The 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' uses a combination of technologies that blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds. Soon, billions of connected objects will generate data that can be used to boost productivity and enhance our quality of life.
This is why telecom players, businesses and governments worldwide are pressing ahead with plans to unroll 5G. Its super-fast connectivity has the power to unlock Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of things.
For Europe, it is crucial to remain at the vanguard of innovation, and it intends to do this by promoting collaboration.
At the beginning of November, European leaders from various sectors such as technology, industry, energy and healthcare gathered at Huawei’s European Innovation Day and Eco-Connect events in Paris to find ways to speed up the continent’s digitalisation.
Huawei leading the way in 5G technology
Abraham Liu is Chief Representative to the EU for Huawei. The Chinese tech giant is one of the world leaders in 5G technology and has been working in Europe for over 20 years.
"We help provide our solutions to the operators to build the European information highway for the next generations to keep the leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution," he explains. "For the year 2018, Huawei’s contribution to the European GDP is more than 12.8 bn euros. And also, we have supported 169,000 jobs in Europe."
But the European Union and some member states such as Germany worry that working on 5G with non-EU state-backed firms raises security issues. They believe this could make Europe more vulnerable to cyber attacks and too reliant on foreign suppliers. Europe recently issued recommendations to make the 5G network safer.
For Marcus Grubusch, Managing Director with Tempton Industrial Solutions — a German business providing telecom services — it is important to keep up with innovation, a sector in which Huawei is an essential player.
“Huawei has the leading technology currently. Maybe the others are 18-24 months behind," he says. "Personally, I’m wondering if the recommendation [of the European Union] is politically driven? Because Huawei was providing the equipment for 3G and 4G already."
Josianne Cutajar, an MEP, believes it is possible to combine innovation with security.
“When Europe regulates, it shouldn’t be seen as a restriction but an opportunity for better standards," she says. "However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t collaborate with foreign partners because that would otherwise mean that we may become isolated”.
Huawei believes its expertise is key to help Europe seize new opportunities like Artificial Intelligence (AI). Jiang Tao, Vice President of Intelligent Computing at Huawei says the company is investing heavily in the concept.
“We will invest 100 million euros to build an AI ecosystem programme," he explains. "This is Huawei’s Atlas 900, it’s the most powerful AI cluster in the world. If you’re searching the sky, with its 200,000 or so stars, nowadays scientists have to take about 74 hours to do one search. But use our Atlas 900 and it only needs 10 seconds."
AI is not just about robots, computing and smart factories, it’s also about real applications in people’s everyday lives.
Huawei has developed Storysign, a mobile application to help hard-of-hearing children.
“This is a story that is close to my own heart as I have a three-year old daughter and I enjoy reading to her at night to help improve our communication and family bond, " explains Huawei's Alex Lee. "But there are 32 million deaf children on this planet that don’t have that same opportunity that I might take for granted. So Huawei has worked closely with Aardman Animation studios to produce StorySign. This is an application that can be downloaded for free so I just open the application, point it at the book and it will translate this text into sign language for us.”
Digital inclusion empowers people
Digital inclusion is at the heart of Huawei’s strategy. Its Tech4All project seeks to empower people with technology. Huawei says it is committed to addressing any security concerns that may arise.
Karl Song, Vice President of Global Communications at Huawei believes it is very important for Huawei to collaborate with Europe.
“We wish in the coming five years to connect another 500 million people," he says. "We consider that cybersecurity is a technology issue. We can solve this issue with a reasonable fact-based manner."
Europe sees 5G as a major asset to compete in the global market with worldwide revenues expected to reach €225 billion by 2025.