Huawei Analyst Summit 2023: AI, 5.5G and the Digital Economy

On 19 to 21 April, Huawei hosted its annual Huawei Analyst Summit (HAS) in Shenzhen, China. CCS Insight analysts Richard Webb and Jordan Cox attended — here are our highlights from the event.

The overall theme of this year’s event was “Thrive with Digital, Striding Toward the Intelligent World”, and Huawei went to great lengths to reinforce this message throughout the conference sessions and panel debates. The opening keynote was delivered by Dr Zhou Hong, president of Huawei’s Strategic Research Institute. He focussed exclusively on artificial intelligence (AI), emphasizing its significance as a foundation of Huawei’s strategic direction. Dr Hong identified remaining barriers for AI to overcome — accuracy, adaptability and energy efficiency in particular — and outlined Huawei’s vision for AI evolution:

  • Creating circular systems that learn from experience and self-improve: from understanding phenomena to generating concepts, deducing, hypothesizing and making decisions, then gathering and analysing data to refine the system further
  • Building greater autonomy into systems to deliver greater accuracy and adaptability
  • Improving the efficiency of computing models, architectures and components, alongside removing bottlenecks in AI systems such as heat walls, memory walls and processing power.

It was as complex as it was fascinating, but Dr Hong also emphasized that this vision was dependent on a paradigm of new networks and computing — recurring topics for much of the event.

In her keynote “Thriving Together for a Digital Future”, deputy chair, chief financial officer and current rotating chair Sabrina Meng outlined Huawei’s strategy for addressing the digital and intelligent economy. Huawei proposes to help enterprises and network operators to develop digital capabilities and define transformation methodologies, so that their digital transformation is driven by business strategy, not just technology.

For Huawei this means a focus on delivering digitized equipment as well as digitized operations such as integrated data objects, processes and rules alongside unified digital platforms in which data is aggregated and shared throughout multiple dimensions. It also means evolving its partnership network, with Ms Meng referencing Huawei’s 35,000 enterprise partners, 41,000 cloud partners and the 4 million developers using its cloud platform. Of note was Huawei’s move to Open Source in software, with all the support and accessibility this offers the AppDev community.

Another major theme of HAS 2023 was 5.5G, viewed by Huawei as a crucial benchmark in transitioning to an intelligent world. Gan Bin, Huawei’s vice president of Wireless Solution, claimed that the 5G solutions network and accelerating uses were converging to make 5.5G a necessity.

According to Mr Bin, 10 Gbps and deterministic experience will be crucial to the evolution of 5.5G. He cites the examples of consumer mobile services becoming increasingly immersive and interactive and large-screen services in the home moving to 3D and HD as evidence of the need to upgrade networks to what he called “Experience 2.0”, benchmarked in 5.5G as 10 Gbps downlink, 1 Gbps uplink and deterministic experience.

To deliver these upgrades, both 10 Gbps ultrawide bandwidth spectrum and chipsets are ready, as well as 10 Gbps products, such as massive multiple-input multiple-output technology based on extremely large antenna array. This can help operators provide continuous 10 Gbps coverage on the sub-6 GHz time division duplex spectrum.

Mr Bin stated that another driver of 5.5G was that 100 billion mobile connections will soon be reached, requiring a transition from Internet of things (IoT) 1.0 to 2.0, an upgrade to what he termed “all-scenario connections”. This is because passive IoT, which comprises sensors that will be smaller, cheaper and greener than previous generations, is rapidly maturing.

Such connections are critical for visibility in end-to-end logistics and production processes and can increase factory production by 10% to 30%, according to Huawei. The passive IoT sensor network is rapidly developing, with terminal tag prototypes already available for use. Spectrum, product forms and business models are actively being defined in different markets. According to Mr Bin, adoption and scale-up of passive IoT will drive demand for 5.5G network upgrades in order to handle the volume of data connections generated by new applications.

This need for quality of experience was also referenced in a roundtable session led by Eric Bao, president of Huawei’s Digital Indoor Solutions product line, who noted the need for operators to deliver ubiquitous multi-Gbps network experience to support consumer demand for interactive cloud applications such as gaming.

He used the game Genshin Impact as an example, nothing that 80% of players in China access the game using mobile networks. This creates demand for seamless network coverage and uplink speeds of 500 Mbps, downlink speeds of 100 Mbps and latency of 50 milliseconds — the sort of performance demands that could drive network upgrades to 5.5G.

He added that indoor performance is critical, and emphasized the role of millimetre wave spectrum in delivering these capabilities and increasing the value of each module, spectrum band and data bit. Without millimetre wave, operators will struggle to support services such as cloud gaming, live streaming and extended reality.

With the digital economy growing and becoming ubiquitous, nearly 80% of 5G traffic is generated in the indoor environment. Using 5G, providers of communications services can offer innovative uses that demand superior indoor coverage, including online gaming, smart factory and telemedicine. CCS Insight believes it’s imperative that providers improve indoor coverage to ensure quality experiences to support business diversification.

Indoor network needs have changed from coverage-oriented to experience oriented in the 5G era, from adding modules for more bands to adding bands without more modules and from one network with a sole use to one network for multiple services. According to Mr Bao, “digitalization has become an inevitable choice for 5G indoor network construction”.

In a roundtable session on IntelligentRAN, Calvin Zhao, vice president of Huawei’s Wireless product line, talked about the rising importance of intelligence in the mobile network, noting the increasing number of 3GPP projects based on network intelligence capabilities such as intent-driven management, new service management and deterministic service assurance.

Another prominent theme of the roundtable was the way in which the transformation of mobile networks is creating new opportunities for operators to expose the capability of the network to developers and enterprises, providing access to enhanced functionality. Mr Zhao cited the GSMA’s Open Gateway Initiative, launched at MWC earlier in 2023, as an important step in providing a consistent and scalable approach for opening networks to the AppDev community. To date, it’s supported by 21 mobile operators with eight universal network APIs. Examples we’ve seen so far include Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone making “network quality on-demand” available to app developers through open APIs.

He described Huawei’s API approach as business-driven, in that the network API should be created and defined for specified business applications. Also, the network API should be easy to use: similar to ChatGPT, the developer should be able to tell the RAN what they want. Finally, the network capability being exposed in an API should be able to be orchestrated according to custom scenarios.

There was also the chance to witness 5G in action, with attendees shown a series of demonstrations emphasizing millimetre wave for enhanced mobile broadband, including an impressive test drive in a minibus with in-vehicle screens showing consistent “on the move” connectivity speeds of more than 1 Gbps and cell-to-cell handover using Huawei’s Beam and C-band spectrum radios deployed throughout the campus.

Overall, HAS 2023 offered an intriguing overview of Huawei’s new strategic direction, aimed squarely at digital transformation for enterprises and telecom providers based on the pillars of 5.5G, AI and sustainability. These core themes were augmented by a broad range of other technologies, representing the breadth of Huawei’s portfolio.