Doubts arise about Huawei Mate 60's hyped 5G and satellite communication features

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0


Huawei's re-entry into the 5G smartphone market has caused a stir and caught the industry off guard by its unveiling of the Mate 60 Pro, its newest flagship smartphone. While the primary focus remains on whether Huawei can reclaim its peak position in the smartphone market, there's widespread speculation about whether the phone genuinely integrates a 5G chip. Reports suggest that the satellite call service comes with a monthly fee of CNY200, offering 200 minutes of communication, but its usage is restricted to within China.

While uncertainties surround the current status of the 5G chip, another significant aspect is Huawei's assertion that the Mate 60 Pro is the world's inaugural device featuring satellite calling capabilities. Contrasting with Huawei's previous flagship Mate 50 series and Apple's iPhone 14 series, which only facilitated emergency satellite communication for location sharing, the Mate 60 Pro enables direct satellite calls. Industry experts express that while the inclusion of satellite call functionality could spark discussions, its practicality might be limited due to the current state of satellite service infrastructure and communication quality. They emphasize that creating reliable satellite communication services necessitates a substantial setup duration, and presently, China's infrastructure and backend services haven't matured enough to deliver stable, high-quality satellite communication services.

It's understood that Huawei's highlighted satellite call service relies on China Telecom's self-developed "Tiantong-1" satellite mobile communication network. However, the satellites launched under Tiantong-1's umbrella consist of three satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GSO) approximately 36,000 kilometers above Earth. These satellites' coverage is confined to China's territory, territorial waters, and neighboring nations. Geostationary satellites maintain a fixed position relative to Earth's rotation, allowing ground antennas can be aimed at the satellite without their having to track the satellite's motion. Despite their wide coverage in one instance, these satellites encounter signal weakening due to their distance from Earth. This mandates higher uplink power output, leading to increased latency compared to other types of satellites.

In recent years, global communication has transitioned toward low earth orbit (LEO) satellites due to their superior communication quality with clearer and lower latency. However, China's progress in developing LEO satellites remains incomplete, and achieving stable communication suitable for commercial use will take time. For instance, consider Starlink, which took 3 to 4 years to launch around 4,000 satellites for nearly global coverage. Although China ranks second globally in terms of satellite launches recently, trailing only the United States, significant efforts are still needed to promptly provide satellite communication services using LEO satellites. Consequently, industry experts contend that while Huawei's initiative to offer satellite call services via GSO is strategic, its significance is limited. Prioritizing communication quality and robust backend services holds greater importance. Given Huawei's competitive stance against Apple's impending releases and the desire to generate more buzz around re-entering the 5G smartphone market, it's reasonable for them to promptly introduce substantial features.

In short, if Huawei's current launch of a satellite-capable smartphone indeed hinges on GSO satellites for communication, it doesn't deviate substantially from past satellite communication attempts. Both scenarios are characterized by high latency. Additionally, based on the phone's size and antenna, unless the satellite end possesses sufficient power, call quality might not be optimal. Globally, smartphone-to-satellite communication is still more likely to evolve primarily toward utilizing LEO satellites.