2024 makes the unit attractive as it is similar to 4G. Huawei also has more capable FWA equipment such as the Pro 5 (with 3T4R and three-carrier aggregation), which Huawei showed streaming 8K video successfully at over 100 Mbps.

Enterprise 5G

What struck us most during the visit to China Unicom was the operator’s remarkable success in enterprise 5G offerings, capabilities and service innovations. In CCS Insight’s private mobile network research, we often discuss the challenges faced by operators in capitalizing on the private 5G opportunity and point to the potential to use their 5G standalone public networks through hybrid and virtual private 5G solutions. Our optimism for the future is bolstered by observations from China, where the number of hybrid and virtual private 5G networks has now exceeded 25,000 nationwide — a phenomenon we witnessed first-hand during our visit.

China Unicom showcased its impressive track record with more than 340 5G enterprise projects in Guangdong alone, which have transitioned from pilot programmes to full-scale commercial deployments and achieved a remarkable 160% revenue growth. The operator’s success in the enterprise sector stems from its strategic shift toward becoming more than just an infrastructure provider — it aims to evolve into a “computing-first” network.

One key advantage of integrating enterprise 5G networks with a public core is the ability for China Unicom to efficiently manage and prioritize network traffic. We saw this capability in action through a sophisticated user interface that allowed it to monitor and control all active enterprise 5G networks in Guangdong. Notably, critical customers benefit from dedicated service teams, underscoring China Unicom’s commitment to tailored customer support.

Another effective use of a 5G public mobile core, which was also showcased by Huawei’s Core team, was the evolution of a traditional virtual private network, which allows consumers, small and medium businesses, or hybrid workers to connect to a remote server or intranet through the mobile network to access files. Branded Umobile Internet, it could, essentially, connect the 5G network with a fixed network, bypassing the Internet and cloud. The advantages this provides are faster and easier access to files, much lower latency and better security.

In this competitive landscape, China Unicom is up against formidable players like Tencent and Alibaba Cloud. However, it believes its expertise in connectivity, communication and state-owned trust sets it apart. Despite early successes, for China Unicom private 5G remains a small fraction of its overall revenue, but there are many opportunities for it to grow greatly.