Huawei escalates fight for semiconductor self-sufficiency
Huawei has had a tough year. China’s leading technology company has been evicted from a number of key markets, potentially stifling its 5G ambitions. The UK, US and several other key players in the telecom landscape have announced that Huawei will play no further role in their 5G ambitions and, despite the company fighting a desperate legal battle, it looks as though it will be largely confined to its domestic market going forward.
US-led sanctions against Huawei haven’t just hit the company in its telecom business. Huawei’s role as a leading smartphone manufacturer has also been cast into doubt by sanctions which removed Google apps from its devices, and choked off supplies of semiconductors. Currently, US sanctions prohibit any semiconductor company that uses US software or equipment to manufacture its chipsets from supplying them to Huawei without a license from the Department of Commerce, .
However, recent developments may point to a way back for the fraught conglomerate.
A recent report shows that Huawei is currently working on spinning up a new semiconductor plant in Shanghai that will be completely independent from US contractors.
The plant will reportedly be operated by a partner company, Shanghai IC R&D Centre. Initially, the facility will produce lower end chips, but quickly scale up its operations and begin producing more high end 28nm and 20nm chips. According to Research and Markets’ report, “This could enable Huawei to secure a supply of the chips it needs for its core telecommunications infrastructure business. However, the reported plant may not be equipped to supply Huawei with access to the highly advanced chips used in mobile devices and the company may have to scale back its smartphone offerings as a result.”
Huawei’s move towards a more self-sufficient chipmaking process is being backed by the PRC government, which saying that China would “make technological self-sufficiency the strategic backbone of national development,” with plans to meet 70% of its semiconductor demand domestically by 2025
Given that Chinese firms currently supply less than a third of the Chinese market demand, both the challenges and opportunities for growth are huge. Chinese firms have a history of leveraging government support into breakneck growth and adoption, in a country with a burgeoning middle class and massive national infrastructure projects supporting the growth of its digital economy.
If Huawei can successfully spin up its Shanghai plant, and then further replicate the process, the company could be on track to become one of the dominant players in the global chip market, which may then allow it to pressure its way back into Europe and the US.
Ericsson insight report: What do consumers think of 5G?
Ericsson, a Swedish telecoms company, has released a new ConsumerLab insight report which shows what early adopters of 5G think of the network. Claimed to be the biggest ever 5G consumer study, Ericsson conducted more than 30,730 online interviews with smartphone users between the ages of 15 and 69 across 26 5G commercial markets, as well as non-commercial markets.
According to the company, the study included the opinions of 1.3bn consumers and 220mn 5G users to discover the key trends influencing “the adoption, usage, and perception of users towards 5G.” The report also suggests five steps that service providers can take to meet both current and future customer expectations.
1) Consumer 5G upgrade intention rises in spite of the pandemic
The first finding that the study revealed was that there was a significant increase in the number of people considering an upgrade to 5G either from a 4G-enabled smartphone or a 5G phone with a 4G subscription. The data contained in the study showed that at least 300mn smartphone users aged between 15 and 69 could take up 5G in 2021. On the other hand, 22% more smartphone users with 5G-enabled devices said they could have adopted the 5G network had knowledge apps providing them with information about it been addressed.
2) 5G prompts changes in user behaviour and starts to displace Wi-Fi
The report also uncovered details on how 5G was changing user behaviour, with more consumers preferring it to Wi-Fi. 20% of those surveyed said that they have “decreased their usage of Wi-Fi after upgrading to 5G, while 14% have stopped using Wi-Fi altogether. The data also revealed that 5G users spend two more hours per week using cloud gaming and one more hour on Augmented Reality apps compared to 4G users.
3) Indoor 5G coverage is twice as important as speed or battery life
While 40% of 5G consumers are more than satisfied with the network speeds, indoor coverage was considered more important in driving consumer satisfaction. In addition, only 29% of surveyees said they were “satisfied” with the apps and services available on 5G plans. This meant that around 70% of users were dissatisfied. According to the research, immersive video, which includes Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), contributes to 20% of the total time 5G users spend on digital services.
