Huawei developing 5G, 6G in parallel

James Kon

At Huawei, the development of 5G and 6G is done in parallel. The technology giant started its 6G research a while back.

6G is mainly a millimetre wave technology, and it will have high bandwidth, but it might not be able to cover long distances. It still has a long way to go before it can be rolled out on a large scale.

CEO and founder of Huawei Ren Zhengfei revealed this during the recent engagement of A Coffee with Ren II: Innovation, Rules & Trust in Shenzhen, China where the Huawei Headquarters is located.

Moderated by Christine Tan, Anchor, Managing Asia, CNBC, the conversation with the media was also joined by President of Corporate Strategy Department Huawei Zhang Wenlin and two celebrated scientists and futurists, Jerry Kaplan and Peter Kirklen.

Asked about the scrutiny and trust on Huawei as a leader in 5G, Ren replied, “Hundreds of years ago during the Industrial Revolution, some people did not trust the machines used in textile mills.

“Some, like the Luddites, even saw them as symbols of devilry and tried to destroy the machines. Eventually though, people accepted the machines. Without these machines, the high-quality fabrics we use today wouldn’t exist.”

He said now, some of the highest quality fabrics in the world are still produced in the United Kingdom (UK). “The emergence of these machines did not deprive textile workers of their rights, but improved the quality of their textiles.

“When the train was first created, it was ridiculed because it was slower than a horse-drawn carriage.”

Continuing, he noted that, today, trains are widely recognised as one of the fastest ways to transport heavy cargo.

“When the train was introduced to China in the beginning of the last century, people thought they were powered by ghosts, and couldn’t figure out how they ran. Similarly, when China’s high-speed rail began operation, an accident occurred on the Ningbo-Taizhou-Wenzhou line. At that time, almost everyone was against high-speed rail. But now no one complains about them at all. I think almost all people would say high-speed rail is a good thing.”

Ren went on to highlight that, now, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still in an early stage of its development. He said that advances in super computing, super-large storage, and super-fast connectivity technologies are creating opportunities for AI applications.

“Now people are very concerned about AI. They are worried that AI will cause unemployment, disrupt social structures, and distort our ethics. They worry too much. If we look back, our population is several times larger than it was a few decades ago. Before, huge swathes of the human race were hungry. Now though, we are in an era of excessive material abundance; we have more than we can consume. That’s because advancements in technology have helped us create more wealth.”

‘AI is still in an early stage of its development. Advances in super computing, super-large storage, and super-fast connectivity technologies are creating opportunities for AI applications,’ said CEO and founder of Huawei Ren Zhengfei. PHOTO: AFP
CEO and founder of Huawei Ren Zhengfei (2R) speaks at A Coffee with Ren II: Innovation, Rules & Trust. PHOTO: HUAWEI

The emergence of 5G was something unexpected. Ren recalled that 10 years ago Turkish Professor Erdal Arikan published a Mathematics research paper.

“Huawei came across this paper earlier than some others, invested heavily into that area, and kicked off our 5G,” said Ren. “5G itself is a tool, just like the ballast beds that train tracks are laid on. That’s all it is about. Right now, there are heated debates around 5G, but only history will tell if 5G, AI, and other new technologies will create value for humanity.

“People should have more trust and tolerance towards new things,” he highlighted. “The most prominent feature of innovation is that it gives everyone academic freedom, allowing people to explore. With a little more tolerance in the world, Copernicus’s theory of a heliocentric universe would have been accepted long before his death.

“People also suspect that genetic engineering has negative effects. But that can only be proved after experimentation. We should be more understanding of genetic scientists,” he said.

He noted that China used to be very poor and lagged behind the rest of the world. “People thought that China would never catch up. However, China turned out to be a crazy sprinter, able to catch up with everyone else. It’s just like a train, which eventually runs faster than carriages. When new things are discovered, people don’t trust them, but I think eventually the trust will grow.”

Europe currently still presents Huawei with a wide scale of opportunities.

“Actually we still see many opportunities all around the world,” said Ren. “I think many people are quite tolerant of us, and that makes me happy. After all, we cannot expect everyone to understand us, at least not within a short period of time.”

On the development of HarmonyOS, Ren explained that “the development has taken us seven to eight years. “This OS is originally intended for the Internet of Things and industrial control. Low latency is the biggest feature of HarmonyOS.”

“You may be wondering whether it will be used for consumer devices. In fact, we are working to make that happen. Google has been friendly to us, and it is very capable. If the United States (US) government prohibits Google from providing Google Mobile Services to us, we will have to work hard to solve the issue.”

In term of issues of the privacy of data in China, the founder of Huawei commented, “I believe China should enact a very stringent Privacy Protection Law, and under this law, anyone who illegally acquires and uses others’ data should be punished. Just now I said sovereign states have the right to manage their data. For example, police officers and people with judicial power can control data. I did not mean regular citizens should.”

He shared that, in China, “some people sell off data for a quick profit. For example, some sell data about expectant and new mothers to infant formula manufacturers, who then target their product promotions to these mothers. It’s wrong to leak personal information like this. There are also people who steal private phone numbers and send them to scammers. I think China should strengthen privacy protection and legislation in these areas and impose severe punishments against those who infringe upon privacy. This is a necessary step to move society forward.”

He firmly supports the European Union’s (EU) GDPR, and said their equipment fully complies with this regulation and also supports China in making step-by-step progress in information management. He shared that in fact, significant progress has been made and regulation has been tightened in this area over the past two years.

Looking to the future, Ren said, “I believe that society is on the eve of another explosion of new theories and technologies. Electronic technologies will evolve towards being three nanometres or even one nanometer in size and won’t stop there as Moore’s law approaches its limits. It’s just that technology will continue evolving in a manner that we cannot predict yet. In the past, we thought graphene would be this evolution. However, we don’t know for certain if that’s still true until today.”

He added that significant breakthroughs will be made in genetic technology over the next two to three decades, which will help trigger huge breakthroughs in life science, biotechnology, and nanomedicine.

“We are not sure how these breakthroughs will change people’s lives. If our electronic technology is reduced to one nanometre precision and to a level that can be combined with genetic technology, what new scenarios will emerge? What surprises will be in store for society? This is beyond our imagination. Today, science and technology are so advanced that we can use molecular technology to synthesise materials that never existed before. An endless stream of new materials and technologies are constantly being discovered. We can’t tell what the trends of the future will be.”

He said AI will certainly start being applied on a large scale. “But still, we cannot envision how it will drive society forward or create more wealth. The breakthrough and penetration of quantum computing will trigger the explosion of the information society. Although we know the impact will be significant, it won’t be the same as we thought, not to mention the extensive application of optical technologies.”

He affirmed that, during this period, breakthroughs in a single discipline will present a dizzying variety of new opportunities. “The reverberations from breakthroughs in interdisciplinary studies will hugely shock us all. We can’t foresee what demands there will be in terms of computing, storage, transmission, and processing of this super large amount of data.”

Ren explained that all these new technologies, which will be applied on a large scale, are likely to generate breakthroughs over the next 20 to 30 years.

“How will we usher in a new era in the face of these opportunities? I have no ready answer to this question. This new era will open an enormous window of opportunity for us. We need to work even harder and join the forces of scientists and engineers from around the world to welcome this new era. This is what we expect. Despite this, we don’t need to feel uneasy about the unpredictability. Instead, we should embrace this new era with great courage.”