Huawei claims world first with core chips for 5G base stations

24 January 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Huawei has launched what it claims is the world’s first core chip specifically designed for 5G base stations – a move calculated to impress those who call for embargoes.

At a 5G launch event in Beijing today that doubled up as a briefing for Mobile World Congress (MWC), taking place in Barcelona in February, Huawei announced the chip that will support simplified 5G networks and large-scale 5G network deployment all over the world. The company said it has won 30 commercial 5G contracts and shipped over 25,000 5G base stations globally.

“Huawei has long been committed to investing in basic science and technology,” said Ryan Din (pictured), CEO of the Chinese group’s carrier business group and executive director of the board.

“We were the first to make breakthroughs in key technologies for large-scale 5G commercial use. Huawei now has industry-leading capabilities to deliver end-to-end 5G, with simplified 5G networks and simplified operations and maintenance. We are leading the commercial rollout of 5G, and building a mature industry ecosystem.”

One of the key weaknesses that were exposed in rival company ZTE in 2017 and 2018 was that it was highly reliant on US chip and software technology. Having found a plot to break embargoes on exports to Iran and elsewhere, the US blocked companies such as Intel and Qualcomm from supplying technology to ZTE. After almost going out of business, the company paid a $1.4 billion fine to the US to get its licences back, but the US will monitor it for 10 years.

Huawei doesn’t want to be in that position – so it has invested heavily in its own technology, particularly in chip technology.

Hence today’s event, at which Huawei launched what it calls the industry’s first 5G core chip, called Huawei Tiangang, claiming breakthroughs in integration, computing power, and spectral bandwidth.

What does the name Tiangang mean? Huawei didn’t provide an explanation, but perhaps it’s no coincidence that 60-year-old Tián Gāng is a Chinese mathematician, a member of both the Chinese Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He spent 11 years at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he held the Simons professorship in maths, and he still has a US post at Princeton, though he is also a vice president of Peking University – which uses the old name for the city – in Beijing.

Huawei said the Tiangang chip is highly integrated, which means it can support large-scale integration of active power amplifiers and passive antenna arrays into very small antennas. The company also claims “super high computing capacity, with a 2.5-fold increase over previous chips”.

A single chip “can control up to 64 channels, which is the industry’s highest standard”, said the company. “This chip also supports the 200MHz high spectral bandwidth, getting ready for future network deployment.”

Huawei claimed that its 5G solutions will be cheaper than 4G, easier to install and operate and use less power.

In its presentation in Beijing today, Huawei suggested that the Tiangang chip uses intellectual property from UK-based design company ARM, now owned by SoftBank.

Speaking at today’s launch, Yang Chaobin, president of the company’s 5G network product line, said: “Huawei’s full-series, all-scenario simplified 5G products enable ultimate 5G performance and experiences. These products help significantly boost network deployment and operations and maintenance efficiency, and make 5G deployment easier than 4G.”

Rival supplier Ericsson will preview its announcements planned for Mobile World Congress in mid-February – but before then it has tomorrow’s hurdle of its full-year results for 2018. The company has already announced a huge write-off in its telecoms software business.