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Huawei shows off 4G, fibre and Android

ZDNet UK has taken a tour of the Chinese manufacturer's Shenzhen campus, which highlights Huawei's latest kit for mobile operators as well as a range of its future technology
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By David Meyer on
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Huawei is one of the world's leading telecoms equipment manufacturers, best known in the industry for its infrastructure kit and mobile broadband dongles. However, it is now also becoming a recognisable name in handsets and other smart devices.

The company invited ZDNet UK out to China to visit its main campus in Shenzhen, where it showed off the latest gear it sells to operators and consumers, as well as the technology it hopes to provide in the future.

The orange box in this picture is a prototype set-top box that acts as a home gateway for broadband connectivity. It also adds in a Wi-Fi router, a surveillance camera and a femtocell.

Femtocells are effectively mini-masts for the home, designed to provide cellular coverage within buildings where an operator's main network struggles to reach. They use a fixed broadband connection for backhaul.

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This box is a Wi-Fi router that takes its connectivity from an operator's long-term evolution (LTE) network. This kind of 4G network is expected to begin rolling out in the UK after a spectrum auction has taken place in 2011.

Once the LTE networks are in place, this sort of equipment could be used to bring high-speed wireless connectivity to building sites or other situations where ad-hoc networks need to be established.

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Shown here are a couple of the company's base stations for providing 2G and 3G connectivity — along with '4G' LTE in the future — to mobile users. The equipment is designed to operate in environments ranging from -40°C to 55°C. The small yellow box in the middle is a diesel generator that powers the base station but also charges a battery; when the battery is full, it obviates the need for more diesel until it is discharged.

On the left is a lightweight base station that Huawei developed with Vodafone in Spain. It uses solar panels for power and has been deployed in South Africa by Vodafone's local subsidiary, Vodacom. Such technology is also offered by rivals such as Alcatel-Lucent.

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The equipment needed for this base station is smaller than that shown in the previous picture, as it is designed for urban environments where space is at more of a premium.

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Huawei is already working on LTE Advanced, an incremental improvement on the LTE technology that will probably be rolled out in the UK with a '4G' label.

As can be seen, this technology — which is just shy of being standardised — can achieve downlink speeds of more than 1Gbps. The uplink speed of 14Kbps shown in this particular demo was substantially less impressive, but Huawei expects the technology to eventually allow people to upload data at hundreds of megabits per second. According to Huawei wireless marketing chief Lars Bondelind, people should expect to see LTE Advanced deployed near the end of this decade.

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Huawei also makes telepresence equipment for high-definition videoconferencing.

The company said its version of this technology only requires bandwidth of 2Mbps. Cisco's telepresence product, by contrast, needs a minimum of 15Mbps.

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As the UK's homes and businesses start to get high-speed fixed broadband from fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology, this is the sort of equipment that will enable such high speeds. Huawei is a supplier to BT, which is rolling out FTTC technology across the country.

On the right is a fibre-distribution cabinet that feeds connectivity to the box on the left, which in turn passes it to the copper connections that serve customer premises. The box on the lamppost is a smaller version of the cabinet on the left. It is more convenient to deploy, but it also serves fewer copper lines.

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Huawei supplies these home gateway boxes to BT for the telco's fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) deployments. FTTH provides faster speeds than FTTC connections — up to 100Mbps rather than up to 40Mbps — but also costs more to roll out.

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Huawei has also started to make equipment for the undersea cables that form the nervous system of the internet.

Equipment such as this repeater forms a very small part of the Chinese manufacturer's business. However, its presence in Huawei's portfolio shows the company is extending further into the territory of western rivals such as Alcatel-Lucent.

Huawei Marine, a joint venture between Huawei and Global Marine Systems, has already provided the 'Hannibal' link between Tunisia and Italy.

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Huawei hopes to get into the burgeoning tablet market with this device, the Ideos SmaKit S7.

The Android 2.1 tablet has 3G connectivity and can be used as a very large phone with videoconferencing capabilities. Its 7-inch, 800x480-pixel screen is resistive, which means it can also be used for handwriting.

ZDNet UK's brief hands-on experience with the device found the screen to be quite dull when compared with Apple's iPad. So far, the S7 has only been launched in Australia.

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Huawei's Ideos U8150, a budget Android 2.2 smartphone, is yet to be picked up by a UK operator.

Nonetheless, it provides the latest version of Android, a 2.8-inch capacitive touchscreen, a 3.2-megapixel camera and fast 802.11n Wi-Fi. If priced low enough, it could prove a worthy contender at the lower end of the smartphone market.

Huawei is betting big on Google's Linux-based mobile OS, which it says fits well with the manufacturer's tradition of close partnerships with operators due to its open and customisable nature.

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Huawei also showed ZDNet UK some of the machines it uses to test the endurance limits of its handsets.

The machines repeatedly slide covers, squeeze sides, rub screens and, in this case, press keys. Apparently this phone's keys should be able to survive being pressed at least 100,000 times.

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