Huawei's rotating chairman Ken Hu kicked off the 12th annual Global Mobile Broadband Forum (MBBF) in Dubai with a call for the ICT industry to work together on the next stage of 5G development.
Speaking on the current state of 5G development and new opportunities moving forward, Hu noted, "In just five years of commercial deployment, 5G has provided a considerable upgrade in mobile experience for consumers, and it's already starting to empower different industries around the globe. Progress was much faster than we expected, especially in terms of the subscriber base, network coverage, and the sheer number of 5G terminals on the market."
Hu outlined three areas of opportunity that will drive the next stage of 5G's growth, including XR services, the B2B market, and low-carbon development.
He pointed out that there are currently 176 commercial 5G networks around the globe, serving more than 500 million subscribers. In the consumer space, average 5G download speeds are roughly 10 times greater than 4G, which has fueled broader adoption of applications like VR and 360º broadcasting. In the enterprise space, there are already 10,000 projects exploring B2B applications of 5G (5GtoB) around the world. 5G applications in industries like manufacturing, mining, and ports have already passed trial and are being replicated at scale.
While progress has been steady, Hu noted that there are still some areas for improvement. "Right now more than half of these 10,000 5GtoB projects are in China. We have a huge number of use cases already, but we need to build more sustainable business cases."
He went on to speak of broader changes that will have a long-term impact on the ICT industry, including accelerated digital transformation caused by the pandemic, adoption of cloud and AI in organizations, and the importance of climate change. "These trends provide many opportunities for our industry," he said. "But they also create some challenges. There are a few things we can do to get ready."
First, the industry needs to get networks, devices, and content ready for explosive growth in Extended Reality (XR). To support a smooth cloud-based XR experience, networks need to provide download speeds faster than 4.6 Gbit/s with latency no greater than 10 milliseconds. "Last year," noted Hu, "we released our goals for 5.5G. And we believe they will help address this challenge."
On the device side, he said lowering barriers to headset adoption is critical to reaching a tipping point in virtual reality, one of the key technologies in the Extended Reality repertoire of AR, VR, and MR. "To reach [this tipping point], we have to make improvements to both headsets and content. For headsets, people want devices that are smaller, lighter, and more affordable." To enrich the content ecosystem, Hu called on the industry to provide cloud platforms and tools that simplify content development, which is notoriously difficult and expensive.
Second, telecom operators need to enhance their networks and develop new capabilities to get ready for 5GtoB. A strong network is key to 5G applications for industrial use, so operators need to keep making improvements to network capabilities such as uplink, positioning, and sensing. As industrial scenarios are much more complex than consumer scenarios, O&M can be a real challenge. To help, Huawei is developing autonomous networks that bring intelligence to all aspects of 5G networks, from planning and construction to maintenance and optimization.
Digital transformation also requires different roles. In addition to providing connectivity, operators can also serve as cloud service providers, systems integrators, and more, and develop the requisite capabilities. To drive broader adoption of 5G in industries, developing industry-specific telecoms standards is also important. In China, operators, together with their industry partners, have begun working on standards for applying 5G in industries like coal mining, steel, and electric power, and this has helped to fuel greater adoption within these sectors.
"Beyond technology," said Hu, "these are some of the intangible strengths that won't provide immediate profit, but will be key to long-term competitiveness in the 5GtoB market."
Third, the industry needs to get ready to go green. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030, digital technology can help reduce global carbon emissions by at least 15%. "On one hand," said Hu, "we have a great opportunity to help all industries cut emissions and improve power efficiency with digital technology. On the other hand, we have to recognize that our industry has a growing carbon footprint, and we have to take steps to improve that. Right now Huawei is using new materials and algorithms to lower the power consumption of our products, and we're remodeling sites, and optimizing power management in our data centers for greater efficiency."
"We have seen so many changes in the past two years – with the pandemic, technology, business and the economy," Hu concluded. "Moving forward, as the world begins to recover, we need to recognize the opportunities in front of us and get ready for them. Get our technology ready, get our businesses ready, and get our capabilities ready."The Global Mobile Broadband Forum 2021 is hosted by Huawei, together with its industry partners GSMA.