At Huawei, the future of the smartphone will be in the smart grid
Only six years after the release of its first own-brand smartphone, the Chinese Huawei occupies the 3rd place among phone manufacturers with 9.3% market share in the third quarter of 2016, behind Samsung (20%) and Apple (13% ), according to International Data Corp. A performance that is not due to chance for the Chinese manufacturer, originally specializing in network infrastructures and components, and which sells its phones today in 170 countries.
While its turnover is up 40% over the first six months of the year compared to last year, 60% of its income still comes from the network (antennas, cable). And on 60 billion turnover in 2015 (36.6 billion dollars between January and June 2016), Huawei devotes 15% of this amount to its R&D each year.
It is within the Science Park, in the “new territories of Hong Kong” – the Hong Kong equivalent of the Paris Saclay hub, that Huawei has installed its “Noah’s Ark Lab” since 2012, an artificial intelligence laboratory.
In total, the brand has 50 “research lab»And 18 R&D centers around the world. In France, where she opened four centers, it is the French Merouane Debbah, renowned researcher, who has been appointed vice president of R&D and director of materials and algorithms at Science Lab Huawei.
It is in this ten-storey building that its engineers test some of the technologies of tomorrow. “Our goal is to help businesses have a better future“, Explains the industrialist who is keen to remain a partner for the Chinese and foreign giants (Tencent, Adobe, VmWare, Google… or even Porsche for its latest” Mate 9 “phone).
Out of a battalion of 80,000 people for R & D, – mainly engineers, it is specified, a hundred works on the Noah’s Park projects. In France, out of 800 employees (and 170,000 overall), they are 140 to think about the future.
But unlike its counterparts in Silicon Valley, the Chinese group does not seek to make people dream. And to advocate an Asian pragmatism: “Small robots, watches and connected objects… We study the market value before developing any technology», Explains the brand created in 1987 by Ren Zhenghei, a 72-year-old Chinese man and former soldier in civil engineering.
Aware of its strengths at the heart of Chinese electronics and suppliers, Huawei sees its future beyond IoT, in networks: “Robots are not yet developed enough, even among our competitors. Apple watches are not good enough», Emphasizes Hang Li, the director of Noah’s Ark Lab.
The smartphone of the future is no longer one
Like all manufacturers, Huawei is focusing on 5G first, but also recognizes “do not have any data on the subject yet“. Its first tests should take place in Japan, where the need for connected services will be important with an aging population and overcrowded cities.
The smartphone of the future is the one that will know why I am in the car, what it will manage for me at this moment, and which fast path I will take. Here in China, the phone is already constantly near the wheel. With the IoT, we are moving towards ‘super connected’, ”predicts Kim Pen, founder of the protypage start-up WorkShop based in Shenzhen.
Like its big rivals, Huawei also indicates that it is working on programs to understand human language, thanks to machine learning on which it admits not to be “than to standards», We explain to the Lab. The Chinese thus seeks to follow the Samsung, which has just got their hands on a new personal assistant (Viv) or even Apple, and Google with its application “Allo”. “We are working on a SIRI solution that will be operational within 1 or 2 years, to make a difference”Says Bogdan Cautis, senior researcher at Huawei.
Beyond the IoT and the Smart Home for which the Chinese believe that the standards have not yet been defined, it is the entire connected universe that Huawei seeks to conquer.
We need something similar to the smartphone, and it won’t necessarily be one, but something connected, ”describes Hang Li.
In test with Shanghai Unicom
More than supporting the future, Huawei is considering digitizing the infrastructure. Also, within a few years, the network will no longer be just a transmitter and receiver; the industrialist works on the “dynamic control“. In the telecom world, it is above all a matter of optimizing network maintenance and planning data flows. Other sectors to which these services may apply are “supply chain and customer relations», Specifies the group.
Huawei compares its vision of the smart grid with car traffic. In fact, with its dynamic network, it will be able to give the number of users in real time, to establish a dynamic changing mapping to allow “intelligent management and automatic control», Explains the giant.
With this approach, the group intends first of all to attract the 50 telecom operators with whom they already collaborate, thanks to its new “crowd visualization“Allowing to obtain”heat zones according to population density“. Population tracking which must also provide projection models and ultimately achieve real savings in energy consumption. Ultimately, Huawei, which is testing its solution with the operator Shanghai Unicom (China Unicom), promises to reduce operator churn. To refine these data, the Chinese also benefit from public data as part of a partnership with the government. For now, Huawei’s tests are confidential, but the work of Siming chen, PhD student in computer science and finalist of a competition organized by the brand in 2015 gives the outlines:
On the user side, this intelligent network must improve performance, since the network is always the best wherever it is. The download rates of videos and photos are thus optimized, according to the group, which has dedicated 80,000 engineers solely to its network and 20,000 worldwide, solely to maintenance.
Huawei’s future is therefore less towards the consumer market, – despite its many partnerships and sponsorship of fooball teams around the world (AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico de Madrid, PSG, etc.) which give it a character of international brand, as in telecoms infrastructures. In Singapore, the giant has just opened in early November its first accelerator in partnership with the local government, thei5Labs, entirely dedicated to IoT and new network connectivity.
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