Huawei, technology, purpose, and the path to a fully connected world

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“Harnessing the Power of Connectivity”. With wireless connectivity as the foundation of growth, as recently demonstrated by the findings from Huawei’s Global Connectivity Index (GCI 2017).
Policy makers who aggressively invest and proceed to necessary adaptations “in ICT Infrastructure should find that their nation can achieve economic growth and succeed with niche market business opportunities based on their own available resources and talent […]”.
Such findings and recommendations are nothing new; in the words of the White House:
“Few technological developments hold as much potential to enhance America’s economic competitiveness, create jobs, and improve the quality of our lives as wireless high-speed access to the Internet. . . . “ (From White House Memorandum, “Unleashing the broadband wireless revolution” (June 28, 2010))
At Huawei’s recent Analyst Summit, in Shenzhen, I had the chance to be part of a small group of attendees invited to a presentation by Fupeng Zhang (Director of GSM&UMTS&CDMA Marketing Operation Department, Wireless Product Line) on “Maximizing Network Value”.
Beyond the progress made everyday on connectivity and the promises shown by 5G, as we are now, the spectrum remains the same and the overall connectivity can not expand indefinitely on the current infrastructure. So, what is Huawei’s solution?

Building connections through value and ROI

“A Better Connected World”. Huawei’s motto sums up the steps they have taken towards better offerings (both on the technical and business side of things) in order to help carriers – and countries – increase their coverage and connectivity. And, down the road, bring voice connection to the 1 billion people still left without any and data to 3 billion with no current access.
Mr Zhang offered an insight into how they are currently working with carriers in developing countries with a new kind of offer, embracing not only technical challenges but also the need for lower costs and maintenance, both in urban and rural areas.
Introducing @PoleStar and RuralStar. A new breed in the world of mobile towers, aiming at leveraging existing infrastructures both in urban and rural areas and drastically reducing operating costs and the carbon footprint by leveraging solar power (as deployed in Africa).

Image of Huawei Pole Site in Kenya -
“Everything as a one site”. Re-use the existing structures (traffic/lighting poles,…) paving the way to reducing expenses too (e.g. rents to be paid to landowners for towers).
The benefits of this approach based on better technology and faster ROI lie beyond reducing costs. They do actually align with Huawei’s goal of expanding the global coverage. With products which are easier to install and maintain while offering a better return on investment, carriers would then be able to dedicate both the time and savings towards expanding their network (and, overall, customer base).
From the sheer technical point of view, these products can support 2G, 3G and 4G. Yet, most of the focus, for developing markets, is on 2G where most subscribers are. And that is also where the number of subscribers outweighs the spectrum bandwidth issued.
Carriers, operators, are also making different choices and with users still on 2G/3G, with no immediate migration in sight, different devices and various issues remaining, Huawei are here to help operators and assist towards a smooth evolution.
Huawei’s other main focus comes into play here: the cloud. Leveraging their CloudAIR offering, they can help maximize the spectrum use and distribution and enable MBB in limited spectrum. In developed markets, there is now just about one spectrum saved for 2G/3G. Yet there is still demand for these in emerging markets.
In saying that, Huawei are showing a strong focus on emerging markets.
With mobile broadband subscriptions (and usage) growing at solid speeds in developing regions, our first world problems of “not getting 4G in this place” do face real life competition with a continent like Africa going from nearly no mobile broadband subscribers to 20% in just seven years; and the potential for the remaining 80% to be able to consider a subscription within just a few years from now.

World mobile subscriptions - from Wikipedia - on
Technology and purpose vs the world?

Building a better world and offering an added opportunity for a country to potentially increase its GDP (as per the White House, Huawei GCI and others, connectivity contributes to creating wealth and assisting the development of countries) while helping the planet (with solar-powered devices) is the great take from where Huawei are going with this wireless offering. As an advocate of technology with purpose, the words did deeply resonate.

However, as much as my parents would certainly have loved to see me become a doctor or a lawyer, I find myself writing about technology, marketing and startups.
Huawei may face the same fate, not as a provider of technology, but as a company with the will to contribute to a better world.

“Build it and they will come” – said no entrepreneur ever.
Offer carriers better and cleaner technology, coupled with savings, and they will extend their network to better serve the population and bring connectivity to those who have none – was never witnessed ever. Or was it?

Building a better world lies in the hands of governments and carriers; mostly the latter when it comes to connectivity. Which is also where the weak link may be.
Investing time and money to serve the few may not always come as a business or political priority. But, at the end of the day – and Facebook’s fail in India showed it clearly – private operators can only offer solutions. The implementation will be decided and run by the local powers.
Without even delving into political instability, fraud or just poverty to outline such a “risk”, a closer look at a “developed” country like Australia (I am drawing from first-hand experience) shows the roadblocks. In a country where the NBN (National Broadband Network) has and is still failing (to the point that it recently made it to the pages of the New York Times) and where the regional internet is not even close to average (1.2mbps download on a good day…) there still is no incentive for the big players to invest in bettering the network.
Telstra, the big player, former national telecoms company, boasting a near-monopoly situation recently announced that a recent decision not to validate domestic mobile roaming (yes, same country but roaming still…) would allow them to keep investing towards developing the network – which, otherwise would have been jeopardized. Why, then, would they even find an incentive to spend money to fix old copper lines that still – kinda – work?
Talking about a stable, developed countries, where the process of improving networks and connectivity should be quite a standard practice, this does illustrate how carriers in countries with less stability or regulations may not be tempted to invest for the greater good.

