Huawei to Play a Limited Role in UK 5G

The UK government has decided to allow Huawei a limited role in building 5G infrastructure in the country. The UK has been under pressure, especially by the US, to exclude Huawei from 5G infrastructure deployments. But after a lengthy review, delayed by the December election, it is allowing Huawei to continue as an infrastructure provider, but with the following conditions:

  • Huawei will not be able to provide various core network functions or be used in sensitive geographic areas
  • Huawei’s share of any equipment type will be limited to no more than 35%

The UK government has always considered Huawei a ‘high-risk vendor’, but continues to believe that the risk of using Huawei equipment is manageable, provided its role is limited and that it is not allowed in sensitive parts of the network or country. The UK has, for many years, required Huawei to pay for a laboratory where Huawei’s equipment is carefully tested to assess its level of security threat. It has not been able to find anything that resembles a ‘back-door’ that would allow, for example, the Chinese government to intercept sensitive communications. It has, however, found considerable security vulnerabilities in the quality of Huawei’s software and cyber-security measures. In response, Huawei said it would invest two billion dollars to tighten the level of security. Nevertheless, concerns are less about Chinese government eavesdropping and more to do with the potential for a rogue actor to take down communications networks, partially or completely. Given the fundamental role that 5G will one day play in connecting much of daily life, this poses a threat that needs to be managed.

However while the UK government pondered the decision, three out of the the UK’s four mobile network operators had already started rolling out their 5G networks using Huawei infrastructure. This is unsurprising as Huawei is also a supplier of many 4G networks and there’s a synergy in using the same provider for both systems. Indeed, one of Huawei’s advantages in its approach to 5G is its ability to pair aspects of both 4G and 5G to drive faster and more cost-efficient deployments. Network operators have been vocal in their desire to keep Huawei as a supplier, citing issues of technology superiority and cost. If Huawei would have been prevented from participating in 5G, operators claimed it would have resulted in delays to network roll-outs of several years and substantial increases in cost.

Lobbying from telecom operators has likely been multiplied by lobbying from inside Huawei; several former members of the UK government now serve in various roles within Huawei, including Lord Browne – who is Chairman of Huawei UK.

The decision will have come as a relief for Huawei; other countries were observing the UK and are likely to follow its lead. But the relief is likely only partial because its continued identification as a high-risk vendor means it will struggle for the sort of market position it might otherwise have enjoyed.

And while the decision delivers some clarity on Huawei’s future role, there are aspects that will need to be handled carefully. One being how to define exactly what constitutes the core of the network. To deliver the benefits that 5G promises, more and more of the core functionality of the network will be distributed closer to the edge of the network, where Huawei will likely be allowed to play a role. And mixing different vendors’ solutions may limit the extent to which a network can realize the full capabilities of 5G. In practice, the restrictions outlined will likely limit Huawei to participating only in the radio access network (RAN). And some operators may have already exceeded the 35% rule and will need to plot a course to reducing their dependence on Huawei within the next three years.

Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung will be pleased that Huawei’s hands have been tied, but it’s perhaps less than they might have been hoping for. There is no relief for ZTE, which is effectively banned from the UK.

The UK government has been wrestling with a complex strategic calculation. Its closest ally is the USA, which has been pushing hard for an outright ban on the use of Huawei equipment. The UK has also likely been trying to keep China at least partially on-side. The uncomfortable truth is that it will need to forge trade agreements with both nations following Brexit. It is gambling that this conditional acceptance of Huawei will be enough to mollify Beijing without completely distancing the US. It may not have managed either.

AR/VR Seen as Killer 5G Consumer App at Huawei Global MBB Forum

Huawei’s 10th Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Zurich, Switzerland was attended by more than 2000 industry executives from leading telcos across the globe. The key theme of the event was “5G, Gear Up” underlying the fact that 5G roll-out is well underway and accelerating.

