This is my second year attending the Huawei Global Mobile Broadband Forum event, and this year’s event is in London. Ken Hu, Deputy Chairman and one of the Huawei rotating CEOs kicked off the event by asking: Is this the best time for mobile or the worst time? The stats? With some 5 billion mobile subscribers in the world, there are 120 countries that have a mobile penetration higher than 100 percent—and the highest is 300 percent penetration. The market is so crowded and the competition fierce. But for Hu and his team at Huawei, today is the very best time for mobile. Why? Their focus is on what the next big opportunities for mobile are, and how to catch those opportunities and explore them.
Consider this: Whether you’re a carrier, an application developer, or even a hardware maker, Hu suggests that the way to think about mobile is simple: What if there is another 1 billion subscribers waiting for us somewhere? (Hint: There are) Next, you’ve got to consider these things: What would you do? Who are they? Where are they? How can we engage with them?
Where are those next billion subscribers? Cows.
Cows? Yes, you heard me correctly. Cows. Modern connected cows.
What’s going on with these cows? They are new telco subscribers. Crazy, right? Actually, it’s not crazy at all. Things, and sometimes animals, are the new “subscribers” for telecommunications companies. Today, technology and telco carriers help dairy farmers to connect over 1 million cows—and they’ve made it a really successful business for both the farmers and the telcos.
Why are connected cows so beneficial? Think about it. Because of technology, connected cows can move further and graze longer. Farmers don’t have to wonder where they are, they know. In addition, a special collar in the neck is designed to collect biometric information from the cows. This connectedness helps the farmers better understand movement patterns, grazing habits, and body temperature of their herds. The end result—this process helps farmers better manage the milk production side of the business. As a result, every cow generates an additional $420/US dollars per year in profit, per year. For farmers, this is a 50 percent increase in revenue. Connected cows. It makes a lot of sense now, doesn’t it?
For carriers, this is especially significant. Every connected cow represents a new subscriber. That equates to some $10 per cow per year in revenue. Think about the global market for a moment, just as it relates to cows. In China alone there are more than 500 million cows, and there are another 500 cows in the US. Those two countries, more than 1 billion cows “subscribers” at $10 apiece – I think Hu’s point is pretty clear. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.
This is but one of many opportunities. There are connected sheep, and connected seals, both of which were mentioned in other presentations following Mr. Hu’s—and the possibilities are endless. Let’s touch on just a few of those possibilities and the numbers (and the potential) associated with them. There are:
- 20 million shipping containers
- 100 million new bicycles made every day
- 300 million LED streetlights lighting up cities and towns globally
- 8 billion water meters
- Remotely driven vehicles are soon to be ubiquitous
- Drones are saving lives and delivering packages
The list goes on and on, and the only limitation is imagination. It is cool—and it’s exciting. Especially if you’re in the telco business.
What is Huawei’s XLabs Wireless?
XLabs Wireless, was announced by Huawei at this event last year in Tokyo. In just one year, the research done by XLabs shows the opportunities for mobile are real and that what we collectively need to do (as business people and as carriers) is to take action. Huawei is passionate about and committed to fostering fresh minds in business that can lead to this action.
The reality of our world today is that everything can be connected, and everything will be connected—and those connections create unlimited possibilities. Hu identified three things that Huawei, and the team at XLabs Wireless, is committed to:
- Creating and fostering an environment for fresh minds and new thinking
- A commitment to building smarter networks
- A stronger ecosystem
The IoT presents many opportunities, but a different model is required in order to capitalize on those opportunities. Mr. Hu discussed the fact that with people connections, the service model is clear. You have subscribers, you provide a service to them. Simple. However, the IoT business and myriad opportunities presented by the IoT is incredibly diverse. Those opportunities require a variety of special solutions. The diversity of the IoT connections will present huge opportunities but different models will be required to make it work.
That is where the premise of Scale Out, Scale Up comes into play, discussed by Mr. Hu.
The process of Scaling Out is familiar to every business, that’s how you grow. With regard to the IoT powered by 5G networks, when it comes to Scaling Out, the focus should be on low hanging fruit. Like water meters, for example. In China, there are some 15 million new smart meters made every year. In 2017, there were 800,000 of those smart meters connected. More opportunity.
