An Intro To 5G And Huawei — And A Case For Why the Company Should Not Be Banned
Should the Company Face the Brunt for Chinese Government Conduct?
“With 5G, users should be able to download a high-definition film in under a second” — IEEE Spectrum
“The new 5G technology is not just the next version of mobile communications, evolving from 1G to 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G. Instead, 5G technology is very different.” — Electronic Notes
“5G will connect everything, and benefit all walks of life.” — Huawei
The hype over 5G might seem overblown. After all, not many of us are complaining about internet speeds. While much of the focus is on the faster speeds offered by this new standard, speed is only one among the many breakthroughs.
Tech Behind 5G
The definition of “What is 5G?” is constantly evolving, but here are some of the technologies that are thought to be essential to this standard:
1. Millimetre Waves
What is it?
The previous generation wireless networks use radio-frequency spectrum bands below 6 GHz, which has now become congested because of the explosive growth in mobile device users and data consumption. By using millimetre waves, service providers can utilise frequencies greater than 24 GHz.
By opening up this vast spectrum of high-range frequencies, service providers can provide users with larger bandwidth, faster speeds and lesser dropped connections.
Unlike sub 6 GHz frequencies, millimetre waves cannot travel through buildings or obstacles and can be disrupted by rain and plants.
2. Small Cells
What is it?
As the name suggests, small cells are mini base stations. They help overcome the range problem of millimetre waves. These cells are the size of encyclopedias and can be placed throughout a city to form a dense network of antennas.
Users can enjoy the benefits of millimetre wave without worrying about signal loss. There is also a more efficient use of spectrum because different cells can use the same spectrum to serve different customers.
A large number of such cells need to be deployed to cover all areas of a city. This is much harder to implement in rural areas. In such areas, and in areas with fewer obstructions, since congestion isn’t the biggest problem, 5G is expected to be delivered using sub-6 GHz frequencies. The cost of deploying 5G using sub-6 GHz is also cheaper and easier to implement.
3. Massive MIMO
What is it?
Currently, 4G base stations have 12 ports to handle all cellular traffic. There are eight transmitters and four receivers. This is known as multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO). With 5G base stations, there can be about 100 ports, hence, massive MIMO.
The capacity of the mobile network increases by a factor of 22 or greater. The increased capacity also contributes to higher downlinks and uplinks.
The issue with multiple antennas is interference from one another. To solve this, researchers have come up with a technique called beamforming.
What is it?
It is a mechanism by which a cellular base station identifies the most efficient route to a user. In massive MIMO, this means plotting a path to the end-user that has least interference, thus increasing spectrum efficiency. When used along with millimetre wave, beamforming allows base stations to focus energy on a single user rather than broadcasting in many directions at once.
Beamforming allows users and base stations to exchange much more data at once by reducing interference. It increases the chances of the signal arriving intact and reduced the chances of signals being blocked by walls or foliage
Beamforming requires multiple new hardware that is expensive. This makes it more likely to arrive at a later stage of 5G deployment.
5. Full Duplex
What is it?
Existing base stations have to take turns to transmit and receive data when operating on the same frequency or switch to different frequencies to do both at the same time. With 5G, base stations can transfer and receive data at the same time, on the same frequency.
Full duplex doubles the capacity of wireless networks and reduces latency drastically. Latency is the time it takes to get a response for a request. The reduced latency is essential to many of the planned applications of 5G.
When an antenna tries to transmit and receive at the same time, there is a lot of signal interference. This creates echos that can only be avoided by special echo-cancelling technologies.
5G Features and Applications
These technological advancements, along with the many others that are still in development, give 5G its main features and applications:
1. High Throughput
5G has a peak data transfer rate of 20 Gbps, which is much faster than the 1 Gbps offered by 4G. It can also support a 100 percent increase in capacity. The high data transfer rates are particularly important to video streaming (8K), cloud VR/AR, high definition live broadcast and panoramic streaming.
5G is expected to have a latency of less than 1 ms, this is significantly lower than the average 60 ms delay on 4G networks. This instantaneous response time is necessary for autonomous driving (for functions not performed locally), teleoperated driving (where the driver is in a remote location) and platooning (linking vehicles to form a convoy). Remote health care is another application that benefits from low latency. The tactile feedback allows doctors to perform diagnoses and surgeries over the internet with the same precision as real-life.
Unlike current networks, 5G will offer reliable internet to fast-moving objects, even when travelling at speeds of 500 km/h. This should put to rest any discomfort of cars on highways losing connection while being remotely operated. Connected drones is another application made possible by mobility. These drones can serve a variety of purposes including inspection, security, deliveries etc.
4. Guaranteed QoS
Given its applications in critical functions like health care and driving, 5G needs to have a high QoS (Quality of Service). With technologies like mmWaves, Massive MIMO and Beamforming, the chances of dropped connections are low. Guaranteed QoS is also expected in smart manufacturing facilities and smart cities (connected traffic lights, energy feeders, etc) which rely on connected devices and cannot afford downtime.
