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3 August 2020

Huawei exclusion from private networks will disrupt the market

While attention has been focused on Huawei’s involvement in national public 5G infrastructure, debate has intensified over its role in a far larger number of private networks in many countries, including the USA.

The UK’s recent prohibition on Huawei was addressed explicitly at public networks, but the country’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) did caution that vendors deemed high risk should not be used in safety-critical operations. Indeed, the NCSC stated: “Where networks are safety-related or safety-critical, HRVs (High Risk Vendors) should be excluded from involvement in the networks.” It added that the UK government was continuing to review role of HRVs in other critical sectors.

This implies it is only a matter of time before the Huawei ban extends to private LTE or 5G networks. The potential disruption could be even greater than public because of the large number involved and dependence on the kit. This will touch sectors including ports, airports, utilities, manufacturing, automotive, oil terminals, smart cities and intelligent buildings, as well as general enterprises and campuses. Some of these are less critical but others highly so and certainly fall within the NCSC’s definition of critical infrastructure. In many cases, enterprises concerned will be reluctant to extricate Huawei kit from such networks because of the cost and disruption involved, as well as loss of competitiveness that would entail.

So far, government guidance has been unclear even in the USA and UK, and more so in many European countries where there is greater ambivalence or indecision over whether to toe the US line by banning Huawei even from public infrastructures. It does look though as if the writing is on the wall for Huawei in North America and Europe even for private networks. This is because enterprises will be unwilling to risk installing Huawei kit from now on and many will be revisiting past decisions where that does not appear too costly or disruptive.

One knock-on effect of Huawei’s exclusion from private networks would be to hand the field over to Nokia and Ericsson, at least in Europe and North America. Huawei’s private network activities have been conducted largely via mobile operators, while Ericsson and Nokia have been dealing more directly with enterprises.

There are already signs of the private enterprise mobile market being disrupted in the UK and the USA, not least because operators are going to have their resources focused on dealing with consequences of the Huawei ban on their public networks with the costly replacement programmes they will have to embark on. They are anxious to minimize the disruption and delay to 5G deployment plans. It is also true that some of those private networks are in sectors that have been disrupted by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, such as travel and entertainment.

Other sectors though, such as healthcare and energy, have been less affected or even boosted by Covid-19 in some cases, and this is where Ericsson and Nokia are rubbing their hands. Huawei meanwhile will continue to profit from 5G private network expansion in China and those countries of Latin America and Asia undeterred by US coercion.

All over the world though operators would be advised not to neglect the private networking sector because it is set to grow faster than public and perhaps even overtake it in revenue generation.

Chinese operators push ahead with private networks

China Telecom and China Mobile have both announced 5G private networking deployments in the past week.

China Telecom has enabled a smart grid project in Qingdao on the eastern seaboard, which is due to move from pilot to commercial status after it was demonstrated to deliver a dramatic reduction in faults, plus improved 5G energy efficiency. The grid was built on a slice of China Telecom’s 5G Standalone network for the national utility, State Grid. It is China’s largest smart grid, with more than 30 dedicated base stations deployed with the help of Huawei and Shandong University.

The Qingdao system was able to identify and respond to faults in near-real time, all but eliminating failures, with the network delivering a latency of 8 milliseconds for the alert and below 50 milliseconds for the response. The system was also able to reduce base station power consumption by 20% by smoothing out peak and off-peak energy consumption, with energy stored during the off-peak period being used to power 5G base stations.

Meanwhile, China Mobile has unveiled three tiers of 5G private network services – preferential, exclusive and premium. Liu Jian, head of China Mobile’s government and enterprise division, said preferential mode was equivalent to a “bus lane on a national highway”, exclusive was like a freeway lane and premium was like a high speed railway, supporting many trains.

The operator also unveiled a 5G private network operation platform to allow customers to manage devices and scheduling.