At a recent event Huawei made a number of announcements regarding its strategic direction for the next few years, with an emphasis on 5G.
The event was Huawei’s own Global Analyst Summit in Shenzhen – the 15th such occasion. It managed to fit some substance in among the usual self-congratulation and miscellaneous corporate propaganda and, while we weren’t there, we spoke to Counterpoint Analyst Neil Shah who was and who has been tweeting prodigiously throughout.
The tweet that most caught our eye was the announcement that Huawei will be launching a 5G smartphone in the second half of 2019 running its own 5G chip. “This points towards their Mate flagship model which launches normally in September timeframe,” Shah told Telecoms.com. “Furthermore, the first wave of 5G devices will be routers, CPE followed by mobile hotpots in early 2019 with their own chipset and then 5G smartphones and possibly an ARM based laptop from the in-house Kirin branded SoCs.”
Huawei seems to be pretty handy at SoCs these days, with Shah saying it pretty much caught up with Qualcomm from 4.5G onwards. “Almost two in three Huawei smartphones sold in Q4 2017, had an in-house Kirin branded SoC, rest was Qualcomm or Mediatek,” said Shah. Another thing Huawei shared was that building a 5G smartphone is more challenging than 3G or 4G as these will include multi-modes (2G,3G,4G,4.9G, 5G SA/NSA) and mmWave support, which makes the RF integration and positioning more complicated.
“Furthermore, a 5G phone needs 5x more processing power, 2.5x more power consumption and 1.3x board size. So Huawei is working on building ASIC 5G chips for smartphones, which is phenomenal! ASIC chips are used for bitcoin mining, so maybe in future you can mine bitcoin on your phone.
The silicon side of things from Huawei often goes under the radar, perhaps because it’s involved in so much other stuff. “They have been almost on par with Qualcomm in terms of performance (from my personal experience) and in terms of technology not far behind especially 4G onwards due to growing share of 4G and 5G patents and IP,” said Shah.
Coincidentally Counterpoint has recently published its global 5G smartphone forecast, which anticipates fully ramping in 2021 to exceed 100 million units shipped. “Growth in the early commercial phase of 5G is expected to be low due to several factors,” said Shah’s colleague Tom Kang. “There are still forward looking 5G standards that are unconfirmed, creating uncertainty around product and service opportunities. We also expect 5G chips to have a higher price point which will initially drive the cost of devices up. 5G capable devices will be premium only in the beginning. Also only a handful of countries will be deploying the first 5G infrastructure.”
Huawei also seemed to strike a cautious note on the short-term prospects for 5G, with commercial use-cases also not expected to make a serious appearance until 2021. “In near to mid-term Fixed Wireless Access is going to be huge as an alternative to fibre and DSL, especially in NSA mode,” said Shah. “Post 2024 in Standalone mode, AR,VR gaming, autonomous vehicles, intelligent manufacturing and smart grids which require less than 10ms end-to-end latency will be key.”
The other main pillar of 5G is IoT and Huawei seems to be serving up some pretty competitive silicon in this area too. “Huawei has pioneered NB-IoT networking and is driving the ecosystem from chip (Boudica) to platform (LiteOS) to cloud (Huawei IoT cloud),” said Shah. “Huawei’s upcoming Boudica 150 in Q2 2018will integrate MCU and modem into one single chip with a target cost of under $2, which is very disruptive considering the average LTE-M to 4G chip goes for $10 to $70. Also it will allow faster time-to-market, bringing it down from months to weeks from an interoperability and testing perspective. So far most of the chipsets in the IoT modules have been discrete (as opposed to integrated SoC) solutions.
On top of what we learned from Shah, Huawei has chucked out a couple of press releases from the event. The headline propaganda was Huawei’s ‘vision for an intelligent world of the future’. “In an age defined by greatness, Huawei aspires to become a great company,” said Huawei Rotating Chairman, Eric Xu. “We want to help mankind take its next step forward. This is the basis of our new vision and mission: Bring digital to every person, home and organization for a fully connected, intelligent world.”
To underline these lofty aspirations Huawei has published a report entitled Global Industry Vision 2025, which features a bunch of predictions and forecasts distilled in to three main ‘visions’. Firstly it sees 40 billion personal smart devices and 100 billion connections around the world by 2025. Secondly it anticipates 60 million vehicles will be connected to 5G networks and 100% of new vehicles connected to the internet by that time. Lastly Huawei predicts that the digital economy will be worth US$23 trillion in seven years.
Huawei likes these big corporate extravaganzas and, while there is usually a fair bit of forgettable hot air, they also serve as a pretty substantial statement of intent and throw down the gauntlet to its competitors. Ericsson and Nokia used to do more of this sort of thing and must feel under pressure to raise their game once more each time one of these is held.