The worldwide pandemic has had an amazing effect on our day-to-day lives and how we go about purchasing goods and services. At a personal level, we have become adept at working, communicating and buying online. Businesses have also had to adapt to these unusual times, and some have found much more efficient working methods that are likely to become the norm.
For enterprises and communication service providers, the thought of reviewing and committing to large-scale equipment purchases over a virtual environment would have been unheard of two years ago, but today it is not only possible, but it has also become a necessity.
Huawei is one company that has adapted brilliantly to this new normal with the development of its Darwin Exhibition Centre in Shenzhen that can be visited virtually. I recently had the opportunity to experience just how well this concept works, and I came away somewhat stunned.
The first impressions will be familiar for those of you who have experienced Huawei’s exhibition halls at significant events like MWC. In fact, this is where the company stages all its major exhibitions before shipping them onsite. The massive facility houses all of Huawei Carrier Business Group’s key product lines. I opted to concentrate on what telcos would be most interested in for my tour, checking on the latest 5G network technology and use cases, an area the company has invested heavily in.
I should first explain that this is no automated bot tour. It is hosted by real people that you interact with via its online meeting platform, WeLink. A professional videographer shoots the session and pans between the hosts and the exhibits, depending on what is being covered, and the hosts can also see your face and gauge reactions. In some places where a video illustrates a use case, the switch is seamless, and the whole process becomes immersive.
My tour began with the exhibition hall taking on the guise of a jungle complete with parrots, butterflies and monkeys interacting directly with the hosts via hand gestures, all managed over 5G and the cloud in real-time. This was an unusual use case to illustrate how children (and adults) could be kept amused while shopping. It could also be used to set up virtual booths in vacant spaces without rolling out cables for connectivity and offering 5G speed and security. All possible with a 5G module and a provisioned SIM – faster, simpler and cheaper connectivity – a theme repeated throughout the tour.
Next was an augmented reality navigation system from Korea. The directions appear as arrows on the road in front of the car, recognizing other vehicles, pedestrians and obstructions. Next was an AR app that allowed the user to test changes to their appearance, in this case changing lipstick colour without wasting the lipstick! Another AR application allowed a customer service rep to circle relevant info on the user’s screen to highlight what needs to be done, which buttons to press, etc. This could be extended to help in following instructions for the assembly of things like flat-pack furniture.
The next part of the tour shows a stylized map of Shenzhen highlighting how 5G has been deployed in its smart city initiative. The city boasts over 46,000 5G base stations covering commercial buildings, hospitals and government sites resulting in 5G connectivity across the whole city. Medical care can now be applied right from the initial call to the ambulance to the hospital, with treatment being directed by medical staff at each stage.
Perhaps the most stunning 5G use case was the port of Shenzhen and the drivers of those massive container cranes used to load and unload ships. Each crane driver had to climb 20 metres to the operator cabin and back again for meal and comfort breaks, a considerable waste of time and productivity. The physical driver has been replaced in the cabin with cameras and sensors linked by 5G back to a remote office where the driver can do the same tasks without climbing and wasting time. Even the container transporters that move the containers around the dock are all driverless and managed over the port’s 5G network. A similar app was demonstrated in a coal mine, complete with robot inspections of the electromechanical chamber at the bottom of the mine.
Industrial applications were next on the tour. One of Huawei’s manufacturing facilities showed how all components are connected by 5G and managed via a 5G gateway from a central location.
Not to be left out, even fibre optics were featured on the tour, starting with a fascinating device, a small optical switch made up of prisms and mirrors (definitely not smoke and mirrors) replacing a much larger energy-intensive device. Next, I saw an optical backplane handling 1,000 optical lines – with one rack can replacing nine cabinets! The space required and the power consumption has dropped by a significant amount.
Then back to wireless, and more specifically antennas, something Huawei has been doing in-house for years. The antenna evolution from 2G to 5G has been nothing short of remarkable in size, power and functionality. The latest advances include managing bands according to network capacity and load all in much smaller units, including solar panels and batteries.
Even the challenge of building tower sites in rural areas has been addressed by employing much more simplified base stations in the middle of villages, like in Ghana. These are now used in 50 countries covering 60 million people.
The benefits of something like the Darwin Exhibition Centre are apparent, and for customers, it allows them to focus on what they want to see and interact with experts in real-time. It’s the next best thing to being there without the stress and time-waste of travel. Post-pandemic, this could and should be part of the new normal.
Related site: Huawei Connect 2021