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February 26, 2015

Q&A: Huawei talks 4.5G, 5G and beyond

CBR sits down with Huawei's Patrick Zhang Shunmao and Bob Cai to discuss the future of networking.

By Alexander Sword

Ahead of MWC next week, Huawei announced a range of new products and services soon to hit the market. CBR sat down with Patrick Zhang Shunmao, President, Marketing & Solutions, and Bob Cai, Vice President of Marketing, Wireless Network Product Line to discuss where the industry is headed.

CBR: Tell me more about 4.5G. If it’s not marketing, what is it?

Patrick: 4.5G is an LTE evolution. LTE should be applied in different industries, while currently, LTE is mostly used to connect people. For example, if we want to apply LTE to the Internet of Things, then we need some different technologies, or we need to make some modifications based on current LTE.

For example, during today’s presentation we have presented a smart-grade solution which connects meters together. There are some features concerning these smart meters. The battery life should be very long and it should be much longer than smartphones. We need to charge our phones everyday but we hope that in the future the smart meters won’t need to be charged for one year or even for ten years.

Another feature concerning this solution is the number of connections. The number of connections of things might be much larger than the number of connections on smartphones. The current LTE number of connections is not sufficient in one sector or in one cell. The 4.5G we talked about today will increase the number of LTE connections by one hundred times.

The third feature is what we call the giga-world. If we look at LTE, the bandwidth for current LTE is several hundred megabits per second. If we look at some current businesses like Vedu, all these businesses require much bigger bandwidth. We need to evolve from megabit per second bandwidth to gigabit per second bandwidth.

So, in summary, we do not think 4.5G is a next-generation solution, it is an evolution based on current 4G. The evolution is about using the LTE network to transform from using LTE to connect people to connect things.

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CBR: Does this mean that you don’t plan to be a leader in 5G?

Patrick: No, actually we have bigger investments in 5G. During the next several years, by 2018, our investment will be $600 million. By investing so heavily in 5G our target is to become a leader in terms of 5G technology research, commercial use and IPR.

The relationship between 5G and 4.5G is that 5G might be a next-generation technology. 5G technologies can be very different from the current technologies.

As for what problems should 5G solve, what kind of scenarios should 5G be applied in, what should be the specifications for 5G – all these problems are still being discussed and we are still defining the standards.

Maybe 5G and the 5G network will be very different from the network we are building today. Today, if we think about a mobile carrier network, it is about building a very tall tower and installing a base station on that tower that can cover several kilometres.

Maybe in addition to these base stations, there will be more small cells and some indoor base stations to support the hotspots. Maybe in the 5G era you won’t be able to see these tall towers.

Bob: At this year’s MWC we will show a product called Surface Micro. It’s a kind of future base station that is just like a piece of brick or a billboard. You can just put it on the wall and it can support communications.

Patrick: The shape and format of the base stations will change greatly and how we connect and how we deploy the base stations will also be very different.

The network capability will also be very different. It’s not just about 1 gigabit – it’s about 10 gigabit per second or 100 gigabit per second.

But life goes on and we still need to further develop our business so we cannot just sit and wait for 5G – so here we have 4.5G.

Bob: Currently 5G is still in the phase of definition. So we can use and apply some of the 5G technologies in the 4.5G solution. In the reverse direction, the successful cases and experiences we accumulate in 4.5G will promote 5G standardisation and the maturity of 5G technologies.

CBR: What’s driving the demand for faster networking?

Patrick: On the one hand, it is driven by the higher requirements of individual consumers’ experience – as we mentioned today, the ROADS experience. This is a major driving force in the carrier market.

Another driving force comes from the enterprise market, driven for example by Industry 4.0 and IoT. If we look at the enterprise market, all the enterprises are upgrading their information technology capabilities. We have noted that for a lot of companies, IT is no longer simply a business-supporting tool. IT has become their production tool.

When IT and OT converge with each other, the business models of enterprises will be changed. In Europe Industry 4.0 is a very good case in point.

CBR: What can we expect from Industry 4.0?

Patrick: I should say that the ideal for Industry 4.0 might be far away from us. However, we can firstly work on some practice and operations in specific industries concerning Industry 4.0. As Huawei understands it, the essence and the nature of Industry 4.0 is, to apply IT to the industry sector so that we can help to improve the production efficiency.

Even further, the manufacturing method and approach can be changed. For example, in the future in factories you won’t be able to see human beings, you will only see robots.

Another scenario for the application of Industry 4.0 is that we can see some manufacturing sites are very dangerous, with toxic air and high temperature, etcetera. We can use ICT to monitor and manage those areas that people cannot enter.

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