It’s no surprise that Huawei, the biggest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world, has taken up to itself the task of laying out a concise plan for the development of smart cities. It has the size, the international reach and, most importantly, the resources. 

Representatives from the company, and the project itself, were recently present at the Smart City Expo World Congress (SCEWC) in Barcelona. There, they explained their aspirations with Huawei as a key piece in the development of these kind of cities. They also took advantage of the event to formerly launch their new Intelligent Operation Center (IOC). 

Huawei has been very vocal with its intentions, and the company not only has several concrete plans already in motion, but also several opinions on the matter as well. This is what Huawei had to say about its Smart City project. 

On challenging the concept of a “Smart City” 

One clear message from Huawei is its dedication to challenging what a Smart City really is. “Intelligent cities, not smart cities” was one of the most repeated arguments in the presentation. Though a clear differentiation wasn’t given, the name was inspired by the use of the term in its homeland of China, where that’s the actual name they use for what we call here in the west “Smart City”. 

The term might as well be an effort to differentiate itself from the competition at a marketing level, but that doesn’t mean there’s no intention the idea. For the company, it’s clear that these kinds of projects are holistic in nature, and must be carried out in long-term plans which will often take a while to bring results. 

It’s probably no coincidence that, then, that the company’s previously mentioned new platform is called Intelligent Control Center (IOC), which it identified as “the brain of smart cities“. The company has already helped to develop smart city solutions to more than 120 cities across 40 countries, and this is just the next step. 

For Huawei, there are no half-measures here. And improving citizen’s quality of life must always be the endgame. 

District of Longgang, Shenzhen

On smart safety (or “safe cities”) 

Building on that idea, rather than just implementing what we’ve come to know as “smart city solutions”, in other words, the company also made a focus on safety, which is committed to improving. 

One example was the Chinese district of Longgang, Shenzhen. The local government collaborated with Huawei by developing a “safe city solution framework” based on the basic principles of smart cities: collecting data and then applying it adequately.  

According to Huawei Enterprise global public safety expert, Augustine Chiew, there was also a predictive intelligence angle to it, as the intention was also to identify where and when potential crimes could occur. 

7,000 HD cameras with recognition technology were deployed across the district, and 34,000 legacy cameras from different public places were also connected. Police officers were given more than 7,000 smartphones that had access to all of that information in real time. According to official data, in the first half of 2017, theft and robbery in Longgang decreased by 53.2%, while case solvency grew 45.1% year-over-year. 

This instance was a great example of the next point. 

On government’s involvement 

Without the government’s involvement, there is, quite simply, no type of Smart City we can talk about. After all, in many ways, building a Smart City is the same as building a “Smart Government” at a local level. Huawei mentioned this repeatedly, emphasizing the need of collaboration between private and public sectors.  

To many, that might seem like an obvious statement. But for the company, it’s not just about getting approvals or permits, and it has a point. Government officials must be actively involved in whatever technologies are going to be implemented into the city. For the company, there should always be a “leader” that oversees the project. And ideally, that shouldn’t be anyone less than the mayor of the city itself, with a dedicated team behind him. 

Governments, either at a local or federal level, can introduce policies that will ensure more efficient developments. It’s also important to conceive every project differently, depending on where it’s happening. “Different cities have different pains,” was one of the main messages of the company, which stressed that in China, the government had a very different approach to smart cities, because some could be self-sufficient.  

In countries like Kenya, where the company worked before, the focus was “different”, as well as the speed and funding, insinuating that the cities there had to get funding from external investors. 

On the technology itself 

The company couldn’t stress enough how complex and comprehensive of a process was deploying smart city solutions. Because of that, several types of technologies are required to function and, even beyond that, collaborate with one another. Cloud computing, Big Data, IoT and Wi-Fi solutions are some of the most important that the company mentioned. Of course, others like machine learning and AI are also important to provide insights and efficient solutions.  

Yan Lida, president of Huawei Enterprise Business Group, explained: “A smart city is like a living organism, which is powered by a nervous system. This smart city nervous system comprises a ‘brain’ [the control center] and ‘peripheral nerves’ [the network and sensors], gathering real-time information about the status of the city, transmitting the data, enabling the ‘brain’ to analyze and make informed decisions, delivering feedback commands, and ultimately carrying out intelligent actions.” 

Any city will give huge amounts of data if properly measured. The new Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) is able to aggregate all of that data coming from several parts of the city into one place, an indispensable part of the process. It can also make decisions on “key events” by itself.. 

On data security and privacy 

It goes without saying, but cybersecurity is one of the most important parts of smart cities. That’s because a Smart City can’t function (or be conceived, even) without the big data compiled by the chain of technologies involved in the process.  

Answering to a question about EU privacy laws, Huawei was firm with its statement, saying that it’s compliant with the laws from different countries and/or regions. The company was clear about one thing: they didn’t touch the data, nor were they interested in monetizing it. “We are not like those “internet companies”. 

It’s a challenge that will surely be more prominent as smart cities growth, because the huge quantities of sensible data will present not only risks, but also moral and ethical clashes. This is one more instance where the government’s involvement will prove to be a key factor.