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The Pipe Strategy: The Key to ICT's Potential

Jun 01, 2016 By Ryan Ding, President, Huawei Products & Solutions

At the Huawei Global Analyst Summit 2015, I spoke about three facets of innovation at Huawei: fundamental innovation, allied innovation, and open innovation. Fundamental innovation is at the heart of what Huawei does, and over the last year, we have made some very pleasing breakthroughs in this area. For example, Huawei and our partners developed standards for 4.5G which were ultimately accepted by 3GPP. Huawei helped China Mobile build the world's first large scale test site for 5G tech in Chengdu, and successfully completed field trials. Like Huawei, many companies across the industry are now starting to focus their development efforts on NB-IoT. In cloud computing, Huawei and Deutsche Telekom recently announced that the world's first carrier-operated public cloud will open for business very soon in Germany.

With our alliance partners, Huawei has also launched a number of projects. These include creating alliances for NB-IoT, 5G VIA, and OPNFV. Huawei has also formed strategic partnerships with leaders, such as Accenture, from many industries.

To support open innovation, Huawei held its first Huawei Developers Congress in 2015. Over 5,000 developers attended, laying a strong foundation for the future expansion of Huawei's open innovation programs.

At this year's two biggest global events, MWC 2016 and CeBit 2016, the buzzwords were undoubtedly IoT and virtual reality (VR). IoT will stimulate new demand for pipe bandwidth, and different players from the top to bottom of the industry are grouping into a wide range of alliances to shape IoT into a fully-fledged commercial industry. Then there’s VR – for many, the first thought that VR conjures up is simply worry at the sheer bandwidth it demands. But a deeper analysis shows that there are many more issues, including latency and how to safeguard the full, end-to-end experience.

For Huawei, the industries that emerge out of these two technologies will be vital opportunities and future growth hotspots for us. They include smart home, smart manufacturing, and the Internet of Vehicles.

Opportunities and challenges of a Better Connected World

Over the past few years, a series of incremental changes in the ICT industry have brought about fundamental change in the way the world connects. A Better Connected World is emerging, and huge business opportunities will appear with it.

First, a Better Connected World will demand new types of connections. Connections between people, connections between things, and connections between people and things – the number of users is set to explode by ten times or more. In most industries, 99 percent of productive resources are not yet connected. We believe that when they are linked electronically, businesses will find more opportunities.

Second, there will be opportunities for new types of experience. Up until now, the telecom industry has focused on the quality of the voice experience and browsing experience. Today, new ways of working and new types of experience are emerging from high definition video, like 2K, 4K, and 8K, and augmented reality (AR) and VR technologies. For example, Facebook has just announced that virtual reality will power its next generation of social media platforms. Alibaba has also launched a strategy for using VR to change the way people buy online. Authoritative sources predict that the online video market will be worth US$500 billion. Tag on AR/VR, and we’re looking at a trillion-dollar industry.

The third opportunity is the digitization and cloudification of the entire ICT industry. The scope for profiting from this transformation is coming swiftly into focus, and many carriers are now gearing up to enter the cloud market. They will leverage their existing infrastructure, networks, and experience in serving their local business communities to deliver public cloud services – public cloud will be another trillion-dollar industry.

All of the changes I’ve described are unfolding right before our eyes. New connections are linking to new businesses. New spaces for imagination are expanding. We’ll see more and more new kinds of products, new modes of service, and new channels of interaction and ways of doing business.

But as the world changes, it will present a series of new challenges to our ICT infrastructure – challenges on a scale never seen before. In terms of raw demand, we’re not looking at a doubling or tripling. It’s going to blow up by a factor of ten, or even one hundred. In terms of bandwidth for individual connections, a 30-40 Mbps connection is enough for a user to watch a 4K high definition video. But for a top quality VR experience, we need bandwidths of at least 5.2 Gbps. That means that over the next ten years, users will need their connection speeds to rise from an average of less than 10 Mbps today to thousands of megabits/second (i.e. gigabits), or even tens of gigabits. In terms of number of connections, there are about 5 billion devices connected to the Internet today. In ten years' time, there will be 100 billion. The volume of data usage will bring new challenges: today, the average data consumption per person, globally is less than 1 GB. By 2025, we will be consuming 1.7 GB of data per person every day. 