Product Launches:

Huawei launched a slew of 5G infrastructure products at the event, including:

  • Its latest, third generation SuperBlade macro base station hardware with new Massive MIMO antenna (based on a 7nm chip); Easy Micro, BookRRU and its Digital Indoor System (DIS) Lampsite solutions. To date in 2019, Huawei has shipped 400k Massive MIMO antennas and expects this figure to reach 600k units by end of 2019. The key driver behind this growth is the launch of 5G in late 2019/2020 by the three main Chinese MNOs (the fourth has yet to launch).
  • Huawei announced that chipsets for the NR FDD standard are ready. The first batch of NR FDD smartphones will be launched in 2H 2019. Consumer Premises Equipment (CPE) will be launched in 2020.

Operator Launches:

During the event it was announced that Huawei had won more than 60 commercial contracts worldwide of which 41 are for mobile and 19 Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). Key European operators who have launched 5G using Huawei infrastructure include Sunrise (Switzerland), Telefonica (Spain), Elisa (Finland), KPN (The Netherlands), Vodafone (UK), EE (UK), Three (UK) and O2.


  • Sunrise’s 5G network now covers 262 towns and cities in Switzerland representing around 80% of the population. The operator intends to launch a 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) service to offer an alternative to ADSL to the remaining 20% of the population. Tests in a 5G cell in Zurich recently achieved a top data download speed of 3.67 Gbps using several brands of smartphones.
  • Sunrise and Huawei announced the development of the first 5G Joint Innovation Centre which will develop and showcase consumer and business 5G applications. Key use cases being developed include smart agriculture, smart factory and smart stadium.
  • Sunrise’s upcoming November 5G service launches include a 4k cloud gaming service with platform partner Gamestream and the first 5G smart ski resort at the LAAX resort on the Crap Sogn Gion mountain (and yes, that is the mountain’s name!).

LG U+:

  • Korean operator LG U+ has achieved around 80% network coverage and will deploy 5G indoors in 2022. However, the company believes that it is 1.5 to 2 times more expensive to use 5G to offer indoor coverage than LTE. The operator has given up on using mmWave to provide universal indoor coverage and instead will focus on providing coverage in selected indoor locations such as large shopping malls, stadiums, etc.
  • LG U+ is using the 28 GHz spectrum band for B2C and B2B applications. Current B2C services offered include AR/VR, Golf, Idol Live and Professional Baseball. LG U+ strongly believes that AR/VR is the killer application for consumer 5G. Its most mature B2B services include: smart school, smart factory and smart drone.

Takeaways and Key Challenges

5G operators are offering a mix of mobile and FWA services according to geography and market opportunities with several experiencing increasing data traffic per person and a steady increase in premium data plan subscriptions, as consumers view 5G data plans as better value for money.

There was broad agreement between operators that the killer app for consumer 5G will be AR/VR and live gaming. However, latency levels will be key to the success of live gaming services. Operators need to monetise latency, data speeds and downloads (downlink & uplink), traffic and connectivity (to tablets, wearables, etc.).

In the enterprise market, most operators are cooperating with service and industrial enterprises to develop vertical 5G applications. The most mature use cases are smart factory, smart ports, smart schools, smart agriculture, smart drones, autonomous control of mining trucks, etc. However, there is a need to develop a complete ecosystem with enterprises, device vendors, etc. before launch. 5G Edge Server Networks will be critical for widespread adoption of many 5G use cases, both consumer and enterprise, and concern was expressed about when this will become a reality.

Key challenges discussed include spectrum availability, particularly the supply of large contiguous (80-100 MHz) spectrum blocks and high CAPEX and OPEX network costs. Spectrum cost was also highlighted as a particular challenge, with calls for more innovative spectrum pricing solutions, such as payment by instalment rather than up-front payments.

5G will require thousands more (supplementary) base station sites compared to 4G and this will require more flexible regulatory procedures by individual countries. There were calls for uniform regulatory standards to be set up on a countrywide (or even continentwide) basis which could be universally adopted by local municipalities.

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