Q&A, Ray Williamson, Huawei: On the trends and challenges of wireless networks

Q&A, Ray Williamson, Huawei: On the trends and challenges of wireless networks
Ray leads the team responsible for strategy and solution definition for wireless networks through to 5G and 5.5G. The team also collaborates with vertical industry partners to demonstrate how these networks enable businesses to be more efficient and to create new services using technologies such as AR/VR. He has over twenty years of experience in the wireless communications field in Engineering and Business Development roles and has held leadership positions in Product Management. Ray joined Huawei in 2013 having previously worked at Motorola as Director of Global Product Management and at NSN as Head of Small Cell Business Development in Europe. He holds a BSC (Hons) in Telecommunications and a PGDBA (Finance).

In this Q&A, Ray Williamson, Director of European Product Management at Huawei, shares his insights on the trends and challenges of wireless networks.

Telecoms: What are the main trends and challenges for operators over the next five years and how will networks evolve to meet these needs? 

Ray Williamson: The first phase of 5G deployment, which is reaching completion, focuses on enhancing the consumer experience in cities. 

The second phase, which is starting now and will run through towards 2025, will see 5G coverage extending nationwide covering transport links and more rural communities, for example with 5G FWA (Fixed Wireless Access), which is a viable alternative to fibre in rural areas. This phase will also bring 5G to vertical industries, enabling increased efficiencies and new services for both the private and public sectors.

In terms of key challenges, the main one is network and site complexity, where there are multiple technologies, multiple frequency bands, a huge variety of devices, and a constant need to manage energy consumption. One approach to addressing these challenges is to have a simplified site and for AI to play a key role in network operations.

As 5G technology proves it can deliver key capabilities such as reliability, security and integration within existing systems, to vertical industries, it triggers investment and the development of partner ecosystems. Exploring the value and potential of 5G in different vertical industries, and the possibilities that it can deliver, is one of the objectives of the Cambridge Wireless test bed, which Huawei is involved in.

T: What can the UK learn from early adopters of wireless technologies elsewhere in the world?

RW: Early adopters of wireless technology can be found in South Korea, which was the first country to roll-out 5G. China too has since deployed it on a massive scale. 

Learnings from these countries show greater consumer demand for, and the return in investment from, enhanced video and AR services such as 4K and 360 video. This is because 5G has facilitated the rapid uptake of advanced content, increased data usage and driven an uplift in Average Revenue Per User.

Other vertical industry developments we have seen include more ecosystem partnerships between mobile network operators, device and application providers, system integrators and 5G technology providers, such as Huawei. Collaboration between industry players has been key to driving adoption, and that is why we are now seeing 5G value truly being realised.

T: Which industries are already being transformed by 5G and which industries are next?

RW: Some industries are already seeing the benefits of early 5G adoption. IoT, big data, AI and remote experts are being used in heavy industry such as mining, steel and ports, for example at Rotterdam’s port where we have been testing industrial 5G applications since 2018. These industries already use video and remote operation to enable safer, better working environments and increased automation and efficiency. During the pandemic, we have seen the healthcare industry benefit from 5G, in the use of robot assistance, remote collaboration and consultation, which is both more cost-effective and time-efficient. We are also seeing increased engagement with the manufacturing industry, which naturally benefits from automation, enhanced business planning and increased efficiencies.

In my view, the next industry to really benefit will be hospitality and retail. Here, 5G will drive XR experience enhancements. We’ll also see improvements in public services too.

T: How and when will we see big societal improvements directly driven by 5G and 5.5G, for example, in vastly improved traffic management systems & reduced emissions?

RW: In the UK, we are already seeing a number of city and regional councils with Safe City plans and engaging in 5G pilot projects.

5G can deliver vast amounts of real-time data across a city, which can lead to much more dynamic operations, more efficient services and greener cities.

In transportation for example, delivery and collection services can be on demand (as needed) rather than scheduled, which can sometimes be unnecessary. Traffic congestion can be eased through the use of sensors and V2X communication, to allow for real-time routing. Parking availability can be assigned in an on-demand fashion. 

These types of services require a combination of public and private investment and I predict that 5G overlay services will be introduced in next 1-2 years, with services where 5G is replacing existing infrastructure within the next 3-5 years. It will be the services that are easiest to integrate that will come first.

T: What is Huawei’s 1+N strategy and how is this impacting the wireless industry 

RW: Services that are powered by 5G require the network to continually evolve, while network complexity is increasing all the time.

Huawei’s 1+N approach is to build a high bandwidth, mid-band, foundation network, to deliver a ubiquitous, high speed connectivity, at low cost/bit, via simplified sites.

Mid-band spectrum provides a good compromise between coverage and throughput and M-MIMO is the key enabling technology for this foundation network. It is capable of delivering advanced video and XR services to consumers as well as satisfying the wide area network needs of business customers.

Ultra-Wideband PA reduces the typical number of RRUs on a site from 6 to 2, significantly reducing the complexity and TCO of the site, while the N On-demand capabilities enable a variety of differentiated services. For example, ultra-reliable low-latency communication is used in remote surgery, while high UL data through SUL is used for 5G remote TV production. For manufacturing, precise location enables a variety of automation and logistics applications. 

And, all of these specialist capabilities can be enhanced by using additional features or spectrum within a particular environment.

As we progress into 5.5G, we will see further advancements and new services for consumers and industries. For example, UCBC (uplink centric broadband communications), will enable machine vision, RTBC (real-time broadband communications) will allow for ultrawide bandwidth and high reliability which will be used in video based industrial control systems, and HCS (harmonised communication and sensing), which will be used in connected cars and drones, due to its ultra-liable, low latency and high location accuracy.

T: What are the key success factors in the wireless industry? For example, a heavy R&D focus on primary research, material science investigation and mathematics, not just end products

RW: 5G is pushing the boundaries not only of our mobile communications technology but also of the underlying science and technology. This is creating multi-dimensional challenges impacting performance, cost, size, energy consumption and more, all of which need innovative solutions.

The secret to success is knowing that ‘not one size fits all’ and that is why Huawei has a huge commitment to R&D, to develop custom products to suit different scenarios. 

As an example of success, let’s look at MMIMO. 30% of sites in WEU cities only permit one antenna per sector – to add MMIMO, all existing antennas must be consolidated into 1 passive antenna with the MMIMO AAU stacked on top of this.

But, there is a 2m height restriction in many cities. To meet this, Huawei developed a new material which allows the MMIMO antenna to sit behind and radiate through the passive antenna without introducing interference. As MMIMO performance is a combination of both the hardware and software, Huawei has, through 10 years of experience in optimising MMIMO performance, developed its AHR (adaptive high resolution) algorithms, which maximise user experience, coverage and capacity in the network.

Another example is AI and how it can be used to save energy. As networks become more complex, with more bands, energy consumption is linked to load on the network, but this is neither evenly distributed nor consistent. However, by distributing AI algorithms across the network, site, and at a product level, network demand can be intelligently managed across a cluster of sites to optimise the balance between user experience and energy efficiency.

(Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash)

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