Huawei reaches for WiMax, LTE tech leadership

The company's products and road map are more important than price, a U.S. executive said

Huawei Technologies, a growing presence in mobile infrastructure, has been credited with driving down prices worldwide but downplayed that factor at this week's CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas.

"It's not about price, it's about trust," said Charlie Chen, senior vice president of Huawei Technologies (USA), in an interview at the conference on Thursday. Contracts to build mobile infrastructure for large national carriers are really partnerships that will last 10 years or more, and factors such as performance, reliability, service and vendor road map dominate carriers' decisions, Chen said. Answering a related question, Chen said he doesn't believe Huawei will feel any impact from the controversy over Google's relationship with the Chinese government.

Huawei is winning many of those contracts and has long since evolved beyond its home market of China. It logged US$30 billion in contract sales in 2009, with 70 percent of its revenue coming from outside China. It has contracts, and offices, in more than 100 countries and has 25 percent of its workforce outside the country.

In the fourth quarter of last year, Huawei was the third-largest seller of mobile infrastructure, falling close behind Nokia Siemens Networks after holding the second-place position behind Ericsson, according to research company Dell'Oro Group.

"Huawei sells equipment with comparable technology at half the price ... that's killing prices," Dell'Oro analyst Scott Siegler said earlier this month.

While downplaying the importance of price, Huawei's Chen pointed to the breadth of the company's offerings while also discussing deployments that may put the company at the cutting edge of new developments in mobile broadband.

Huawei has been chosen for six commercial deployments of LTE (Long-Term Evolution) and is conducting 60 trials with carriers around the world, Chen said. Among those is Cox Communications, the U.S. cable operator, which is building its own 3G EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) network using Huawei gear and trying out LTE with the vendor, too. In China, Huawei has a trial of LTE with China Mobile even though that country granted its first 3G carrier licenses only last year. The company also built China Mobile's 3G network, which uses the locally developed TD-SCDMA (Time-Division Synchronous Code-Division Multiple Access) technology.

Last week, StarHub in Singapore announced it will use a software upgrade to its Huawei HSPA+ (High-Speed Packet Access) network to bond two radio channels for higher capacity. The upgrade will roughly double the network's theoretical top speed from 21M bps (bits per second) to 42.2M bps. Channel bonding is one method for increasing network performance using a service provider's existing spectrum, Huawei's Chen said.

Huawei is also supplying StarHub with public femtocells, a new implementation of a technology that has been associated mainly with consumer devices for boosting performance in subscribers' homes. Public femtocells transplant the same concept to open areas, making it easier and less expensive for carriers to fill in coverage holes and ease the strain on heavily used data networks. They can use low-cost broadband connections such as DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modems. Huawei is also developing LTE femtocells, which may play a critical role in proliferating the next-generation networks.

The company's technology also may help U.S. WiMax provider Clearwire carry out a tricky transition that it hinted at on Wednesday at CTIA. Both Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow and Dan Hesse, CEO of Clearwire majority owner Sprint Nextel, said in keynote speeches that they might someday roll out LTE in addition to WiMax, taking advantage of the large amounts of spectrum they control in many markets.

Huawei is one of three network suppliers for Clearwire, which also uses Samsung Electronics and Motorola. Huawei provides equipment for the carrier's networks in several cities, including Honolulu, according to Clearwire. Chen said the radio-network cabinet that Clearwire uses, called SingleRAN, can accommodate base stations for any type of wireless carrier network and could make this type of dual deployment easier.

On Friday, Clearwire spokesman Mike DiGioia reiterated statements by Morrow that Clearwire is technology-agnostic and said this platform could help the carrier roll out LTE alongside WiMax if it chose to do so. Also at CTIA, Clearwire announced that it will use the U-RAS Flexible base station from Samsung Electronics, which has a similar capability.

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