But Huawei believes that the toughest challenges will not be the scaling up that the figures above imply. We believe that the biggest challenge will come from the new diversity of ways and scenarios in which data is being used.

If you’ve followed the development of 5G standards, you’ll have noticed that the biggest break from previous generations of communications technologies is in the definition of the three separate scenarios that 5G must serve. The first scenario is eMBB (enhanced mobile broadband), which will mainly serve the needs of people using mobile devices. The second is mMTC (massive machine-type communication), which will serve huge numbers of device-to-device connections. The third major scenario is URLCC (ultra-reliable and low-latency communications). From its conception, the 5G market has included these three different scenarios, and that raises a problem for the telecom industry. We cannot build three independent networks to serve these three needs. So we will have to find a way to meet the needs of all the different industries we serve in just one network.

Huawei's pipe strategy

Huawei's strategy is to invest in enabling a more efficient, more integrated system for data logistics, connecting people with people, people with things, and things with things. Huawei's pipe strategy means a focus on the flow of data: its transmission, storage, distribution, and display. This data pipeline strategy is at the core of Huawei's business, and over the next few years, Huawei will be investing heavily in five big initiatives that build from this core strength.

The power of connections

The first key is connections. How do we expand the potential for connectivity to enable 100 billion Internet of Things connections? Metcalfe's Law tells us that the value of a connection rises with the square of the number of connections in a system, so to boost the value of our connections, we must make more of them. Huawei's Global Connectivity Index report found that connectivity represents a huge market. The value of connectivity to smart cities, and in other areas, is enormous. 55 percent of connections are in industry, and 45 percent are individual connections for personal consumption. IoT remains a challenging industry because it is fragmented into many different standards, interconnection is difficult, and applications are extremely varied. At MWC 2016, specialists in the field pointed out that some of the biggest challenges are not in connecting devices, but in security and data protection. What can Huawei do to address these questions?

Huawei's approach to IoT is to focus on connectivity, following a 1+2+1 strategy. The first 1 is LiteOS, the base layer IoT operating system. Huawei released this very lightweight OS in 2015, and its features include a tiny core of just 10K, millisecond latency, and ultra-low power consumption.

The 2 means two primary access modes: wired and wireless. Our IoT solutions enable Internet access, no matter how the device wants to connect. For wireless access, Huawei is focusing investment on NB-IoT, which offers ubiquity because of its breadth and depth of field. The Huawei NB-IoT solution generates 20 dB of gain over other technologies, and can support more than 100,000 IoT connections within a single cell. Battery life for devices can reach up to 10 years. In wired access, Huawei aims to make its solutions finer-grained, for deployment in enterprises, factories, and a wide range of scenarios.

The final 1 is the cloud-based IoT platform. This single platform enables access by tens of millions of IoT terminals, and ensures end-to-end security. The platform is also where we make the system open: The southbound interface enables fast integration, and can be configured to support any new terminal within five days. The northbound interface is also open, so that third party applications can connect to the Huawei platform and manage and monitor terminals on it.

For IoT, Huawei is focusing on four industries: telecom carriers, energy, manufacturing, and Internet of Vehicles. At the same time, Huawei will be helping to build up the broader IoT industry, and reduce some of the fragmentation that currently afflicts IoT. Huawei is a member of the NB-IoT Forum and OSGi Alliance, and will continue to push for the adoption of universal standards across the IoT industry.

The power of bandwidth

Another major issue for the industry is bandwidth. How do we deliver enough bandwidth to meet the needs of future customers? New technologies, like 4K and 8K HD video, cloud, and AR/VR, demand more bandwidth and a better experience. That’s why Huawei is confident that our ongoing investment in ultra-broadband will bear fruit.

Huawei has proposed that we need to build ultra-broadband networks to meet the needs of new technologies and form the foundation of the Better Connected World. In wireless, Huawei is focusing on developing 4.5G, to give every user a peak access speed of 1 Gbps or more. We have already achieved this target in networks built for Hong Kong Telecommunications and other carriers. In 2016, Huawei will build more than sixty 4.5G networks around the world. Huawei is also raising the bar in wired access. Our goal is that gigabit speeds should be available to everyone, not just those with fiber connections, but over copper or coax connections as well. In 2016, we will be deploying networks that enable gigabit access over copper last-mile networks.

