Will Huawei become the global market leader in 5G era?

February 28, 2018 15:27
Some market regulators have raised security concerns as Huawei aggressively expands its business overseas. Photos: Reuters/Bloomberg

For telecommunications operators and equipment makers, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, is a battlefield of sorts where they show off their latest products and services and announce their business plans for the year.

China’s Huawei Technologies is no doubt under the spotlight this year. It is aggressively expanding its 5G network equipment business as it aims to become the world's second-largest smartphone maker over the next 12 months.

On Monday Huawei's global chief executive Ken Hu said the company has signed memorandums of understanding with 45 operators in Asia, Europe and North America for the deployment of 5G technology. In fact, it is already conducting pre-commercial trials with 30 mobile players.

The announcement came after Reuters reported last week that Sweden’s Ericsson has secured 38 MoUs while Finland’s Nokia has signed 31 MoUs on 5G. This suggests that Huawei has outpaced its two European rivals in the 5G field.

Just before the Mobile World Congress opened, Vodafone and Huawei announced that they had completed the world's first 5G call, using the non-standalone 3GPP 5G new radio standard and sub-6 GHz spectrum.

The call used a test network and test device to perform the 4G to 5G dual connectivity live data call. This means the connection started on 4G and then established the data connection on 5G.

Engineers from both firms also successfully tested a live HD video call using the same method.

Huawei also worked with US chipmaker Intel to make the world's first 5G new radio over-the-air interoperability trial using the latest 3GPP standards.

In Barcelona, the Chinese firm unveiled its first 5G chip Balong 5G01 and launched its first 5G commercial equipment, demonstrating its determination to tap the huge potential of the new mobile technology. Huawei’s first 5G smartphone is expected to be launched next year.

It seems that Huawei has made itself very conspicuous at the Mobile World Congress to highlight its focus on 5G network equipment, chip and smartphone.

But its rivals are also sparing no effort in 5G-related applications, which will play an increasingly important role in the era of interlinked machines, devices and people.

Nokia and China Mobile, for example, announced that they are jointly exploring the use of 5G in smart cities, smart transportation and intelligent video analytics. Ericsson and China Mobile have also entered into a strategic MoU on Internet of Things connectivity and IoT ecosystems in manufacturing, health, and intelligent transport.

Indeed, 5G is a key battlefield for all telecommunications equipment makers, as it represents a breakthrough in mobile technology, particularly in people to people, people to machine, and machine to machine communications.

This new communications technology could very well be the driver of global economic growth in the next decade.

Huawei is undoubtedly a frontrunner in the 5G market with focus on network infrastructure. 

The new technology presents the best opportunity for Huawei to challenge current market leaders Ericsson and Nokia in the market. 

But the Chinese firm is facing a lot of hurdles that seem beyond its control, one of which is that some regulators in overseas markets insist that it poses a security concern.

The company's founder, Ren Zhengfei, is a former People's Liberation Army officer, and this has raised fears that its products may be used by Chinese authorities to serve their political and security interests.

That’s the reason why Australia and US regulators want to ban Huawei products from their communication networks.

This has prompted a Huawei executive to observe that certain governments are only using politics to keep the Chinese firm out of their markets, a remark that more senior company officials later stressed is not the company's view.

Huawei will have to tread carefully, and act diplomatically, in pursuing its global expansion as resistance grows to its ambition to become the world’s leading telecoms network vendor in the 5G era.

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EJ Insight writer