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Building the 5G Ecosystem: An Explosion of Evolutionary Possibilities


William Xu (徐文伟)

Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer - Huawei Technologies

Thus far, the evolution of the Internet has been marked by two explosions: the proliferation of PCs and websites in the late nineties, and the rise of smartphones and mobile apps in the late naughts.

A third explosion is set to begin soon. But this time, the applications won’t be confined to devices with screens. Every machine with an Internet connection will be involved. Huawei expects 90 billion of them by 2025.

5G will be a catalyst for this next explosion.

As you might expect, Huawei will help build the network infrastructure. But we’re also hoping to develop a 5G ecosystem where these new applications can evolve and thrive. That’s why we’ve created Wireless X Labs.

5G must be revolutionary

5G has to be more than just what comes after 4G. It must catalyze business growth.

Telecom operators are stuck in a race to the bottom, selling data to consumers while their revenues from voice and text keep eroding in the face of competition from Over-the-Top (OTT) Internet players. Even the OTTs face pressure as they approach the limits of what their ad-based business models can achieve. Both sides need new canvases on which to paint.

So do a lot of other industries, many of which fail to generate much business value through their use of technology. In the digital economy, value is created by data. But with most of our machines still unconnected, we’re not generating enough. The world cannot afford so many underperforming assets. That’s why 5G must be more than a medium for high-speed, low-latency communication. Instead, it must be a platform for innovation, partnership, and entrepreneurship.

This is where Huawei Wireless X Labs comes in. We plan to build a platform for research, development, and market-making for the next 10,000 killer apps. With this innovation platform, we will develop innovative products and solutions for industries, support the way people live and work, and serve enterprises. In support of these efforts, Wireless X Labs was created to bring together operators, technology providers, and vertical industry partners to jointly explore future use cases for mobile applications and drive innovation in business and technology

Initially the lab will focus on three domains:

  • the world’s 3.9 billion individual mobile users

  • the 800 million households that will receive broadband wirelessly by 2020

  • the industries seeking to create value from an expected 90 billion connected IoT devices by 2025.

In pursuing this agenda, we’re partnering with the best and brightest across many industries, including Audi, DJI, General Electric, IBM, Kuka Robotics, and Vodafone.

This year we’re focusing on four applications – Cloud AR/VR, Drones, Robotics, and Vehicles.

Cloud AR/VR

By 2025, Goldman Sachs expects the AR/VR market to reach US$182 billion, making it a bigger industry than television. But limitations in technology are holding it back. The motion processing and graphics rendering currently are done either in a head-mounted display, or in a PC tethered to one. But what if this computing workload could be shifted to the Cloud, with only the final image transmitted to the headset wirelessly, the same way video is sent to your smartphone today? This would significantly reduce the cost to the consumer of a mobile headset, and potentially extend the battery life, while enabling a slimmer, more portable form factor.

Drones

Drones can be used for many purposes, and we expect this market to double its current value to more than US$250 billion by 2020. Huawei Wireless X Labs is engaged in drone innovation that’s close to the hearts of our telecom customers. Some operators use drones to survey hard-to-reach network assets on roofs and hilltops, but are hindered by range limitations and issues with line-of-sight control. If drones were connected to a 5G network, they could do much more.

Wireless X Labs recently sent a drone on a trip of 1500 kilometers from Shanghai to Guangzhou, under the control of China Unicom’s mobile network. We’re also working on wireless charging of drones at base stations to make such long-range applications more common. We want drones to do more than just circle a non-functioning base station with a camera. We want them to collect data from it and create an analysis report, as we’ve already done in a pilot with China Mobile.

Robotics

Wireless X Labs is working on robotics for multiple areas, including manufacturing. The market for the Industrial Internet is estimated at US $900 billion, and there is great potential for mobility to create value in this industry. Current robotics applications are resource-intensive, so they depend heavily on wired connections. Moving them to wireless network control could reduce energy consumption by 10%, and cut cabling and maintenance costs in half.

We’re also looking to expand the use of robotics at home. China has a rapidly aging population and faces a shortage of 1 million nurses. Other countries are in similar situations. We estimate that smart robots will be in 12% of homes by 2025. Many will perform the functions that Wireless X Labs is creating robots to do today – telemedicine, remote health diagnosis, delivery of food and medication, and communication with other in-home medical devices.

Vehicles

Self-driving cars are the poster child for 5G, but many of today’s autonomous vehicles do not depend on mobile networks to function: the AI is in the car. However, as with AR/VR headsets, the computing workload must eventually move from the user terminal to the Cloud.

Huawei recently demonstrated the remote driving of a car via 5G technology (controlled by a person 30 kilometers away). This demonstrates the real-time speed and latency capabilities of 5G. But the true goal is self-driving, and we’re working on that with partners at our lab in Germany.

An ecosystem of possibilities

These four areas are just a sample of 5G’s potential as a transformative medium. When every type of machine has nearly unlimited connectivity, anything is possible. One example is our “Seeing-Eye Helmet,” which combines Cloud AI, machine vision, and speech synthesis into a wearable form factor that makes blind people much more aware of their surrounding environment by providing auditory cues and context.

In the future, Wireless X Labs will collaborate closely with its ecosystem partners to help operators push the boundaries of current wireless technology. Who knows how many retail transactions and industrial processes will take place on mobile or wireless networks in the years to come? Consumers will access a multitude of services through mobile devices, with applications serving as the foundation of smart homes and intelligent manufacturing. Wherever we go, these applications will be running in the background, supporting us in everything we do.

Soon, multiple technologies will combine to produce new apps that transform offices, factories, refineries, airports, highways, hospitals, universities, and other areas of life. When that happens, Huawei X Labs will be there to develop future-focused innovations and unearth new market potential around 5G applications.

It is this potential to combine technologies in new and disruptive ways that drives Huawei Wireless X Labs. But these applications require new partnerships, because disruption rarely starts from within an industry. It’s brought by outsiders, from different industries, who use technology in ways insiders never imagined, to solve problems they never knew existed. Wireless X Labs is bringing together as many different industries as we can.

Because like the Smartphone and PC before it, 5G will reshape the world, its disruptive potential magnified by the diversity and volume of the terminals it will connect. Killer apps could come from any source, shake up any industry, and leverage any connected device.

Hence the “X” of Wireless X Labs – we’re building an ecosystem of new possibilities.


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