C-level briefing: At CeBIT, CBR speaks to Huawei execs on how the company has quietly made itself a giant smart city ICT provider.
Smart cities are an umbrella of different technologies, which will create a market worth up to $1.5tr, Frost & Sullivan estimates.
Chinese telecoms Huawei is expanding its reach across the globe.
In the UK, the company has established a partnership with BT.
Joe So, CTO of industry solutions, enterprise business group at Huawei, said: "In London I have not spoken to the government directly, however, as there are a lot of Mayors visits [over to China], I do not go and see them, they come to see us.
"But I have spoken to BT. Our strategy is not to go in as a direct player. We want to be able to work with our partners and ecosystems," So told CBR.
"BT asked us to give them some smart city solutions. Last November, I met with them again to discuss the concept of smart city, and what they were interested in was eGovernment, eHealth and eEducation."
The company sees the UK as a major investment spot, with plans for a £1.3bn investment and procurement plan between 2013 and 2018. Huawei has acquired the Centre for Integrated Photonics (CIP) in 2012 and Neul, the Cambridge IoT company in 2015.
It has also invested £5m into the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre and has two joint innovation centres in the UK, where it collaborates on research with BT and Vodafone.
Chinese network player bets on smart cities for future growth
With 2015 revenues topping $60bn, up from 2014’s $41bn, Huawei is bulking up its smart IoT portfolio, especially around intelligent cities.
"We are positioned as an information and communications technology (ICT) provider for the smart city," So said.
He told CBR: "The market size is huge. [As a smart city infrastructure provider] we are building a platform as a hosting system so you can put different applications on top."
So said the idea of smart city is not a solution, but a concept, "an umbrella of a lot of different solutions".
To understand the needs of cities around the work, So said he has met with over 50 governments, including the US, Mexico, Nigeria and China. The main priorities: eGovernment, eHealth, eEducation and security.
"I do not think there is an end to a smart city. It is always about the engineering of society, well being to optimise citizens’ life as well as improving business. It is system that we are engineering around society to continually optimise living conditions, businesses, the government itself.
"The concept of smart city is firstly to improve public safety, education and eHealth. These are the priorities of many countries today. Europe is pretty smart already."
So said that the main problem governments are being faced with today are the fact their ICT infrastructure is working as a silo, yet, he stressed no government is the same and challenges vary across the globe.
"Most of the governments today [have an] ICT infrastructures [which are] basically silos, they do not talk to each other. I am not saying governments do not do anything smart, but the smartness they have today is an independent operation, it is not interlinked.
"Data is not linked together. A lot of the time, investment is duplicated. The data is not made sustainable for future use."
He said that the work that needs to be done is around helping governments build the inter dependency from the system and data points of view, "so the government can collaborate more and more effectively".
"This is not a simple task, it is very complicated. This is something major that most governments are facing today, even in Europe, even in the UK.
"No government is the same, the requirements that they need are different. So far, I have spoken to over 50 governments, and I have not since seen much similarity or exactly the same type of requirements. Every city was facing different problems, different issues."
Safe City top priority for the Smart City revolution
At this year’s CeBIT, Huawei pressed on the importance of using technology to make cities safer and securer.
The company hosted its Global Safe City Summit 2016 under the theme of "Leading New ICT, Making Cities Safer" obringing together customers from Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
So said that discussion around safe cities are becoming a priority for countries around the world.
"As a human, when you know your being monitored you hesitate in doing things", leading to a reduction in crime levels.
The company designed a Safe City solution that uses integrated data resources throughout a city with a unified management and analysis platform.
The E2E network system enables police, other members of the force and health providers and emergency services to communicate using voice, video and other means of communication for critical communication, call connection anytime anywhere.
Safe City uses 4G trunking. Using LTE networks, the system has speeds of 100 Mbit/s downlink and 50 Mbit/s uplink throughput.
With a video cloud platform across regions and departments, Safe City works on a distributed architecture to give a global view and cross region query.
Today, Safe city serves 400m people in over 100 cities in more than 30 countries.
Over the next 12 months, So said Huawei will develop, explore and capture some opportunities in a lot of safe city solutions.
He also did not played down potential acquisitions in the smart city space, saying "there could be some".
"We are looking at the smart city solution as the future that is coming. In a smart city is not hard to build something smart,[the problem is that] it is not easy to use it, to operate."
Taking to the global conferences stage at CeBIT, Yan Lida, president of enterprise business group at Huawei, said that "technology really goes beyond humans" and as new ICT, including cloud computing, big data, the IoT, and SDN mature, a cloud-pipe-device integrated new ICT architecture is emerging to help enterprises accelerate digital transformation.
Lida said: "Based on technology innovation, Huawei aspires to build a sustainable and win-win ecosystem by developing an open, flexible and elastic platform.
"In line with our business driven ICT infrastructure guiding principle and strategy of ‘focus’ and ‘being integrated’, Huawei is committed to innovating jointly with partners to create value for governments and enterprises across industry sectors, helping them lead the new ICT age. Together we build a better connected world."