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.
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.
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!).
- 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.