Huawei’s annual global analyst summit: the wrap-up

What were the most significant things to come out of the global analyst summit hosted in April by Huawei – one of the biggest telecoms equipment vendors? I’ve had a few days to reflect, and these are my conclusions.

The company isn’t a telecom network equipment provider

Huawei went out of its way to stress throughout the event how it saw its enterprise-focused and IT businesses as the engines of its future growth. We left in no doubt that Huawei is an ICT vendor.

My take on this is that it’s inevitable. The company is now challenging the biggest in the world on all fronts in telecoms network equipment: Ericsson and Nokia in mobile infrastructure, and Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent in fixed infrastructure. There’s little room for growth. Huawei understands that the industry won’t bear much more market share dominance – quasi monopoly positions don’t work in the industry’s interest. And in any case, telecoms is becoming more like IT every day, with moves to virtualization of infrastructure and network functions residing in data centres.

So Huawei is turning to big enterprises as the engine of non-consumer-focused growth. It has a reasonable chance of success – and its position in the Chinese domestic market will help it develop large-scale reference cases to take to the rest of the world.

Collaboration is an intrinsic part of the innovation process

The lines between telecoms and IT have been blurring for many years, and the blurring is accelerating as network functions virtualization takes hold. In such an environment, it’s just not possible for a single company, even one as large as Huawei, to develop the solutions that its customer will need. The ends of “end-to-end” solutions are further and further apart.

So Huawei has explicitly – and wisely – recognised this in it approach to collaboration. I write more about this here.

M2M applications are stubbornly refusing to emerge

For a company with so many constituent parts of the technology jigsaw for machine-to-machine applications as Huawei, it was striking how little the subject was mentioned at the conference. I sense that the company – and the industry as a whole – is waiting for something to kick-start M2M.

M2M and wireless commsIn my opinion, the future of M2M is closely aligned with that of wireless sensors (and networks of them), and low-power communications protocols and modules. And to reach the critical point of low-cost, standardised low-power wireless sensor nodes perhaps needs LTE-A or 5G (specifically, some of the smorgasbord of technologies that will make up the standards).

I think Huawei agrees: certainly it sees LTE-M (a machine-to-machine-focused set of specifications, for which there are currently five proposals) as a possible enabler – but it’s a scale argument: the modules must be cheap enough to be deployed widely, and the evidence of demand must be there before manufacturing processes can be geared up to produce them cheaply. That’s going to take several years.

Huawei has picked out the LTE-A features it wants to push hardest …

All vendors of mobile network infrastructure are promoting the new, standardised (or near-standardised) features of LTE that they have been working on with their customers. For Huawei, these are

  • more carrier aggregation, in more bands, across both FDD and TDD modes, and with multiple carriers – the company says up to five (though I doubt we’ll see that becoming common)
  • CoMP – in particular to deliver better voice service at the cell edge when using VoLTE
  • Massive MIMO – that is, 4x4 now, then with very many more antennas.

... and which support wireless broadband delivery

Huawei’s vision for wireless broadband (using wireless technologies to bring broadband access to the home) is an interesting one, and nicely argued. Essentially, says Huawei, WiMAX failed to reach a mass market because the cost could not be brought down low enough for it to be affordable in those markets where it made most sense (where fixed infrastructure is lacking).WBB enabling technologies

But LTE-A using two-carrier aggregation to deliver 40MHz of spectrum, and 4x4 MIMO customer premises equipment – available now – tips the economic case. Huawei’s business case shows “WTTx” technology doubling the number of homes that can be addressed with affordable wireless broadband compared with the costs of using WiMAX, when taking spectrum, network capex & opex, and customer premises equipment into account. When you consider developments in LTE standards from Release 13 onward (specifically more carrier aggregation and massive MIMO), Huawei reckons WTTx makes sense. I think I want to see some deployments before deciding.

The time is right for Huawei’s service-based approach to OSS/BSS

As virtualization of network and other functions accelerates, traditional OSS/BSS vendors are in for a tough time unless they have a compelling virtualization story to tell.

Huawei has had an unusual service-based approach to delivering OSS/BSS functions. It has never really succeeded in selling discrete OSS/BSS products; rather it has wrapped up network operations and business support with the delivery of infrastructure or broader managed services, delivering OSS/BSS functionality from its global operations centres.

The time has come when this approach starts to make sense even for operators that would normally have looked to specialist product vendors: NFV is a disruption for OSS/BSS, and disruption is sometimes kind to those whose model is different. New contracts will be up for grabs. I think Huawei is better placed than ever to break into OSS/BSS among established, large operators outside China.

Huawei – like other vendors – can’t resist an acronym

Finally: ROADS. Not quite sure it works, really. Introduced at Mobile World Congress in February the “Real-time, On-demand, All-online, DIY, and Social” vision of a future connected world probably picks up on the most important themes in the industry today, but it’s just too difficult to remember what it stands for.

Perhaps this was an acronym that would have worked better as an internal change programme name, rather than a pillar of an external-facing marketing campaign.

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