Huawei On 5G’s Groundswell In China — And Challenges Elsewhere

Huawei On 5G’s Groundswell In China, Challenges

For the next generation of mobile infrastructure, the need is there for speed to transmit data seamlessly in order to develop new use cases across commerce and to revolutionize verticals such as healthcare.

But as Paul Scanlan, chief technology officer of Huawei, said in an interview with Karen Webster, 5G is about far more than speed.

In fact, he said, one of the key (and perhaps overlooked) benefits of 5G is efficiency.

“If you continue to build 4G networks or even 3G or 2G networks, then you’re going to double the carbon footprint,” he told Webster.

That footprint would grow because of the energy demand tied to each country where those networks are extant. Those networks, he said, consume more energy per bit, and per person, than 5G.

Scanlan said that along with increased efficiencies, a 5G base station can have thousands of people running data at hundreds of megabits per second. He added that 5G also has the capability of bringing internet access to rural America, giving operators the chance to service 30 percent to 40 percent more customers — along with the benefits of low latency and high rates of connectivity.

No matter the setting — rural or urban — the benefits of low latency and high connectivity can allow firms to begin monetizing new services.

Scanlan’s comments touched on a number of facets of 5G spanning use cases and whether the 5G ecosystem that has taken root in China can be mirrored elsewhere — or whether there are inherent challenges in other countries that would make achieving scale a challenge.

He noted that in Asia, various initiatives use 5G to measure everyone’s temperature amid the current coronavirus pandemic. Or, for another example, high quality video uplinks can be useful for home schooling or telemedicine.

Speaking specifically about the pandemic and the challenges it has brought, Scanlan said that 5G has been able to be deployed rapidly in China, where the 5G network was launched in 50 cities last year.

That’s due in part to the fact that the deployment model in that country is different than might be seen elsewhere, partly because China is a bit more accepting of widespread monitoring and also because the groundwork has already been laid in terms of infrastructure. The base stations and radios are smaller, and there are more alternatives and ways to deploy them, he explained. The infrastructure can be spread across cell towers and other avenues, such as lampposts and streetlights.

“That also allows you to integrate other services like cameras,” he said, and it has the inherent advantages of spreading capital costs and increasing revenues.

The cameras, he said, have been used throughout Asia since the SARS crisis earlier in the millennium and can be used to monitor large groups of people.

“There are people manning and watching the screens to identify somebody who might have a fever,” he said. “With 5G you can upload video images into the cloud” and trace a person’s movements to see where they may have exposed others through the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms.

As Scanlan noted, “the first clear groups of use cases are always and have always really been around the concept of higher capacity rather than higher speeds. But they’re related.” And that use case, in particular, is one in which the individual may not mind that the government is tracking them, seeing it as the Chinese government looking out for their best interests rather than intruding on personal privacy.

He said that in terms of eCommerce in China, for example, there’s been decreasing use of not only cash, but credit and debit cards too. The concept of simple online shopping goes from a whole bunch of still images to video opportunities being based on holography. There are advantages in seeing an outfit or clothes — holographically — tied to what he termed an “augmented reality combination” that can be presented in 3D, where payment is linked to digital wallets and accounts on file within them.

In a truly connected continuum, he said, the Internet of Things (IoT) can transform everyday items — where a water bottle can have a 5G chip embedded that monitors how often an individual picks it up and sips, and knows when it’s empty. There are opportunities there for the vendor but also for a link to the doctor’s office monitoring a kidney problem and whether the patient is getting enough water.

“So suddenly there’s opportunity for different parts of, I’ll say, related industries and industry sectors to have access to information and become correlated,” said Scanlan.

With a nod to telemedicine, he said, it would be nice to have very high definition videos and maybe 3D, but at the same time, it’s important that the video quality not be compromised, or that images not become pixilated while a doctor is trying to make a diagnosis. If the connection is too slow, that latency makes it harder for telemedicine to be effectively administered.

“That will not happen in 5G,” he said, “because of the ‘slicing’ of the network.”

The Question Of Security

Increased connectivity, he said, begs the question of data security. But with billions of devices across the IoT, the threat landscape changes.

As he told Webster, 5G is more secure than 4G. There are vulnerabilities, of course, and they exist at the application layer — where upon downloading, users must enter all their data — tempting targets for hackers.

“If we have lots of things connected, we have lots of data,” he said. “In the 4G scenario, [with] your phone and of course the signaling, it’s pretty easy to decrypt all of that and hack into there and fake the base station.”

But with 5G, he said, with high encryption capability at the services layer, security is much stronger.

In addition, he noted, the mobile industry is dominated by standards that have been developed by telecom vendors and government bodies alike. New technologies, such as biometrics, can help to authenticate users.

“If you start to think about what 5G can do in terms of combination of bandwidth, low latency and massive connections, you can authenticate just about anything,” he said.

Who Owns — And Monetizes The Data

Inevitably, this question arises: Who is responsible for the ownership, management and monetization of that data — and the infrastructure that powers it?

In terms of data, Scanlan said that GDPR has been held up as a good model of governance. But the coronavirus has set forth new challenges and opportunities tied to data.

“The first challenge is that nobody is really talking about the truth,” said Scanlan. “Governments are not stupid. Governments do look after people, and that’s their job. Otherwise they won’t be elected again. And companies, like telecom companies, have been trusted for 100 years, and they won’t do stupid things, otherwise they won’t be around.”

Then there’s the question of infrastructure and the controversies over outsourcing mission-critical infrastructure, like telecommunications, to China or any foreign government for that matter.

Circling back to the controversies surrounding Huawei, last year the company was placed on the U.S. Entity List, effectively a blacklist tied to U.S. allegations that Huawei’s equipment might enable spying. Scanlan said “governments claim that Huawei software is this and that” and China has been derided as having an authoritarian government.

Huawei reported results Tuesday that showed sharply slower revenue growth for the first quarter, where the trade blacklists were headwinds, and growth was 1.4 percent, compared to a 39 percent growth rate in 2019.

But Scanlan contended that 5G, even with the tailwinds of government support, can promote efficiency, competition and have a positive impact on development of new consumer and enterprise products (and even an eventual coronavirus vaccine).

The technology, he said, “must be secure, and privacy must be considered, but you also have to have data collected and stored and processed by an AI algorithm of some form — inexpensively and quickly. Then you can start making a difference. That’s something that China has realized and been investing in for the last several years — and investing billions into AI.”

He pointed to the fact that there are no security standards across roughly 2.7 million apps, and there is no architectural security designed into app software.

As he said to Webster, “there is nobody policing those sorts of things. Nobody is saying what’s reasonable. Is it reasonable to say that in exchange for downloading an app you should give away private information? I don’t think so. I would rather pay for the app.”

In Government We Trust?

As 5G becomes more commonplace, and with the rise of the coronavirus, there may be debate over whether it is appropriate to trust the government to, for example, encourage the medical industry to have pictures of everybody and their movements. Or whether Google and Apple should be able to promote “contact tracing” via everyone’s mobile phones. There are fine lines between what governments and corporations can do with data and what they should do — and what is culturally acceptable even as it may be technically feasible.

“You’d like … to prevent humanity from dying out,” as an example, under relentless attack by the coronavirus, Scanlan said.

And in the current environment, said Scanlan from his location in China, mobile phone apps track where a citizen may be, see when they might be in the hospital or check out, and give a “green pass” to move freely around the country so long as his or her temperature is normal.

He contended that China’s quarantine doctrine “did well for two months and gave the world a chance, and the world scoffed at it. But what’s happened now is that every country is trying to do the same thing.”

As Scanlan told Webster, “Everything is about trust.”