Huawei Launches New 5G RAN Gear, Including Massive MIMO and More

Ed Gubbins – Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

• Huawei promoted several new RAN solution launches at an event held in London this month, including a Super Uplink solution for increasing 5G network capacity and radios utilizing 400 MHz of bandwidth.

• Huawei also emphasized the value of both frequency- and time-division spectrum.

At an event held February 20 in London, Huawei updated press and analysts on its latest 5G moves. The vendor cited its ability to provide end-to-end solutions for 5G networks, including RAN, core, and Multi-Access Edge Computing, which helps deliver 5G’s low-latency requirements. This comprehensive approach could also enable more cohesive network slicing, a key capability for enabling 5G’s ultimate value proposition.

But Huawei also introduced some important new offerings in its RAN portfolio, along with messages that it hopes will aid its 5G RAN strategies.

Unlocking 400 MHz: Huawei unveiled new antenna-integrated radio units that can make use of up to 400 MHz of bandwidth, delivering in a single box something that would require multiple boxes from rivals. That gives Huawei an argument for both CapEx and OpEx (i.e., deployment cost) savings in addition to increased simplification.

Recognizing that not all operators possess 400 MHz of spectrum, Huawei is particularly targeting operators that are interested in sharing RAN infrastructure with other operators as a cost-saving measure. This concept is especially popular in Europe, where it has been endorsed by Vodafone and France-based Orange, for example.

Massive MIMO Deployment: Like most major RAN vendors, Huawei also emphasized the importance of Massive MIMO for maximizing network capacity and enhancing the user experience by using beamforming – a more efficient use of spectrum that targets signals at users rather than scatter signals indiscriminately across each cell. On this topic, the vendor promoted a new high-capacity Massive MIMO unit – with a 64-tranceiver, 64-receiver antenna array – weighing less than 25 kilograms, allowing it to be carried by one person (per European regulations), which could make installation easier and thus less expensive. The new product represents the third generation of Huawei’s Massive MIMO gear, a more ambitious extension of the 25-kg 32T32R unit the vendor unveiled last year.

Don’t Forget Frequency-Division Duplex (FDD): At its London event, Huawei underscored the importance of FDD schemes, which pair spectrum in fixed allocation blocks for upstream and downstream traffic. FDD 5G hasn’t gotten quite as much love as TDD 5G, in large part because TDD is better at beamforming (TDD’s use of unpaired spectrum allows an asymmetrical flow that facilitates real-time feedback from user devices). Second, Huawei stressed the importance of uplink speeds, often ignored in conversations around Massive MIMO, which is mainly aimed at downstream traffic.

There are multiple reasons for Huawei to promote FDD:

• Most of the world’s deployed base stations use FDD. Those LTE base stations are the basis for the first wave of 5G rollouts (“non-standalone 5G”) rollouts, and Huawei holds a leading global market share. Thus, leveraging existing FDD base stations helps Huawei maintain its market share into the 5G era. The way Huawei puts it: Leveraging this existing infrastructure helps operators roll out 5G faster and easier and extend the life of their investments.

• As the leading supplier of primarily TDD RANs in China – and as a vendor that, in previous years, has evangelized TDD for a global audience – Huawei needs to demonstrate its authority in the area of migrating FD-LTE networks to 5G. That’s especially true for an event with a largely European audience, since FDD is dominant in Europe.

• Talking about FDD gives Huawei a chance to talk about its Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) capabilities, so it can counter messages from rivals including Ericsson and ZTE, which have promoted DSS offerings.

Don’t Ignore Uplink: Huawei’s FDD story also allows it to segue into another topic of importance: supplementing uplink speeds. While Massive MIMO focuses mainly at downstream traffic, Huawei has for years warned of bottlenecks in the uplink of the “C” band (Band 42: 3400-3600 MHz). At its event, Huawei address this challenge by launching its “Super Uplink” solution, which supplements 5G uplink capacity using either FDD or TDD spectrum. Part of Huawei’s argument for boosting uplink is that, although consumer traffic is dominated by downstream, business-oriented use cases – the ones likely to generate the most revenue – involve much more uplink traffic.

Enabling business use cases is crucial for 5G; a major promise of 5G is in allowing operators to escape the harsh economics of consumer mobile broadband service, which has historically required heavy investment in infrastructure without satisfying increases in revenue. Boosting capacity – both in uplinks and downlinks, using FDD and TDD spectrum — are all part of fulfilling that promise of 5G. At its London event, Huawei showed the market that it is making strides on multiple aspects of that mission.

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