At MWC Shanghai, Joy Tan, President of Global Media and Communications at Huawei, speaks about how mobile innovation has changed people’s lives and helped achieve sustainable development goals.
The world feels super connected these days. In my industry, we're constantly talking about things like the Fourth Industrial Revolution, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things. But no matter what line of work you’re in, you’re probably tied to your smartphone, reliant on constant connectivity.
It's not like that everywhere in the world. There are still 3.8 billion people who are not connected to the internet – roughly half the earth’s population. Five billion people don’t have a smartphone.
Last year on Single’s Day, China’s biggest online shopping holiday, Chinese spent more than $25 billion dollars in 24 hours frame buying clothes, appliances, TVs and anything else you can think of.
But elsewhere in the developing world, 1.7 billion adults do not have any access to banking services. For them, being connected isn't about getting a great deal on a new big screen TV; it's about basic economic inclusion. It is a path out of poverty.
Then there’s education. In the US, 90% of kids in the US use a digital device at home to supplement their school work. Two out of three start at age five.
But in countries like Zambia, one computer will support more than 500 students. Earlier this year, a teacher in Ghana went viral for teaching his students how to use Microsoft Word using a chalkboard: he would draw each screen on the board, and walk through the functions one by one.
Last year, in the developed world, Netflix users watched more than a billion hours of streaming video every week, or an average of 10 hours per user per week.
In emerging markets, by contrast, the average mobile data consumption per person is about 10MBs a day. That would support about 5 minutes of streaming video each week.
So, although the world may feel super connected, the gap between the Haves and the Have-nots is still huge.
For those people in distressed regions of the world, connections are a lifeline. They let you send, spend, and receive money. They give you access to healthcare and health-related information. Connections give farmers the ability to access market place, and children the chance to get an education.
For those people, connections create hope.
To bring hope to as many people as possible, we need to ask ourselves: What can we do better? What specific aspects of connectivity can we address – what problems can we solve? – in order to bring hope to more people?
Five major challenges get in the way of better connectivity in developing regions.
• Coverage, or infrastructure – the most basic challenge we need to overcome
• High costs for carriers and for users
• Digital skills – meaning both awareness of digital technology and the skills to get the most out of it
• Applications and local content, which help drive adoption.
At Huawei, we are innovating to solve two of these challenges: coverage and cost.
In Ghana, nearly a quarter of the population has little or no internet access. That’s a problem of coverage.
And in a village with 1500 inhabitants, a telecom operator would have to wait 10 years to recoup the cost of a single base station. Building a base station in these villages costs more compared to deploying one in a city, due to the lack of adequate electricity and transmission networks. In some rural areas, only about 40% of the population is connected to the power grid. Each household gets several hours of electricity every day. And without fiber or microwave links, transmission would need to use satellite, which is prohibitively expensive.
To help telecom operators go the last mile, Huawei developed a solution called RuralStar. It uses special equipment to cut down the power to about 200 watts, equivalent to the power of about five regular light bulbs. This allows it to use solar panels in areas with little or no electric power.
Additionally, it uses LTE self-backhaul instead of microwave to connect to the networks. That means you don’t need a direct line of sight to the next base station. You also don’t need a 30-meter tower made of metal. It's compact, so you can build a cell tower with a simple wooden pole.
This solution gave Ghanaian villagers connectivity, solving the problem of coverage. And for operators, the solution cut in half their total cost, while reducing deployment time by 70%. The carrier was able to break even on its costs with only 1,500 subscribers instead of 5,000 – and to do so within three to five years, instead of 10.
Another Huawei cost-cutting solution is called PowerStar. In many emerging markets, energy costs can account for up to one-third of a carrier’s total cost of ownership. As we deploy more base stations and radio access technology for better coverage and user experience, energy costs is becoming a huge limiting factor.
Powerstar uses AI to analyze patterns of data traffic and reduces energy consumption during periods of low traffic. It helps operators lower their energy costs by 10% to 15% and makes it more economical to provide connections.
At the same time, costs for the end users come down as well. And of course, the lower carbon output delivers real environmental benefits. If only 10% of all Huawei base stations used PowerStar, we could reduce carbon emissions by 600,000 tons each year. That’s equivalent to planting 15.5 million trees and letting them grow for 10 years.
The great South African leader, Nelson Mandela, talked about a concept called Ubuntu. It says, “We are human only through the humanity of others.”
It’s a reminder to all of us that bringing hope to distressed parts of the world will always be a collaborative undertaking. Huawei is committed to playing a part in this process, and I know all of you are doing the same. It’s a long-term effort, but together, we can make a difference – and make the world a better connected, and more hopeful place.