Collaboration is ‘key to telco innovation’

07 July 2017 | James Pearce

As operators look at how to drive innovation in a shrinking market, Huawei rotating CEO Ken Hu told an Innovation Day they should look to each other

Innovation is driven by partnerships, with cooperation between companies cultivating digital invention and driving investment into new technologies.

This was the view expressed by Huawei’s rotating CEO Ken Hu as he took to the stage at the Chinese vendor’s European Innovation Day, pledging to continue investing in Europe.

Hu outlined continuing partnerships with a number of operators as a key component of Huawei’s continuing success in Europe, but said it needs to support digital transformation initiatives by tackling skill shortages that could hinder innovation.Hu said: "In this time we have grown together and forged lasting partnerships. We are in Europe for Europe, working hard to create value for our customers and help the region go digital. As Europe goes digital, our contribution takes several different forms.

"The first is providing competitive technology and products that are the result of our long-term investment in basic research. The second is working closely with partners all across the industry landscape to develop targeted solutions for European customers. And our third contribution is promoting an open digital ecosystem."

Huawei has 18 research and development centres across eight European countries. The Chinese firm is also throwing its wallet at R&D in the region. Take the UK. Huawei has committed to invest £1.3 billion in the UK alone.

Joint innovation

The Global OpenLabs programme was announced in March this year. It is the means by which Huawei can facilitate joint innovation and solution launches with local partners across a number of sectors such as smart city, finance, transportation, energy, manufacturing and media.

There are already five OpenLabs in existence, and Huawei announced that it is to open a new OpenLab in London this year, and is looking for a location in which to site it. A total of 12 labs are earmarked for opening around the world this year.

During the fifth annual European Innovation Day, Huawei announced a new partnership, with the University of Edinburgh, which will see the two form a data processing and management technology lab. Edinburgh is the seventh university to sign up as a Huawei partner.

"The University of Edinburgh is delighted to partner with Huawei to perform further research into data science and data management," said Timothy O’Shea, University of Edinburgh principal. "The creation of this laboratory gives our researchers the opportunity to apply their expertise to large-scale, real world challenges in this very exciting area."

Hu, one of three CEOs who take it in turns to lead Huawei, six months at a time, added: "Huawei is a long-term advocate of open innovation. We work with over 100 leading universities around the world, and the joint lab we are launching with the University of Edinburgh will go a long way in helping the ICT industry further its research into data science and enable digital transform-ation. The links between industrial and academic communities are strong here, so Europe is an excellent place for collaboration between business and academia."

The problem with European broadband is the amount of investment required. To meet its connectivity goals for 2025, the EU needs a total investment of €500 billion, but there is still a shortfall of €155 billion.

Hu gave three recommendations for Europe. The first is to expand coverage, especially in rural areas. Second, he called on European operators to enhance network performance and, through nonstop innovation, drive the development of networks to address the needs of emerging applications like high-definition video and automatic controls for smart factories. 

"Europe has a strong industrial base, and speeding up the digital transformation process will be vital to its economic growth. It will also help set a benchmark for the rest of the world," Hu said.

Connectivity divide

In his third recommendation, he challenged European regulators to create more favourable policy to enable operators and carriers to close the connectivity divide with Asia and the US. 

In Japan and Korea, more than 90% of people have access to broadband speeds of 30Mbps, but in Europe, the figure is just 76%, according to Hu. This falls as low as 40% in rural areas, while 14% of the European population have never used the internet before and 44% just have basic access. Hu said: "We have to figure out how to bridge the gap as soon as possible, or Europe risks falling further behind. The future broadband network should be able to meet the requirements for those consumer applications such as live video, VR and AR. So we need to provide much faster internet speeds – 10Gbps, or 100 times faster, with lower latency – 50 times more responsive. 

"This will take a combination of 5G, all-optical networks and the internet of things. We believe better policy will help encourage more investment and that will take change in Europe." 

Topics: Innovation, Huawei, Capacity media, wholesale telecoms