Ericsson Claims to Beat Huawei's 5G Streaming Record

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Ericsson's decision not to attend Mobile World Congress (MWC) was the first domino to topple the trade show (which was due to start Feb 24), but it is also among the first out of the gate with MWC news.

Given the sidelining of Huawei for 5G infrastructure contracts in the United States (as well as in Australia and European countries like France), it was always going to be the case that Ericsson and fellow telco equipment giant Nokia would make headway.

Ericsson's headline-grabbing announcement at a hastily convened "virtual press event" was that it had trumped Huawei's 5G speed record of 2.92Gbps by clocking up 4.3Gbps over 800MHz of millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum.

In context, 4.3Gbps is the equivalent of downloading one hour of UHD 4K content from a streaming service in just 14 seconds.

The telco equipment and networks vendor used a technical specification made up of 8 component carriers (8CC) aggregating 800 MHz of mmWave spectrum to set the new record. The test was made using a 5G smartphone "form factor test device" powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF system. 

Per Narvinger, Ericsson's head of product area networks, said in a release, "The 8CC aggregation solution we have successfully tested will enable not only higher speeds but also large-scale 5G deployments and new business opportunities."

The commercial solution, including network and terminal support, will be available to 5G consumers during 2020, it confirmed.

The Swedish telco views the 4.3Gbps speed as further proof of 5G's ability to replace fibre, as mmWave has advanced from 1Gbps to 2Gbps to 4Gbps peaks, quadrupling the top broadband speeds offered by most cable providers. Beyond video streaming, the company also expects mixed reality and multi-player online gaming to benefit from the speed advances.

It is believed, not least by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, that Ericsson and Nokia are at least 18 months behind Huawei's state-subsidised lead on 5G tech.

Ericsson denied that this was the case, with CEO Börje Ekholm previously pushing back against the idea that US pressure on Huawei is giving the equipment vendor a "free ride." 

Instead, it is "creating uncertainty in the market, reducing investments overall," Ekholm said during an interview with CNBC during which he said that Ericsson is seeing "very little effect" on its order books as a result of Huawei discussions.  

US Attorney general Bill Barr has also argued that US companies should take controlling stakes in Nokia, Ericsson, or both to battle Huawei's dominance.

"The main concern about these suppliers is that they have neither Huawei's scale nor the backing of a powerful country with a large embedded market like China," Barr told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a far more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power."

Cisco, the most obvious US-based suitor, however just ruled out this idea.

CEO Chuck Robbins reiterated in a Q2 financials reports Wednesday that technologies such 5G, 400-gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 6 and the cloud are big opportunities for the networking, giant but that customers are still cautious about some of the tech transitions. Cisco is continuing to "pause" spending in light of a fall in company revenue of 4% from a year ago and lacklustre growth forecasts.

Ericsson said it expects 100 million 5G subscriptions worldwide by the end of the year, with most demand coming from China. Ericsson itself has 81 5G commercial agreements with 49 customers and 25 live 5G networks worldwide.

Data from analyst firm Omdia (the new brand for Informa/IHS Markit) suggests 5G-enabled smartphone shipments will grow eight-fold by 2021.

While 5G is set to become a common feature on premium phones released this year (except foldables), Samsung's latest flagship Galaxy S20 brings 5G into the mainstream.

Omdia says a key emphasis for Samsung is gaming performance. The new devices are using a display with an extremely high refresh rate of 120Hz with a 240Hz input sensor which, when coupled with 5G, "would give gamers the quickest reactions of any mobile gaming solution," says Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Technology at Omdia.

Samsung is so confident in the gaming capabilities of the S20 that it has announced a partnership with gaming company Forza Street, with cross-play with PC gamers enabled. 

"5G will drive the rapid growth of game streaming and esports, with the bundled-service revenue market of such partnerships expected to grow to $2.6 billion by 2024," according to Omdia's latest forecast.

The Galaxy S20 also puts the focus squarely on the camera technology. The S20 Ultra model features a 108MP camera with a 100x zoom and 8K video recording. 8K footage recorded on to the device would soak up 600MB per minute, according to Samsung, and just five minutes of 8K footage would take up around 3GB of space. That's one reason why a 5G upload connection to cloud storage is important.

"The headline feature should nonetheless grab attention and reassert Samsung's technology leadership in the space," says Gleeson.

It's not just Samsung, though. Chinese brands like Xiaomi and OnePlus are using 5G as a way to build partnerships with operators around Europe. Xiaomi has a major presence in the big five European markets already and Omdia expects that to grow. Apple's iPhone 12 will have 5G as well, but release dates have not been made public.

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