Huawei appears to have quenched its thirst for power in favour of more efficient 5G

Never mind the performance, man, think of the planet

MBB Forum 2021 The "G" in 5G stands for Green, if the hours of keynotes at the Mobile Broadband Forum in Dubai are to be believed.

Run by Huawei, the forum was a mixture of in-person event and talking heads over occasionally grainy video and kicked off with an admission by Ken Hu, rotating chairman of the Shenzhen-based electronics giant, that the adoption of 5G – with its promise of faster speeds, higher bandwidth and lower latency – was still quite low for some applications.

Despite the dream five years ago, that the tech would link up everything, "we have not connected all things," Hu said.


Click to enlarge

It was a refreshingly frank assessment, sandwiched between the usual cheerleading for 5G. A distinct change of tack could be detected from the normal trumpeting of raw performance to an acknowledgement that power consumption would need to be reduced amid concerns about efficiency.

On that note, we'll draw a veil over the fact that the event's host Dubai features an indoor ski slope on the edge of a desert.

Hu ticked off a shopping list of things that hadn't quite happened in the 5G world just yet – there are now 10,000 "5GtoB" projects in the world, but more than half are in China and industry has yet to see its promised redefinition. 5GtoB is Huawei's B2B 5G services punt, which includes a network, a NaaS offering, a 5G app engine, and a marketplace.

There had been great hopes for virtual reality and 360° broadcasting, but neither had taken off. And so it went on.

That said, Hu also noted faster-than-expected growth in some areas, claiming over 1.5 million base stations and 176 commercial 5G networks were up and running along with more than half a billion 5G users (smartphone users and industry modules).

Hu also reckoned plenty of opportunities lay ahead. The pandemic had accelerated digital transformation by approximately seven years, he said, and consumers had hopped online and were voraciously consuming services such as video streaming. As well as the increasing trend toward cloud applications, there was a demand for decent wireless home broadband.

Fertile ground for 5G and 5.5G, for sure.

Getting latency down to 10ms and upping the bandwidth are key said Hu as he wheeled out the industry buzzword of the moment: the metaverse. After all, if AR and VR haven't taken off as hoped, there is always extended reality or XR.

And then there is a growing awareness among the population that perhaps shoving yet more power-hungry gizmos into data centres might not be the best approach. But hey – Huawei has just the 5G (and 5.5G) and networking tech for that, assuming you live in a country that hasn't banned its tech.

"We can't do anything about that," a spokesperson told The Register with a hint of a smile.

Huawei's kit is famously being pulled out of UK networks amid mistrust of the Chinese government, although it continues to install its telecommunications technology elsewhere. As well as telco representatives from the Middle East, the likes of Vodafone turned up via video link to extol the virtues of 5G.

Konstantinos Masselos, President of Greece's Hellenic Telecommunications & Post Commission, spoke in person about spectrum strategy, even as the backdrop behind him strobed like a ZX Spectrum loading screen.

Huawei Inside, but Batteries Not Included

Naturally, Huawei was keen to show off its other toys. The AR and XR department was taken care of by a display showing a customer garbed in virtual traditional attire thanks to a Azure Kinect DK camera and a big screen. An electric car was also on show, hoped to be a showcase for Huawei's dream of a connected automobile world, but sadly lacking the battery thanks to problems getting the units shipped into the UAE. There's perhaps a metaphor in there somewhere…

5G technology is critical for Huawei as the company faces sanctions around the world. The banhammer was dropped in the UK last year, prohibiting telcos from purchasing its kit and removing what had already been installed by 2027. US sanctions have played a role in a decline in the company's revenues as components have become difficult to source for products such as smartphones. That said, back in August, rotating chairman Eric Xu remained bullish about the company's enterprise and carrier business (excluding the likes of the UK, of course).

While some countries might regard Huawei with some suspicion, others appear more than happy to fit out data centres with its tech – poor firmware engineering processes or not.

Overall, the theme of the 2021 Mobile Broadband Forum was a recognition that the world had changed in the last two years. Raw performance seemed to take a back seat to the potential for power savings and efficiency improvements as old kit gradually gets replaced with new over the coming years.

While XR might seem a contender for next year's hypewagon, a renewed emphasis on industry applications and standards for 5G seems a good deal more realistic. ®

The Register attended MBBF 2021 as a guest of Huawei.

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