4) 5G users expect more innovation
The results have also shown that 70% of users are not satisfied with the availability of innovative services and “expect new applications to make use of the 5G network”. This clearly leaves only 30% of 5G users who are satisfied with the services.
5) Consumers value 5G plans bundled with digital services
Despite 5G adopters favouring these, around two-thirds of use cases rated by consumers were found only in the research and development stage or the technology showcase and were not available for them to experience, the report shows. Furthermore, a recent ConsumerLab study conducted by Ericsson revealed US$31trn in addressable consumer revenues that will “flow over 5G networks by 2030”. It also showed that service providers could secure USD 3.7 trillion of this when driven by 5G connectivity.
However, according to Ericsson, the greatest revenue boost will, in fact, come from the digital service-bundled 5G tariffs. The aim of this is to “convince consumers of the value of a 5G network platform”, Ericsson says.
Five ways to improve the 5G consumer experience
In addition to finding out adopters’ opinions of the network, the report, based on this information, also suggests five ways that the 5G consumer experience can be improved.
1) Educate and better market the value of 5G
Currently, there is a large gap in knowledge surrounding the 5G network and in terms of making the decision to upgrade. This, the report suggests, is due to “heavy tech jargon” used in 5G marketing confuses consumers and their understanding of its value, capabilities, and what it offers. Research shows that will 4 in 10 users intend to upgrade to 5G globally, only half will do so in 2021, with the rest upgrading in 2022.
Providing a solution to the problem of the “5G knowledge gap”, the report points out that the previously mentioned additional 22% of consumers with a 5G-ready device could have upgraded to the network last year had the value of 5G technology been better marketed, tailoring information to consumers’ needs.
2) Ensure consistent 5G coverage
The report showed that 60% of consumers in Switzerland were satisfied with the network’s performance, compared to 30% who were “very satisfied with the performance of the 4G network. In the US, on the other hand, the study shows 14% more users are "very satisfied" with 5G compared to 4G. It was found that indoor 5G coverage was more important than outdoor coverage, speed, and battery life due to consumers staying at home during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Ensuring consistency of coverage, especially indoors, is a solution and focal point for the future of the 5G network.
3) Adapt to the network requirements for new services
The 5G network is ever-encouraging changes in user behaviour and, with it, brings different service requirements. As mentioned previously, Wi-Fi usage is decreasing both at home and in other locations due to 5G being the preferred choice.
During the pandemic, while staying at home, broadband usage was at its highest according to Ericsson’s report, and some consumers were relying on 5G cellular connectivity as a backup network whenever their Wi-Fi network developed performance issues. However, to ensure 5G has the capabilities to deal with the increased demand, Ericsson believes it is important to adapt it and services providers “need to go beyond existing bundled services such as music and video streaming”, the report says.
4) Focus on what consumers want 5G to do
Ericsson says that another way to improve the 5G consumer experience is to focus on “jobs-to-be-done” or services that consumers want 5G to provide. “Identifying and understanding the jobs consumers want 5G to do is the first step in envisioning and offering use cases that consumers want, especially ones they are likely to pay for”, the company said.
The study highlighted five key jobs that consumers hope 5G will them to do. These are:
- To be productive and efficient
- To be creative
- To provide new ways of connecting and socialising
- The need for novelty (surprise, thrill, discovery)
- Rewarding “me-time”.
Known as the “jobs-to-be-done theory”, the report says that it “provides an anchor point from which service providers can create value via new or existing use cases”.
5) Increase innovation and accelerate the availability of use cases via ecosystem partnerships
Using the jobs-to-be-done framework, Ericsson tested 27 different use case concepts aligned with the consumer needs so that they could assess which concepts consumers feel are worth paying for, while also assessing their current development phase. Below are the results.
- Business ready: Digital services/use cases that are currently being bundled in 5G plans by service providers or are widely available.
- Technology showcases: use cases that are currently relegated to just technology demonstrations by service providers.
- Still in R&D: use cases that require significant research and development to solve technology complexity or see ecosystem readiness challenges.
By obtaining this data, Ericsson is able to assess the ways in which it can increase innovation and improve the availability of use cases as they embark on their mission to improve the 5G consumer experience.
The full report can be viewed here.