BT and Huawei partner on research into 5G tech

simon chandler
By Simon Chandler

bt labs©BT

HUAWEI and BT have announced they're launching a research partnership, which will aim "to lead the global development of 5G mobile technologies".

Through this partnership, the two telecoms operators hope to determine the fundamentals of a future 5G network, including its basic architecture and a "network slicing" technique that'll enable separate portions of it to be devoted to different services.

Yet they'll also be looking into how the 5G network will best support innovations in consumer and industrial technologies, from the internet of things to advanced security applications.

Of course, what with the auction for 5G having been pushed back by Ofcom from 2016 to "sometime" in 2017, it's sadly unlikely that we'll be seeing the fruits of their partnership anytime soon.

Former glories

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However, this didn't stop BT from understandably getting excited about the announcement. Their CEO Gavin Patterson affirmed, "This partnership with Huawei will see us explore the potential uses and make sure 5G is designed to meet the needs of our consumer and business customers throughout the world."

He also pointed out that BT and Huawei already "have a strong record of collaboration when it comes to developing cutting-edge communications technologies", which is part of the reason why both firms are proudly announcing their latest joint venture.

Indeed, it was only a couple of months ago that both companies managed to get speeds of 40Gb out of a single fibre optic cable.

Similarly, in June 2015 the pair received the "Fixed Network Infrastructure Innovation" prize at the Global Telecom Business Awards, mainly in honour of "a world-beating 3 Terabit optical fibre transmission live trial".

This is all well and good, yet it almost goes without saying that BT haven't come close to delivering speeds of 40Gb or 3Tb (i.e. 3000Gb) to even a tiny fraction of their customers.

In fact, given that they plan to bring high-speed fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband to only two million homes by 2020, it's clear that the commercial rollout of such state-of-the-art speeds is years away, if it will arrive at all.

Standards

And much the same can be said regarding the latest collaboration between BT and Huawei: it may end up raising some interesting possibilities, yet these possibilities may take years to materialise as a commercial technology.

We are very proud of our work with BT over the last eleven years. We have conducted joint research and development activities which have led to new products and solutions and with 5G we look forward to continuing this fruitful partnership.
Ken Hu, Huawei

At the very earliest, a limited 5G capability will emerge on the commercial market from 2020 onwards, with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) aiming to have the infrastructure ready by this date.

However, while 5G standardisation will most likely have been set by 2020, we've already written in the past how "it's unlikely that consumers will have access to [a 5G service] before 2024/25."

A foothold?

In fact, it's precisely because 5G is still some distance from being rolled out commercially that BT have announced their new partnership with Huawei.

They told us they hope "the research will drive the development and standardization of 5G technologies throughout the industry" (our emphasis).

In other words, they want to play a key role in standardisation, so that they'll have an advantage over other operators when it comes to understanding how the future 5G network works and how best to exploit it.

Which possibly means that, once a commercially viable 5G network does become a reality, BT (or EE) will have a significant foothold over it, as well as over the customers it will serve.


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