While U.S. cellular providers have largely focused on rolling out 5G using short-distance, high-performance millimeter wave radios, carriers in Europe and Asia have initially launched 5G using “sub-6GHz” frequencies — mid-band radio channels that send signals over longer distances while giving up raw speed. But Huawei has been working to reduce the performance gap between sub-6GHz and millimeter wave solutions and has just announced new 5G base stations with third-generation massive MIMO antenna technology, promising considerably faster 5G uploads and downloads over large areas.
Huawei’s new base station technology increases transmit power by 60% over the prior generation, as well as doubling spectrum bandwidth to 400MHz, while weighing only 55 pounds — a record lightness that enables single-person installation “in most scenarios.” Put another way, one Huawei base station will now be able to reach many more users and deliver higher speeds than before.
Despite ongoing controversy over the security of Huawei’s 5G network hardware within the United States, the Chinese company’s base stations have proved irresistible to even close U.S. allies, due to their combination of performance and pricing. After selling 40,000 first-generation massive MIMO base stations to Chinese and Japanese carriers, Huawei shipped over 400,000 second-generation units worldwide and expects to hit 600,000 by year’s end.
As more Huawei base stations ship, they increase the likelihood that the non-millimeter wave flavor of 5G will become the international default — and improve in performance. The company says the new hardware reduces latency for cloud VR services and significantly improves upload performance by more efficiently utilizing and aggregating sub-6GHz spectra. Additionally, new “hardcore massive MIMO algorithms” promise especially precise beamforming across thousands of radio channels, delivering fast, low-interference performance to large numbers of simultaneous users.
It’s worth noting that existing Huawei base stations are already delivering impressive 5G speeds using sub-6GHz frequencies. The company said earlier this month that it hit a record of 3.67Gbps on Sunrise’s live 5G network, blazing past the 2Gbps peak speeds U.S. carriers have clocked on live millimeter wave networks. Rival Qualcomm has said its current 5G chips are capable of achieving 7.5Gbps speeds with optimally configured networks.
Since carrier installations of base stations aren’t generally obvious to consumers, it’s unclear when and where Huawei’s third-generation solutions will appear. But it’s safe to assume that they’ll begin to bolster sub-6GHz 5G networks outside of the United States starting at some point in 2020.