Forging ahead with its 5G plans — despite hardware bans in multiple countries — Huawei today announced a collection of new chips and devices designed to make strong use of the next-generation cellular standard, notably including data speeds that may surpass competing products from rivals. For consumers, the biggest news may be a foldable 5G smartphone, but powerful new 5G base stations and the chips powering them are also intriguing.
On the consumer side, Huawei today unveiled a multi-mode 5G modem called the Balong 5000, a tiny chip capable of working on 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks — like Qualcomm’s latest 5G modems, on both millimeter wave and sub-6GHz frequencies. Huawei says that Balong 5000 hits peak download speeds of 6.5Gbps on millimeter wave and 4.6Gbps on sub-6GHz frequencies, making the most of the different radio signals used by current U.S. and South Korean 5G networks, as well as upcoming networks elsewhere in the world.
Balong 5000 isn’t Huawei’s first 5G modem. Last year, the company announced Balong 5G01 with a 2.3Gbps peak speed, roughly equivalent to the top data rates offered by late 4G chips. No smartphones were released or announced with Balong 5G01.
Huawei said that Balong 5000 will be paired with its midrange Kirin 980 chipset in “5G smartphones” that will be unveiled at next month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, including at least one foldable 5G smartphone. The company also expects Balong 5000 to appear in vehicle hardware and broadband devices, notably including the Huawei 5G CPE Pro, a high-speed “consumer premises equipment” model and router.
The 5G CPE Pro combines 5G cellular and Wi-Fi 6 technologies to receive and distribute high-speed data within a home or office. Huawei says that the router is capable of distributing data over Wi-Fi at speeds of up to 4.8Gbps and has achieved 5G data speeds of 3.2Gbps in live network testing. To put that in context, it means a 1GB video can be downloaded in three seconds, and live 8K videos can stream without hiccups — assuming its network is similarly up to the task.
Huawei also announced Tiangang, which it described as the “world’s first core chip specifically designed for 5G base stations.” Unlike Balong 5000, which is designed primarily for use in consumer products, Tiangang will be used in the network-side devices that deliver 5G service. The company is claiming that in addition to delivering 2.5 times the computing ability of its prior chips, Tiangang reduces power consumption by 21 percent and antenna unit sizes and weights by 50 percent and 23 percent, respectively. All of these improvements are said to make Huawei’s 5G base stations faster and easier to deploy than 4G versions.
Obviously, Huawei’s challenge is in getting customers to buy its 5G consumer and network devices, given the clouds that formed over its initiatives throughout 2018. The company has pushed back on multiple governments’ claims that its communications products are susceptible to surveillance by the Chinese government, and it reported strong 2018 sales, in spite of the controversies. Now it is touting its rare ability to deliver end-to-end solutions that span everything from pocket-sized devices to core network solutions.
“Huawei now has industry-leading capabilities to deliver end-to-end 5G, with simplified 5G networks and simplified operations and maintenance,” said Huawei executive board director Ryan Ding. “We are leading the commercial rollout of 5G and building a mature industry ecosystem.”
Huawei said today that it has already won 30 commercial 5G contracts across the globe, shipping 25,000 5G base stations. Rival Samsung recently showed its own array of end-to-end 5G solutions at CES and is expected to officially show its first purchasable 5G smartphones either at or before Mobile World Congress next month. By comparison, Huawei’s 5G devices were conspicuously absent from CES.