But it’s important to remember that high bandwidth does not necessarily mean a good experience. For a good experience, a network must also offer low latency, high throughput, and broad coverage. Technology breakthroughs are needed at every stage in the end-to-end delivery of these high quality networks. Achieving high throughput requires that the network-wide routing protocols of networks affected by packet loss, latency, or restricted bandwidth respond dynamically, so that high volumes of video or VR data can continue to flow. The key to low latency is flatter networks with fewer layer transitions to slow signals. Codec standards can also improve performance: Huawei is promoting global use of High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), also known as H.265, which can reduce the demand for bandwidth by up to 30 percent. Another technical innovation by Huawei has been to evolve the Mean Opinion Score (MOS) standard for voice service quality into a new standardized system for assessing video experience quality, U-vMOS. Working with the ITU, Huawei is promoting this standard to help the entire industry accurately assess the quality of its video services. As a result, carriers are able to invest in every link of the end-to-end service chain, and see the value of their investment reflected in superior experience, rather than just pursuing ever larger bandwidth.

Other forward-looking technologies in which Huawei is investing address the challenges of VR/AR and the Internet of Vehicles. In these areas, Huawei is focusing on three key technologies.

The first, core technology is undoubtedly 5G. Over the past few years, Huawei has developed some revolutionary new technologies which enable 5G to carry data three times more efficiently than the current 4G standard. In a field test conducted by Huawei and China Mobile in Chengdu, we recorded peak speeds of 3.6 Gbps using the 100 MHz band, a very low band. We’re also looking at how 5G performs in high spectrum bands: at the MWC in February this year, Huawei presented a 5G prototype which demonstrated 40 Gbps of bandwidth over the 28 GHz band. With Deutsche Telekom, Huawei has unveiled a 5G showcase offering speeds of up to 70 Gbps over the 74 GHz band using 1.8 GHz bandwidth. Network slicing will be another core feature of 5G – at MWC 2016, Huawei and Deutsche Telekom also demonstrated end-to-end slicing in two different scenarios. Data was transmitted from the core network through to the air interface, and successfully recorded 1 ms URLLC and 1.5 Gbps speeds with slicing in effect. These demonstrations give us confidence that 5G will rev up mobile broadband, and spark a revolutionary wave of innovation in our industry. 

The second technology on which Huawei is focusing its investment is all-optical switching networks. When 5G arrives, carriers will need ever more powerful bearer networks linking their 5G base stations. At the MWC this year, Huawei demonstrated a 320 T all-optical switch, which requires just 200 W of power. This means that this revolutionary all-optical switching technology uses 99.9 percent less power than traditional switches. We will be running a pilot trial of this product in 2016, and by 2017 we plan to be installing it in customer networks. We’re confident that this revolutionary technology will drive a revolution in optical communications.

The third technology in which Huawei is investing is application-driven networking (ADN). SDN coordinates and allocates resources across the entire network to boost efficiency, but future networks will be more fragmented and serve more diverse scenarios. Whole-network rules for resource allocation may not apply, so ADN allows the user experience to drive the network. Resources will be allocated depending on specific application needs. Moreover, these resources will not only be fixed and wireless network bandwidth, but storage and computing resources. This assemblage will ensure that both human users and machine applications receive the best network connection experience, and the efficiency of the network will rise accordingly.

The power of data

Once again, the key is data, the oil of the digital age. Data will be the most precious resource for every company and every industry. Today, we’re seeing explosive growth in data, but data processing remains extremely expensive. For example, in China it currently costs about 5,000  yuan (US$800), to process one terabit of data. By comparison, data storage with Amazon costs about 2,000 yuan per year per terabit. With these high costs, how can we enable the value of the data? The only way is to shift IT infrastructure into the cloud to help customers mine economic value from their data. To do that will require three changes: first, restructuring hardware to solve speed and efficiency issues; second, improvements in software to enable resource sharing; and third, mining data for value to enable service innovation.

Huawei began investing in cloud technology in 2008. To date we’ve constructed over 660 data centers around the world, over 250 of which are cloud data centers. From the start, Huawei has maintained a uniform structure for its cloud engineering. This structure supports public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud; and it meets the cloud needs of a wide range of IT services. The hardware developed by Huawei includes SSD and the OceanStor OS, which has brought increased openness to the storage sector. 

