What we learned at day one of Huawei’s 5G-focused Global MBB Forum in London

Two-day event for Huawei partners, potential partners and media showcasing where 5G is already being used, digital inclusion, future 5G development plans, how tech is changing society, and more.
Huawei, 2018, Global MBB Forum, 5G, London, UK, UAE, United Arab Emirates, Tech, Technology, Future, Society, Middle East, Connectivity, Business, MTN, GSMA

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Photo credit: Ben Mack

The future is 5G.

That was a big takeaway from the first day of Huawei’s 2018 Global MBB Forum on November 20. But there’s a massive difference between saying 5G will shape the future, and actually showing and implementing the technologies and services that can shape such a future.  Spoiler: this story is about the latter.

Held at ExCel London in the Custom House area of the British capital, the ninth edition of the annual event brought together Huawei customers, potential customers, and of course media to present a dizzying array of real-world case studies for how 5G is currently being implemented – and discuss how it will soon be implemented on a larger scale around the world, including in the Middle East and Africa.

Things kicked off just after 9 a.m. local time with a keynote speech by Ken Hu, deputy and rotating chairperson of Huawei. Wearing an icy pink-coloured tie and dark navy suit, he spoke to a crowd of hundreds of similarly dressed attendees in front of a massive video screen that appeared to measure about 20 metres across, and upon which slick graphics were displayed to illustrate and emphasise key points.

In his speech, Hu stressed the importance 5G was already playing in shaping the future of not only business, but humanity, adding Huawei has been working on 5G for more than 10 years. “We believe 5G will make a big contribution to our society.”

Hu also said 5G was leading to the integration of previously separate technologies and services not unlike individual pieces of Lego bricks being combined to make something larger – fundamentally changing the definition of what a telco or technology company is. The user experience will be redefined by 5G.”

Hu’s speech was followed by an address from Mats Granryd, Director General of the Global System for Mobile Communications, better known as the GSMA. Like Hu, Granryd also discussed the potential of 5G to drive inclusion, growth and sustainable development, especially in the developing world. He also touched on the impact of “smart” capabilities like artificial intelligence and network capabilities, and how such networks and technologies must be secure to drive the growth not only of smart cities, but all cities. He said intelligent management will be key with “the development of a rich and vibrant digital economy.”

Another speaker was China Telecommunications Corporation (more commonly known as China Telecom) executive vice president Liu Guiqing. For 5G to truly be transformative and improve people’s lives, he said, companies will need to work together and collaborate – even if they’ve traditionally been rivals.

The idea of collaboration and integrations were also focal points of British Telecom (BT) group CTIO Howard Watson’s presentation. He said: “The future is how multiple-access technologies like WiFi and broadband can come together.”

Other keynote speakers included South Africa-based telco MTN group CTIO Babak Fouladi (one standout quote from him: “The greatest social responsibility for us is connecting the unconnected), Swiss telco Sunrise CEO Olaf Swantee, 3UK CEO David Dyson, and David Wang, executive director of the board and chair of the Investment Review Board at Huawei.

Not just talk

There was far more to the event than just polished speeches and slick presentations. Outside the main presentation halls, a number of booths showcased both Huawei technologies and technologies and services from Huawei partners. A “5G bus” drove people around the surrounding Docklands area. The demo drive showed that 5G connections, download speeds and more could all be achieved while physically moving across large distances at a high speed and in poor weather (this being London, it was fittingly rainy, windy and cold). Tents erected outside ExCel London were also stuffed with 5G use case demonstrations.

Aboard the 5G bus.

Then there were the special summits and roundtables. One summit focused on connecting unconnected populations in Africa, with in-depth analysis and discussion of a case study between Huawei and MTN Ghana and the GSMA on strategies for connecting populations, especially those in rural and/or in impoverished areas (one key challenge discussed: the lack of affordable smartphones). A media roundtable on “Preparing for a Cloud AR/VR Future” with Huawei Wireless Solution CMO Dr Yuefeng Zhou and GSMA senor director and head of Future Networks Henry Justin Calvert – held the same day as the launch of a Huawei whitepaper on the cloud – covered how cloud technologies could enable AR/VR applications and gaming, while also touching on the challenges of unifying networks and business plans (such as different businesses having different targets for the latency, or delay, period of their connections). And there were many more events on top of those.

With such an action-packed and insightful first day, it’s fair to say the bar has been set pretty high for the second and final day of the event. Yet no matter how it turns out, one thing has already been established: 5G doesn’t simply have incredible possibilities – it’s already here, and already enabling some pretty incredible things.

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