5. Massive Connection/Area
A massive connection is a high throughput for a large number of connections over a large geographical area. With 5G being developed for both sub-6 GHz (rural areas) and mmWave frequencies (dense urban areas), almost all areas will be covered without network congestion posing a problem. Massive MIMO will enable multiple high-data demanding devices to function smoothly. Once again, cars stand to benefit from this feature, but applications more in need of this feature include smart manufacturing, smart cities, 8K TV streaming during peak hours and UHD live streaming from large public gatherings (concerts, games).
While these applications might seem fascinating, many more applications of 5G are yet to be discovered.
The Role of Huawei
Now that we have established the basics of 5G and its important applications, it is much easier to understand the role of Huawei.
With the many futuristic applications possible with 5G, countries around the world are vying to lead the way to this new era. And the company that happens to be able to help countries achieve their goal in the cheapest, most efficient and with the highest quality equipment is Huawei.
Huawei was founded by former Chinese military officer Ren Zhengfei in 1987. Although described as employee-owned, the company’s real ownership structure is vague and complicated. From being known as copycats, it has come a long way to become a global leader of its own right, thanks to the heavy investments in R&D over the years. Huawei owns the highest number of 5G patents. License to these patents will be required by any company looking to implement a standardised 5G network. It has made the most technical contribution to the 5G standard and has the highest attendance in 5G conferences. Huawei’s involvement in these conferences has translated into their key patents being adopted as the industry standard. It has contentiously ensured its “polar codes”, a core standard for 5G, is adopted as the default by 3GPP. It has field-tested 5G in both sub-6 GHz and mmWave frequencies. It has also released smartphones with 5G capabilities ahead of Apple.
The US government has banned the use of Huawei equipment to help build the country’s 5G infrastructure stating that the Chinese company has close ties with the Chinese government and its equipment could be used to spy on foreign powers, which the company has denied. Chinese law also requires all local companies to share any information requested by the government. Given the large scale usage of 5G in the future, the potential spying possibilities have dissuaded countries like the US, Australia (who announced the ban even before any US efforts), New Zealand and Japan from using Huawei’s equipment. But despite the US asking its allies to ban the company, some Asian and some European nations, including the US’s closest ally, the UK, have decided not to. Countries part of the Belt and Road initiative will be reluctant to retaliate against a Chinese company and many European companies already have Huawei equipment powering most of its existing wireless infrastructure, making it expensive to shift to another supplier.
Despite the ban, Huawei is financially doing better than ever before. Last July, the company overtook Apple to become the second largest smartphone maker in terms of global market share. It is the largest telecom equipment manufacturer, overtaking established firms like Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. The company had a record-breaking financial year in 2018 with revenues touching $107 billion and profits close to $9 billion. The first-quarter revenue of 2019 also saw a 39% rise compared to the previous year.
Huawei’s products are not only said to be 20% cheaper than its rivals but also of higher quality, more efficient and easier to install. If countries pay heed to the spying charges, they should also be ready to pay for more expensive, but inferior equipment from companies like Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.
To quell some of the spying concerns, Huawei has agreed to open and fund labs in the UK, Germany and Brussels for experts to test the equipment for security flaws. Meanwhile, the US has not publicly provided any concrete evidence backing its spying claims. Although such evidence might be shared among intelligence agencies, it seems unlikely to be substantial because many countries have decided to independently test Huawei equipment. Experts have also suggested that it is fruitless to find backdoors in current equipment, rather the ban is a precaution against future spying possibilities.
The race to be the first to deploy 5G is, in a way, unnecessary. Europe adopted 2G before everyone else, Japan pioneered 3G first and the US led the 4G revolution, but those who entered later in each of these races did not lose. The benefits were shared by all and in many cases, the late-comers implemented better technology than the first-movers.
The spying charges levied against Huawei by the US are also hypocritical. If Huawei has to comply with Chinese law and share information with the government, how is it much different from the many companies that cooperate with the US government as part of the PRISM program and share it with members of the Five Eyes alliance. The Snowden leaks showed that it is equally unsafe to trust a US company. And what about the millions of iPhones and other devices used in the US that are made in China, why is there no security concern regarding these?
The countries that stand to lose from the ban are not the developed nations, but the developing countries who might be pressurised to heed to the US ban request and resort to more expensive, less efficient and highly delayed 5G technology.
If even the remote chances of Huawei spying are bothering any country, the question to ask is not how to avoid spying, but if you are willing to give your information to China or to a member of the Five Eyes. Given the terrible record China has when it comes to human rights, choosing the latter might seem like a better idea. The infamous Great Firewall of China and the large-scale government efforts to implement mass surveillance systems across the nation are causes for concern. A China with complete access to all digital information across the world is unthinkable.
But, should a private company, developing breakthrough technologies, known for its culture of hard work and dedication, whose ties to the government are weakly established and against whom evidence of wrongdoing is scarce; bear the brunt for Chinese government conduct? Until opposing information emerges, I believe it should not. Countries should rather pursue a different approach to mitigate the risks involved in working with Huawei, a solution that is beneficial to both the country and the company.