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28 February 2020

What might have been: Huawei and Cisco go ahead with MWC launches

In the absence of Mobile World Congress, many large vendors have been running virtual, or even physical, events to showcase the products and services they would have been talking up in Barcelona. Huawei and Cisco were among those making the best of a bad situation with a string of announcements.

Huawei ran its traditional pre-MWC session in London last week, upgrading it from its usual one-day press and analyst pre-briefing, to a broader two-day ‘product and solutions’ event as a pared-down substitute for the small city of stands it normally has in Barcelona.

Its launches included a pre-integrated smartphone module from its HiSilicon semiconductor subsidiary, highlighting that unit’s elevation from internal supplier to a merchant vendor – partly in response to the US-China technology wars, and China’s intensified determination to build a world-beating chip industry, and to make its industries independent of western intellectual property.

Other announcements included the latest updates to its 5G core, as a few operators – including China’s own – start to put timelines on their migration to 5G Standalone networks with (hopefully) fully cloud-native 5G cores. There were also solutions for private networks, which would have been a major theme of MWC; an optical transmission product; a new IP router; and a new software suite.

In addition, Ryan Ding, president of the Carrier Business Group, unveiled a 64T64R Massive MIMO 5G base station during his keynote address, and took the opportunity to repeat Huawei’s claims that it was 18 months ahead of rivals in some key 5G technologies – with the implicit suggestion that, if governments bar Chinese networks from their countries’ 5G roll-outs, or MNOs back away because of uncertainty, they will end up with sub-optimal platforms.

This new new flagship base station was accompanied by a 5G Blade active antenna unit (AAU); plus a 5G X-Haul platform that promised to be optimized for high precision, geared to network slicing; and a new optical module for ultra-broadband transmission.

The private network solution, called HiCampus, includes LAN switch and fiber and aims to provide enterprises or cities with full cellular and WiFi wireless connectivity and full fiber, all under the organization’s control (or that of its service provider) and made intelligent with an AI capability that, for instance, can accelerate detection of the root causes of network errors. Huawei claimed that over 85% of its customers’ network errors can be automatically resolved.

The other new additions to the portfolio included:

  • The updated 5G core, launched with a heavy emphasis on ‘deterministic networking’, enabled by end-to-end network slicing, service and topology awareness, and resource orchestration.
  • An intelligent optical network solutions, called OptiX, aimed at home broadband (supported by embedded AI) and private networks (with passive optical LAN). An 800G optical module enables 48Gps transmission over a single fiber.
  • NetEngine 8000, Huawei’s new IP router for data communications, which the company claimed was the world’s first to be able to deliver service level agreement (SLA) assurance.
  • A new billing system, Huawei 5G CBS R20, already has its first live 5G Standalone implementation, on STC Kuwait’s trial network.
  • Expansion of the LampSite range of indoor small cells for 5G, including a new access point called Spartan.
  • RuralStar Pro, which integrates baseband, RF and wireless backhaul functions into one physical unit that weighs only 550 kilograms. The Pro unit relies on two solar panels for power, compared with four for the previous version, and supports 2G and 4G.
  • AirEngine WiFi 6, a suite that includes 10 new WiFi 6 access points for indoor and outdoor environments. The flagship model, the AirEngine 8760 AP, can enable data rates of up to 10.75Gbps.
  • Liquid OTN claims to be the first OTN system in the industry to support ‘granular’ bandwidth as low as 2 Mbps without losing any functionality, making it deployable by enterprises as well as telcos, while converging the transport and access networks.
  • The AirPON optical access solution, which is specifically for MNOs, as it can be deployed at existing mobile sites); and the eAI ONT (optical network terminal), a CPE unit that can “intelligently identify service types”.
  • SmartCare E-Planning Model, a networking planning tool that takes customer experience into account alongside coverage and throughput considerations.
  • Site digital twins, a “planning, design, deployment to maintenance” tool that creates a digital replica of a physical site and uses “advanced photogrammetry, AI technologies and proposes T-BIM (Telecom-Building Information Modelling)”.

Meanwhile, Cisco announced its own new offerings for mobile networks and 5G, as it struggles to re-inject growth into its flagging service provider business. Its announcements “begin where the radio ends”, given the company’s lack of a RAN offering, and include products for converged IP multihaul, packet core and mobile/cloud-native core, as well as horizontal products to support automation, trust and security.

Other main announcements were (full details on the Cisco website):

  • Cloud Services Stack for mobile, residential and content delivery platforms, aiming to reduce time-to-market with virtualized 4G and 5G service creation
  • A new financing and revenue sharing model for operators to onboard cloud-native services quickly and to lower risk
  • New line cards for the Cisco ASR 9000 router series, more than tripling performance with high-density 400GbE ports
  • A new Network Convergence System (NCS) 5700 router boasting quadrupled performance with high-density 400GbE ports line cards
  • New models for the Cisco NCS 540 series router, with support for packet-based fronthaul architectures for the RAN
  • Cisco Crosswork Network Controller which bundles key components of Cisco’s Crosswork Network Automation portfolio with customer experience services and security products, to enable faster and more accurate network diagnosis.