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Interview: Huawei’s CTO, Steve Apps, unpacks IOT as part of a “Smart Cities” landscape

September 20, 2018 • Internet of Things, People, Top Stories

Huawei's CTO, Steve Apps, unpacks IOT as part of a "Smart Cities" landscape

Steve Apps, Chief Technology Officer, Huawei

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a talking point in many discussions on how connectivity will move us forward as a society and what kinds of technologies will help shape future cities.

Huawei is one of many large tech companies with a vested interest in IoT. Steve Apps, Huawei’s Chief Technology Officer, recently spoke on the subject at TechX in Johannesburg.

According to Apps, Huawei sees IoT in the context of “Smart Cities”, smart campuses and everything on a big scale. “We’re talking about millions and billions of devices. It is all good talking about that amount of devices, but how do you do millions and billions of devices? Huawei has done 120 smart cities globally, therefore, they’ve got a lot of experience and know what works and what doesn’t work in that arena,” said Apps.

IoT Projects

Huawei is working on numerous IoT projects. The main starting point is an IoT platform that handles connectivity and device management.  Ocean Connect, allows you to configure all IoT devices fast. It’s a very fast drag and drop setup. Ocean Connect can easily configure different firmware version for everything.

“For instance, take a city that has millions and millions of sensors and many different types of communications, and different vendors, with an individual platform or a server or a language or anything else to manage them, it becomes unmanageable and if you have to have a command of control system trying to talk to all these, the software becomes very complicated, said Apps.”

Devices

Huawei has come up with the Light OS operating system; it’s a small 6K operating system that you can load straight onto your devices, onto the processor, which gives you a standardised operating system. According to Huawei, this eases development from a certain point of view, but it offers standardised integration back to the platform, so you can device manage everything on the same platform without building adapters or anything else.

“You can see it, update it, control it and configure. They’ve used this concept in “smart cities” a lot, especially in China. If you take Longwan, which is in Shenzen, they’ve got 1.6 million cameras. Therefore, they’ve found that it was quite necessary to manage those huge numbers to make it viable,” said Apps.

“On the devices’ side, obviously, you’ve got millions of devices. How do you manage them? How do you control them? How do you keep them updated and secure them? So, yet again, each different camera you put in, they’re going to have different software on them and your comms connectivity and security is in the hands of the developer of that device. So they might be experienced in building cameras, they might be great at building way bridges, they might be great at all these things, but their core expertise is unlikely to be building reliable comms connectivity and updated, robust cybersecurity. That starts becoming a problem when nobody sees the device as a risk,” added Apps.

Connectivity

On the direct communications, Huawei has the NB IoT and the ELT IoT. The ELT IoT is the Enterprise Longterm evolution for IoT. It’s essentially a low power, wireless network that’s been developed on 4G tech. “So it’s taken 4G modulation and everything else, they are calling it 4.5G. It provides you IPMQTT, if you look at your other low power wireless area networks, they’re normally almost like half-duplex, where you can only transmit or receive at the same time. The IPMQTT gives you direct interconnectivity so you can actually have better bi-directional comms and availability. We should be getting that in this country very soon,” said Apps.

Huawei rolled it out in America and parts of Asia, but due to the frequency spectrum in ITU 1, which is Area 1, they’ve been modifying that development and it may come through this month, but if not, soon. It can also be coupled with solutions like ELTU, which is the same technology but they say is unlicensed and sits you at 5.4 to 5.8GHz spectrum and that gives you the ability to hook up, currently, around 128 cameras which can give you HD feedback in real time which actually turns your camera into an IoT device.

Although, the other advance they’ve made for the developing world is software designed cameras, where it can take facial and number plate recognition and extrapolate minutiae data and it just sends a very small file back to your backend system and then it can send that very small file to your other cameras or other places to better track people or vehicles or anything to be identified. This way you can track people or monitor what they’re doing even if you don’t have broadband communications.

Edge computing

Edge computing is extremely important because the more edge computing you can do, the less processing you need at the backend. It can process everything on sight and send you only the data you need, because a lot of the time you need to know the condition of the equipment, not what all the sensors are saying.

According to Apps,  you can take what would be a huge server and drop it down to a single application server for the same benefit and now it’s so cheap and easy to get powerful processing, it’s very easy to build the edge computing in. Therefore, Huawei has edge computing solutions that allow them to use standard fibre, 3G, 4G or 5G, whatever it is to posit the data back and then that can do your analytics on sight using AI and everything else built into the gateways to start doing local analytics.

“Huawei is also doing a lot of work on 5G. It allows you to have your IoT narrowband on the same network as your high-speed broadband, so you can do it all on the same network, where at the moment you need both. You need a low power network and you need a broadband network. With 5G just need the one. Huawei is having it tested and trialed in South Africa and seeing those results have been stunning,” said Apps.

Apps added, “Beyond that, what do you do with the data? Looking at the city perspective, you need to be able to integrate every single vertical, every single department, into the city. For example, if you’ve got smart grid, smart water, and smart transport, if they’re not connected and they’re only smart in themselves, that doesn’t make a smart city, because you need to share the data. It needs to cross vertical analytics so you have to have a full horizontal.”

It is almost a platform of platforms, where Huawei’s cloud platform provides you the ability to store almost everything and provide services, the analytics, the AI, blockchain, GIS, and everything else. All your other verticals can actually pull in there so you can get the right data and so you can see everything together and manage and monitor everything easily and simply. All on open standers and open platforms. So it’s designed for that easy integration. Then you can work across each department.

Apps says that a lot of where the IoT is going requires you to start thinking across multiple areas. If you have a camera and it’s on the street, you can either use it for monitoring traffic or you can use it to monitor crime.

“At the moment, you would have two cameras for those two functions, but if you had one camera for that and you can feed it into that platform, then depending on what’s happening, you can feed it to the right department automatically in real time, that starts making a huge impact on getting a faster and better response. That’s where that use of data comes in, he said.”

“You still need your standard platforms and each of the verticals, but then they can focus on what they’re trying to do and who they’re trying to benefit. If they’re trying to build a command and control for the police, they can just do that perfectly, if they want to monitor the road to check for maintenance, they can just focus on that, and they know that they can get the data, picking from Twitter feeds or from cameras,” he added.

Those are some of the ways that Huawei has looked at the IoT, but now they take that to campuses to improve security with facial rcognition or to the agricultural sector in the smart grid area. Smart transportation is becoming important where they’re seeing the need for it in driverless cars. 5G especially makes a difference there. They’re touching on automation, particularly vehicle automation. There’s also a lot happening in the financial sector, especially in phone “payments” and making it secure. IoT has a very wide range and Huawei has 80,000 research developers working on it, which is how they can focus on all those different areas and make a difference.

By Daniëlle Kruger
Follow Daniëlle Kruger on Twitter
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