How Huawei is betting big on the future of sustainable 5G

21 Mar 2023

Image: Vish Gain/

Despite regulatory woes in the US, Huawei showed off its technological prowess and heavy investments in the future of 5G at MWC Barcelona earlier this month.

Chances are, if you were at MWC Barcelona this year, you will have noticed the Huawei stand.

Sprawling white flooring adorned by designs in the shape of famous mathematical equations, pillars of light holding up ceiling images from the natural world, and of course, an orchestra of footsteps – these are some of the first striking visuals I was greeted with at the giant Huawei booth – the largest of them all.

The multinational telecommunications technology company headquartered in Shenzhen, China has been facing some turbulence in Western markets after US sanctions in recent years, but that didn’t stop it from making its presence felt in Barcelona earlier this month.

‘Choosing not to choose’

At the first full-scale MWC event since Covid-19, Huawei showed off some of its latest technologies across consumer electronics, telecoms equipment for enterprises and innovations in the 5G+ space. But the overarching theme of its presence this year was around energy and sustainability.

“The ICT industry seems to be faced with the tough choice to either go green or develop,” Peng Song, president of ICT strategy and marketing at Huawei, said in a keynote at a Green ICT Summit organised by the company during MWC.

“However, we believe the industry can choose not to choose, and instead go green and develop simultaneously.”

Peng explained that it is possible to grow an ICT business while also keeping sustainability at the core if the right balance is struck between energy efficiency, renewable energy utilisation and user experience. And this balance was embodied by some of the tech unveiled at MWC.

Huawei advocates broadening the focus from just network energy efficiency to reducing the absolute energy consumption. This can mean intelligent shutdown technology in light-load scenarios and deep dormancy modes for networks in ultra-light scenarios.

In terms of renewables, Huawei policy is marking a shift from just the scale of green power deployment to the efficient use of renewable energy. This is a change from network-specific policies to site-specific policies that can improve the accuracy of renewable energy deployment.

The company wants to reduce time required for intelligent scheduling from days to minutes. Data from sites, such as weather, electricity price, battery status and service volume, can be used by intelligent scheduling algorithms to maximise power efficiency while minimising cost.

Outlook on setting targets

Paul Scanlan, the chief technology officer of Huawei’s carrier business, thinks that the best way to ensure efficiency in business is to have different sustainability targets for each product line.

“Remember, KPI drives behaviour,” Scanlan told me in an interview at MWC earlier this month.

KPI, or key performance indicator, is a quantifiable measure of performance over time for a specific objective that helps teams create targets and track progress.

“So if you say you can’t have any more emissions and that’s it then everybody stops driving a car and we’ve achieved the target – but that isn’t helpful,” he said, referring to policies set by governments such as the EU climate targets.

“For instance, fibre could replace a lot of things over copper because the cost of copper is huge. Well, why don’t we replace all that with fibre? Because it’s going to cost billions … it just doesn’t make economic sense.”

Scanlan explained that this is why Huawei has specific targets for each product line instead of one overarching target in terms of setting down a year by which the company aims to go carbon neutral.

“The reason we do this is not just generally to align with a target that governments or industry or the planet is heading towards, but because we do one thing that we think we do pretty well, which is focus on the customer and the customer’s business,” he said.

“If we can demonstrate to a client that we consume less energy than competitors, and the client has certain targets they’re really sincere about, then they will come our way – it’s not rocket science in sales. This is Huawei’s logic, rather than just saying we’re going to be carbon neutral.”

While 5G was top of the agenda for most companies at MWC, Huawei is betting big on the next big thing – 5.5G networks that improve upon existing 5G technologies significantly but don’t yet warrant the 6G title.

According to Huawei, 5.5G networks will be capable of delivering 10Gbps experiences and supporting hundreds of billions of connections, which can revolutionise experiences in technologies such as smart homes and cities, autonomous driving and even VR.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic