Huawei and MediaTek aim to provide alternative to Qualcomm in 5G testing

Qualcomm has enjoyed its customary position in the early days of a new mobile technology generation – a near monopoly in providing protoype terminals for 5G tests and trials. That leadership does not just deliver kudos, but puts a chip provider in a strong place to deliver the first round of commercial products too – it took years for Qualcomm’s 4G modem headstart to be eroded. But this time around, Intel has been putting up a decent challenge, with early 5G modem announcements and some operator trials, and now MediaTek’s own chances have been improved by a deal with Huawei.

MediaTek and Huawei said they had completed 5G tests in Beijing and said they aimed to build a full ecosystem that includes 5G terminals, chipsets, instruments and networks. That is telling, because it highlights the ambition that Huawei has to drive every aspect of 5G. Unlike its major rivals, Ericsson and Huawei, it still has a handset business, and it is driving this into IoT devices too; and it has its own chip subsidiary too, HiSilicon.

Huawei also works with Qualcomm but it would certainly have a better chance to assert its influence over smaller partners – and MediaTek, despite being the second largest modem producer, has recently been eclipsed in terms of cutting edge technology, and has been losing market share. A major project with Huawei could help give it new momentum.

MediaTek has completed a prototype terminal that conforms to the early specifications for the 5G NR non-standalone standard, which will be finalized at the end of the year, and integrates eight phone-sized antennas. With eight antennas, transmission efficiency in an indoor environment was equivalent to that in an external environment with a dipole antenna, the companies said.

The partners said they are the first companies to finish a 5G NR interoperability and docking test (IODT) at a transmission rate of more than 5Gbps. MediaTek’s terminal prototype and Huawei’s 5G base station completed two IODTs – of enhanced mobile broadband and ultra-dense networks in the 3.5 GHz band with 200 MHz bandwidth. The 3.5 GHz band has been identified in China, as well as other countries, as a likely 5G spectrum.

CTO Kevin Jou said in a statement: “We are pleased that MediaTek and Huawei successfully completed the IODT testing. This will be a milestone for 5G terminal innovation, product development, and even for a commercial launch.”

The test was organized by China’s IMT-2020 (5G) Promotion Group as part of its second phase verification of 5G R&D. Technologies such as parameter sets, frame structures, new waveforms, and Polar/LDPC channel coding are defined by 3GPP 5G NR and were carried out according to equipment and test specifications developed by the IMT-2020 (5G) promotion group.

Intel has been muscling in on the valuable 5G testing game too. It is now on a third generation of FPGAs for 5G testing, thanks to its acquisition of Altera, and has worked on sub-6 GHz to 39 GHz spectrum for its initial tests, in order to support Verizon’s activities in 28 GHz. The Stratix 10 FPGA can reach 10Gbps data rates using 900 MHz channels in these high bands. Verizon’s specs will be supported by Goldridge, the 5G modem which Intel says will start sampling in the second half of this year and will be upgradeable to full 5G NR when that is agreed.

At MWC this year, the company ddemonstrate a 5G-like connection between a car and an Ericsson base station, aiming for speeds up to 7Gbps using 800 MHz channels. “We will demonstrate interoperability between a chip set vendor and an infrastructure vendor live over the air – this is a major step for establishing 5G as an air interface,” Intel said.

Qualcomm showed a similar pre-5G connectivity demonstration at MWC Shanghai last summer using its X50 5G modem, which uses eight 100 MHz channels, a 2×2 MIMO array with adaptive beamforming, and 64QAM, to achieve a 90dB link budget. It works with a separate 28 GHz transceiver and power management chips.

Ben Timmons, senior director of business development, said in an interview at the time that Qualcomm now had “very substantial numbers of relationships with operators and infrastructure vendors all around the world where we are committed to start early trials using prototype devices – prototype devices from us, prototype infrastructure from the infrastructure vendors, working together with the operator.”

He added: “These are working against the detail of the standard as its emerging. Every time the standard changes, we are going to develop our prototypes, the infrastructure vendors will do the same, and we are working very, very closely to give the operators a really clear and easy route from what we understand now with 5G to what they will eventually launch.”