Huawei's NearLink wireless technology signals a decoupled connected world

Jingyue Hsiao, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: AFP

Amid popular interest in Huawei's Mate 60 Pro, featuring a mysterious SoC using SMIC's technology, the NearLink wireless technology manifests China's desire for self-reliance and may lead to a decoupled communication supply chain.

At the Huawei Developer Conference 2023, Huawei introduced the NearLink 1.0 wireless technology that combines low-power connectivity provided by Bluetooth and high-speed connection, like Wi-Fi. NearLink 1.0 can connect ten times more devices than Wi-Fi 6 and consumes less than half of the power of Bluetooth. Furthermore, NearLink's latency is only 20us, much lower than Bluetooth 5.3 and Wi-Fi 6.

China-based SparkLink League, founded in September 2020, when Huawei faced a slew of sanctions and restrictions imposed by the US, and composed of over 300 primarily China-based companies. In November 2021, the NearLink 1.0 was finalized and formally released in November 2022. In August 2023, Huawei announced the integration of this new technology into the consumer product ecosystem and its introduction in the Mate 60 smartphones.

SparkLink League estimates the number of connected devices globally will rise from 27 billion in 2020 to 75 billion in 2025, with use cases expected to multiply, such as 8K video viewing, VR gaming, connected vehicles, and various industrial applications, including wireless maintenance, robots, and process monitoring, demands that the NearLink technology aims to satisfy.

Besides the technological superiority, at least at the moment, to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in many aspects, NearLink also highlights how Huawei, one of the wireless technology patent owners, even China, tries to achieve self-reliance even with the block of access to advanced technologies by the US government.

According to the website of SparkLink League, its members include Huawei, China Mobile, CAICT, TCL, Vivo, ZTE, and Unisoc. However, no US-based technology giants participated in the league, such as Qualcomm, the largest patent owner in wireless technology between June 2021 and May 2023, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. It is to be noted that although Huawei is a member of some major global technology associations, the US sanctions once stopped Huawei from getting access to advanced wireless technologies before the restrictions were later removed.

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer Business Group, said that the company was too naive to believe in globalization, leaving itself vulnerable to restrictions imposed by the US. Huawei is also making efforts to reduce its reliance on software from the US.

It seems a wireless protocol exclusive to China and developed solely by Chinese companies, led by Huawei, is emerging, which may lead to a decoupled internet that is difficult to oversee, especially concerning its evolution over time and its implications for users and businesses.