A chat with Mr. Zhang

Profile picture of Fupeng Zhang -

Once the presentation ended, we did have a chance to ask Mr. Zhang some of our burning questions. But you know how it is when you are having fun, time flies and some remained unanswered. Back in Australia, a chat with the amazing Walter Jennings offered me the opportunity to borrow some of Mr. Zhang’s time to dive further into this matter but also clean power, competition and the future.

– On the matter discussed above, of carriers, operators being a potential obstacle.

Huawei are here to help carriers solve problems and increase their coverage and revenue. Not to push them to expand or make decisions that are outside the scope of the business relation.
Ultimately, Huawei remains a provider and their first goal is to define how they can assist the carriers “cover more with less”. Especially, for instance, in contexts where the population is heavily distributed.

– Developing further, as I see my 4G mobile broadband being a lot better than my (copper) cable internet in Australia. Could Huawei also not go beyond bringing connectivity to the “unconnected” but also bring acceptable connectivity to the first-world whiners like me when historic infrastructures are obviously failing and far too costly to be replaced?

Huawei’s LTE is good enough and can be a solution to such issues. Maybe less in Australia than in regions with more (serious) needs. Like Sri Lanka where such products allowed a fast deployment or Eastern Europe where leveraging the masts allow to bypass any structural (ground) work which would be required to lay down cables while drastically reducing the costs associated with the works but also buying/renting land and tower spots.

– This serves as a reminder that Huawei’s PoleStar and RuralStar technologies have been built and thought out with emerging markets in mind. Hence the focus on 2G in the presentation. But why not 4G since the “towers” are both 3G and 4G-ready?

There are still challenges for countries needing technology to cover rural areas. And mobile penetration in rural areas reaches only about 50%. With “feature phones” being far less expensive, the main focus is not yet on 4G and usages which are more linked to smartphones.
The priority is to create the connection/connectivity; then they can build 3G/4G into the system depending on the customers’ requirements.

– The network is one thing, that Huawei provides but what of adding services on top to facilitate the growth and adoption?

Huawei is a leading ICT provider. And they provide services as per their competency.
Fupeng Zhang noticed that there are a lot of good applications in Africa, Asia, which can enable various services. So, when Huawei’s solution is ready and brings connectivity to a rural area, the customers can benefit from said services.
For example, “M-PESA (Africa) can only be enjoyed when we help provide the connectivity”.

– We spoke of Africa but the continent is not the only region where Huawei are deploying such products. Solar power has been chosen as the preferred energy source but, as Jim Harris did point out, some places (Asia at monsoon time) may pose a challenge to that.
Beyond diesel as a backup (but not so green) solution, what is there on offer?

Africa being the country of focus initially, solar was an easy choice. Solar power also proved to offer the best ROI, hence being chosen as the energy source.
They have also considered hybrid models and, in Huawei’s tradition, are collaborating with local companies, not only as a provider but as a partner too in order to adapt and define the best solution depending on the conditions.

– Technology is evolving extremely rapidly these days and with the rise of smart cities, is there not an opportunity to leverage these products and work directly with cities to actually provide the wireless grid they need? Especially as the IoT can thrive on 2G individuals could leverage 4G.

Operators provide the connections. However, this is indeed something that Huawei Enterprise Solutions are working on and developing. Because the smart city trend definitely is growing and there is even more to be considered. This is not only a Huawei vision. The operators and the cities are also wanting to provide more (features, services, …).
Huawei are working on both sides, the enterprise business approach and helping carriers develop their own side of the business.

– And a last take on providing connections. With the likes of Facebook, Google, sending drones to “offer” some internet, Elon Musk planning 4000+ satellites to beam internet from space, where is the opportunity for Huawei (or the risk with the added competition)?

They are competitors but also partners. Regardless of their vision, they also need more IT capabilities – and Huawei is still a provider of IT.
But the whole industry needs novelty anyway. Technology is ever-evolving and such moves contribute to triggering new ideas. And Huawei are also doing research in similar fields.
At the end of the day, they compete but also cooperate.
“Coopetition” was quoted some years ago now but it perfectly sums up not only Fupeng Zhang’s take on what the wireless division is doing right now but how the whole of Huawei thinks and acts.

As an individual, my two business values reside in collaboration and finding purpose in technology. Both values that I have gladly found in every interlocutor at Huawei during this Analyst Summit.

[Bonus, enjoy the following video on how “mobile is changing the world”:]



As a KOL (Key Opinion Leader) for Huawei, I can be invited to take part in various corporate events both produced by Huawei, as well as any other corporation. While Huawei, partners or other corporations may cover my travel expenses to these events, I’m not a paid spokesperson for Huawei or any other company; as such, nothing I say or write about is in any way required, nor forced by Huawei. My opinions whether related to products or companies, both positive and negative, are mine; and mine alone.

Also published on Medium.