There are many other examples of low-hanging fruit that probably quickly come to mind. We are in the days of the Wild, Wild West, where opportunity is pretty much everywhere. So focusing on that process of scaling out is the first step. Then, once everything is connected, that’s when you Scale Up—which is all about developing and offering more value added services. Scaling Up, Hu mentions is not easy. It requires patience and an understanding of the vertical side. In order to be successful in the Scaling Up part of the process, Hu advises telcos to get more familiar with the scenarios of the IoT in the different sectors, and also advises a focus on developing very strong partnerships with application developers.
The Networks: A Challenge to Success
Next in his presentation, Mr. Hu covered networks and the challenges they present to forward progress. Previously networks have been designed to connect people. Now they need to connect areas. In order to support different applications and also deliver better performance (faster speed, lower latency), networks need to be diverse. On the application side of the equation, the existing model is fairly hands off, in spite of the fact that it’s getting more complicated and more diverse. Our networks are not ready (yet) for the future application of IoT, and our operational model is not sustainable for the long term. Further evidence of the need for fresh ideas and innovative thinking as it relates to future networks.
The success of future networks depends on three things: Operations, Data, and Intelligence. Let’s take a look.
Operations. A focus on operations must be an application-centric (software defined) one, providing stronger network performance, and bigger latency in lower levels.
Data-driven. It’s a given, of course, that networks must be data-driven. Mr. Hu’s presentation provided an example of what he called “Network Digital Twins” that you can see below.
When you consider the concept of “Digital Twins” it’s obvious that data is the connection between the two sides of the network—the physical side and the digital side. A dual focus here (that’s where the “twins” come in), will help derive better insights from network and will also help automate service provisioning, network, provisioning, and maintenance. This will provide a new method of introducing new pathways, which will help build networks that are more intelligent, which is the end goal.
Intelligent networks will be:
- Full autonomy
Networks of the future will be fully automated and there will be zero fault. Very cool to consider, especially in light of the fact that this is virtually around the corner.
What verticals will these networks be serving? All of them. Sound impossible? It’s not, but a stronger ecosystem is imperative.
Mr. Hu said that in the past the focus has been on connecting people. He equated this to the planting of a single tree. When we’re living in a world where technology drives everything, and your ultimate goal is to get everything connected, what you’re doing is planting a whole forest. That’s a lot of work, and it requires getting everything integrated into the ecosystem, build out, and connected.
What Do You Need to Plant that Forest?
Since planting a forest is the ultimate goal, it’s important to think about how to do that. Hu and Huawei posit that intelligent networks will that will rely on three things:
Success with that forest will require more platforms, stronger communities, and better alliances between chipset companies, drone manufacturers, telcos, platform developers, and verticial applications. Everything is connected. Everything is reliant on the other parts of the equation. And it’s complex. But the forest that will flourish as a result will be an amazing forest. These guidelines are true for Huawei, and they are true for just about any business transforming so as to flourish in our connected world, today and in the future.
The theme of this year’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum is “Mobile reshapes the world.” Mr. Hu closed his remarks by suggestion a rephrasing of that theme: Reshape the world with mobile technology.
Why? Technology can’t make things happen by itself—and that, according to Huawei, is where the telcos come in. Hu concluded that while there are many challenges are ahead, they are not insurmountable. Hu mentioned that in the Chinese language, there is but a single word for challenge and opportunity, and that’s “WeiJi”
The wisdom here is that from challenge comes opportunity, and when you think about it, it’s so very true. Hu suggested that the future requires we not focus on what limits us, but instead look at where we can be, as companies, as people, working together to make it the best time of mobile, the best time of business, the best time of life.
Much food for thought, and applicable for all of us, in any industry, in any vertical. We are living in exciting times, with exciting times ahead. Technology has changed, and will continue to change everything. That will present us all with many challenges, from which will undoubtedly come opportunity. A nice way of looking at the world, and our collective journey, isn’t it?
Disclaimer: The thoughts contained here are my own. Travel to London for the event and a ticket were provided by Huawei.
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”