Huawei corporate logo
While Huawei is an enigma in the United States, it is well-known throughout other parts of the world. Founded by Ren Zhengfei in 1987, the company has grown from its humble beginnings in Shenzhen, Guangdong China to become a global powerhouse in integrated communications, wireless infrastructure, smartphones, and enterprise networking. I spent considerable time with the company at Mobile World Congress 2018, learning more about its consumer, enterprise, and carrier business units. I wanted to share a few of my takeaways here.
A total 5G end-to-end portfolio
Like many others at the show, Huawei is betting big on 5G. While patent count isn’t everything, it is something. The company maintains an impressive patent portfolio and by the end of 2015 had received over 50,000 patents. Furthermore, in 2013 the company made an ongoing pledge to spend $600 million on 5G wireless research and development through 2018. Over the past three years, Huawei has also been one of Europe’s largest patent filers. All of this points to the company’s efforts to strengthen competitiveness in the global marketplace.
These efforts were evident in Huawei’s myriad of announcements made at the show. The company debuted a new 3GPP compliant 5G core network solution, microwave deployment, base station and terminals. There was also a slew of announcements with operators, centering on trials and collaboration. The Open ROADS incubator program and Huawei X Labs both continue to further 5G industry collaboration and develop proof of concepts for future services. I got to see some impressive demos in the Huawei booth, including drone delivery, factory automation, and more.
Although somewhat late to the party relative to Cisco Systems and others like Apstra, Huawei also announced its intent-based networking strategy. I’ve written previously on the subject, but to reiterate, intent-based networking utilizes software to model intent, monitor performance, identify issues and self-heal with minimal human interaction. Huawei cast its offering as software-defined networking meets automation through artificial intelligence. I spent time in the company’s demo suite learning more about the solution and some potential real-world applications. My initial thoughts are that it’s a good start, but the intelligence and network assurance engines could stand to mature a bit.
In an analyst round table with Paul Scanlan, Huawei Chief Transformation Officer, I asked directly what advantage the company holds over other competitors. His response was that while many enterprise networking companies have built intent-based capability through acquisition, Huawei instead has developed its offering internally. According to Scanlan, this will result in tighter integration and compatibility. Another theme of the day was data privacy. This was no surprise to me given the geopolitical environment and Huawei’s recent stumbles in the U.S. market with the tier one carriers for post-paid mobile end device sales opportunities.
Could spectrum efficiency be found in the clouds?
In my prior show wrap-up article that can be found here, I spoke of several technologies I found at the show that have the potential to enable the more efficient use of not only current 4G LTE but also future 5G spectrum. Personally, I found Huawei’s CloudAIR 2.0 to be extremely innovative and clearly so did the GSMA—they bestowed the “Best Mobile Technology Breakthrough” award for the solution, and gave an overall “Outstanding Contribution to the Mobile Industry” award to the company itself. Using cloud technology, CloudAIR schedules and utilizes air interface resources, including spectrum, power, and channels, to more efficiently deploy services and improve the mobile user experience. I applaud this technology because it maximizes the use of available spectrum instead of throwing additional hardware at the mobile network—an outdated strategy that has diminishing returns and raises CapEx. The solution is also a nice compliment to future 5G deployments, which will encompass virtualization and network slicing to support multiple workloads and new service monetization opportunities for operators.
Huawei has come a long way since its founding in the mid 1980s. Enterprise and carrier solutions continue to be a beachhead for the company in the markets it serves in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Meanwhile, its consumer business, intended to help drive awareness for the Huawei brand when birthed 5 years ago, continues to ramp up and register market share. While North America still remains elusive (accounting for only 1% of company revenues), that could change over time given Huawei’s current growth and scale. At the end of the show, I heard one of the many idioms that Huawei founder “Mr. Ren” is famously known. To paraphrase, “Huawei doesn’t want to take more of the (market share) pie, it wishes to make the pie bigger.” The company seems to be delivering on that mark.