In cloud computing, we’ve invested in core I/O chipsets, and in 2015 we launched the 32-socket KunLun server, also with open architecture. For software, Huawei has invested in three platforms: our FusionSphere cloud operating system, based on OpenStack; our FusionInsight Big Data platform, based on Hadoop; and FusionStage, our distributed PaaS platform. This software helps our customers to manage the full lifecycle of their data products. It also gives them the power to deploy services within seconds, and to configure their cloud environments within minutes: Ultimately, it helps customers be agile.

Agile and open platforms

To handle the increased diversity of application scenarios in future networks, Huawei's core strategy is first of all to cloudify and create more agile architecture, then to open up the platform and enable our partners.

Over the last few years, Huawei has stuck to the SoftCOM strategy, which is to gradually cloudify industries using cloud data centers. Cloudification has several levels: equipment, network, services, and operations. To enable equipment cloudification, Huawei is pushing for a gradual shift from virtualization to cloudification – from NFV to NFC. To support the cloudification of networks, Huawei launched the world's first carrier-class SDN controller this year. This unified platform enables control of a carrier's entire network, and combines network control functions for carrier networks, data center networks, and enterprise networks. 

To cloudify services, Huawei helps its customers achieve agile competitiveness by giving them a cloud-based business platform. Finally, to cloudify operations, Huawei's goal is to help its customers achieve Internetized operations. To support that goal, we will launch the world's first ICT-O product this year, which will help customers balance the needs of NFV and data centers for various resources. It will automate service deployment, centralize network control, and improve user experience.

Huawei has observed the increasing digitization of industries, and clearly recognizes one fact: Most companies lack a deep insight into all industries. Only telecom carriers have that breadth. That’s why Huawei's strategy is to focus on pipes, and to open up our technological resources: in information transmission, IoT connectivity, Big Data, and storage, and computing. We provide SDKs for our partners so that they will provide end-to-end solutions for different industries.

In 2015, we organized the first Huawei Developers Congress, and attracted 5,000 developers. By the end of the year, Huawei had 50,000 developers working worldwide. But Huawei's dream remains greater still: We hope that by 2020 we will have one million partners developing on Huawei's open platforms. To achieve this, Huawei announced in 2015 that it would be investing US$1 billion over the next five years to enable its partners to develop on the Huawei SDK platform. 

We’ve also built a dozen OpenLabs around the world to carry out interoperability testing with our partners and jointly innovate services. Our OpenLabs have built deep partnerships with more than 600 industry partners, including Microsoft and RedHat. When customers buy Huawei products, they’re buying not just the fruits of our development, but the combined wisdom of the ecosystem that supports us.

Digital transformation for carriers

Finally, and most importantly: How can Huawei help carriers complete their digital transformation? Huawei believes that the biggest challenge for carriers lies in the transformation of their ICT infrastructure over the next few years. Future customers will demand not just basic telecom services, but ICT services and a ROADS experience. At the MWC in both 2015 and 2016, Huawei held wide-ranging discussions with global carriers on the ROADS strategy and on digital transformation. We shared and learned a lot in these conversations, and as a result crystallized the Huawei strategy of focusing investment on three core platforms that will support next-gen carrier systems with an open, Internetized architecture.

The first platform is BES: The keyword for this platform is agility, with an online front end, service-based back-end, and cloud-based architecture.

The second platform is IES: The keyword for IES is automation. Its southbound interface integrates network resources like SDN, NFV, and CaaS; its northbound interface is open, and supports third party innovation. The Huawei IES is currently being piloted with Belgian Telecom and in Huawei's own public cloud.

The third platform is the Big Data platform. This is the core of the whole system. It makes both the BES and the IES smarter, more open, and more agile. Huawei is already working on a series of innovations and joint big data pilots with customers such as China Unicom Sichuan and China Unicom Shanghai. 

Speeding up digitization

Without a doubt, the Better Connected World will demand bigger bandwidth, faster networks, and more data. These are Huawei's most important strategic opportunities, and they’re where Huawei’s focusing its energy. Huawei's pipe strategy encompasses the transmission, storage, distribution, and display of information. Our R&D investment follows this pipe strategy. Huawei's ambition is to keep on investing, and to keep on developing value from connections, bandwidth, and data. At the same time, we will provide an agile network architecture and open platforms to speed up the digitization of our customers in every vertical, including telecommunications. 

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