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Slow path to smart city: Huawei Connect

“There is no such thing as a smart city solution”, says Huawei’s Joe So.

He says: “If anyone tells you they are doing it, they are lying1”.

So should know. While his official job title is chief technology officer of industry solutions, enterprise business group, So also serves as the telecom equipment maker’s smart cities specialist. He was speaking at this week’s Huawei Connect event in Shanghai.

Smart city still more a concept

He says there are many smart city components, but no single platform: it remains a concept more than a product.

Smart city technology is, to put it mildly, a slow burn. So says Huawei is involved in more than 100 smart city projects, yet he says it will take time before any of them deliver on the promise of being a true smart city.

He says government information is often not that smart. “All the systems government use are silos. They are not connected together.

“For a smart city to work you need an integrated, independent system. It has to be an open IT infrastructure and there must be great connections — you can’t have smart cities without connections”, says So.


So says that until recently the necessary connections were not in place. This has changed in the last three years. He says the smart city still won’t happen overnight because there is still a lot of work to be done. But the underpinning infrastructure is now in place.

In his presentation So showed slides outlining a handful of notable Huawei smart city projects. To no-one’s surprise, Singapore made the cut. So did Nanjing.

The Cameroon might not top your list of likely suspects, but it was up there. As was New Zealand.

At first sight this is surprising. Despite a lot of talk and a huge missed opportunity in Christchurch, New Zealand doesn’t have much in the way of formal smart cities . And yet Huawei’s Joe So thought it merited a mention.

UFB to underpin NZ initiatives

That’s because New Zealand is building the Ultrafast Broadband network. This is the communications infrastructure needed to make smart city projects viable.

It makes perfect sense from Huawei’s point of view to highlight UFB. Huawei may be moving fast into information technology but its core business is making telecommunications equipment. It supplies switches and other technology used to build the UFB network.

It also supplies technology for mobile phone carriers. Wireless is another way to build the connections.

Device, pipe, cloud

One of the themes hammered home again and again at Huawei Connect is that the company focuses on device, pipe and cloud. All three play an important role in any smart city project.

New Zealand’s UFB fibre network is being rolled out to the 75 percent of the population who live in towns. That’s almost the definition of a nationwide city-ready network.

Supplying the networks needed to build smart cities is a lucrative business. Building and marshalling pipes are what made Huawei big in the first place. It delivers the margins needed to invest in other markets such as applications for smart cities.

What remains to be seen is how far Huawei can move up the food chain. The company talks about using open technologies and of forming partnerships with other specialists. These would be essential. Yet, as So says, it seems the true smart city is still a concept.

  1. Here Joe So is referring to an all-embracing solution, there are products aimed at solving part of the smart city puzzle. Huawei launched its Safe City Integrated Communication Platform during Huawei Connect.