In recent decades, China has achieved an unprecedented rise in the rate and scale urbanization, partially due to the positive capabilities of ICT. In a recent speech, Zheng Zhibin shared his thoughts on the key technologies needed to build platforms, drive cooperation, and enable Smart Cities for the modern age.
1. China Has Increased Its Urbanized Population by Nearly 40 Percent Over 40 Years
After a series of reforms in the 21st century, China increased the proportion of urbanization by a factor of three (from less than 20 percent to nearly 60 percent) from 1975 to 2018. This is astonishingly fast when you consider the size of China’s population. In comparison, it took hundreds of years for the U.K., the U.S., France, and other developed countries to achieve this rate.
Many economists characterize China’s urbanization as a miracle of the 21st century. We are proud of this feat, but it has given rise to many problems, and we now face the following challenges:
City infrastructure fails to support social development
Public services do not meet residents’ needs
City information is not fully integrated or shared
Further, the urbanization process has spawned a variety of issues like traffic congestion, air pollution, medical and educational resource shortages, ‘garbage sieges,’ frequent public safety incidents, and land-use conflicts. These issues are not unique to China, but are common in most developed countries; however, given the size of China’s population, resolving these issues is uniquely challenging.
2. Digital Transformation Is Fueled by ‘Customer + Business + Architecture’ and ‘AI + Big Data + Cloud’
As a technology, products, and solutions provider, Huawei recognizes that China’s demand for Smart City planning and development requires the rise of a new era for information technologies.
At present, many technology giants across the world are championing digital transformation. Technology and informatization are powerful enablers and promoters of digital transformation, but what are the fundamental driving forces?
Digital transformation is driven by two concerns — business and technology. Specifically, it is a V-shaped model:
The first line is Customer + Business + Architecture (CBA), with a focus on citizen benefits and propelling economic growth through customer-centric business practices.
The second line, AI + Big Data + Cloud (ABC), is the standardized technical architecture developed on the first line with a focus on driving business development.
The two lines progress and coexist concurrently with one another. However, Huawei prefers to use CBA as the primary measure and ABC as a supplement directed at the development and promotion of the Smart City ecosystem and the quality of life improvements that follow.
3. AI-enabled Facial Recognition Creates Value in a Range of Scenarios
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies create different values in different scenarios.
Facial recognition is a hot-topic technology that offers a range of application scenarios. We have even deployed facial recognition systems at Huawei’s main campus.
Facial recognition technology not only provides general social and economic benefits, but also plays a vital role in Safe City operations by ensuring safety and maintaining social stability.
The three scenarios below reveal the benefits of combining business with technology, per the CBA and ABC initiatives described above:
Scenario 1 – Job attendance: Facial recognition accurately monitors employee attendance, eliminating the need for employees to scan company badges in and out of work.
Scenario 2 – Security: New barrier gates allow employees to enter buildings based on facial recognition, which takes less than 1.5 seconds and eliminates the need for fixed security guards, saving roughly USD 14,600 (CNY 100,000) per year per guard, or USD 1.46 million (CNY 10 million) per year for every 100 security guards.
Scenario 3 – Schools and classrooms: Facial recognition cameras can be placed at school gates and classroom doors. The cameras can immediately identify students entering and exiting the campus, and then send SMS messages to their parents.
The economic and social values of each scenario can be estimated and monetized, but how can we measure the impact that the technology is making in specific scenarios? And, how do we invest resources into new technologies to further maximize the social and economic benefits?
4. Use the ‘Platform + Ecosystem’ Strategy to Develop a Sustainable Ecosystem on a Unified Digital Platform
As demonstrated in the case of Gaoqing’s hazardous chemical supervision network, cutting-edge technologies are required when the objective is to improve the management of industrial chemicals.
Huawei began work on the Smart Gaoqing project by developing application scenarios in 10 domains, identifying the commonalities between scenarios, and designing an open architecture based on the CBA. The service divisions were specified to give full access to every person.
We determined that various service requirements in Gaoqing’s Smart City scenario needed common resources, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), which supports hazardous chemical detection. In addition, big data support, full-domain video surveillance, command and dispatch systems, and Geographic Information System (GIS) services are all common needs.
A basic platform was built to aggregate data and share capabilities based on these elements, and upper-layer applications use those capabilities to accelerate development.
This is the ‘unified digital platform’ we deployed in Gaoqing County.
5. Cities Need Innovative, Open Ecosystems like Smartphones Have
We can use the evolution of mobile phones to better understand Smart City development.
Traditional feature phones were not smart, and vendors uniformly provided closed-system products to end-users.
Apple and Google, however, have disrupted the worldwide mobile phone industry by developing smartphones that include open interfaces that encourage third-party developers to participate in the market.
‘Smart’ phones are the result of powerful processing capabilities and rich software platforms that greatly expand the field of applications. Smartphone vendors need not provide these specific functions themselves, because they allow developers to independently innovate applications in the smartphone ecosystem.
The diversity of third-party smartphone applications and success of the ‘natural selection’ mechanism has long exceeded the expectations of the vendor community where an application’s value is decided by end users in a competitive ecosystem.
These changes in the consumer sector are also emerging in the enterprise and government markets.
If we compare a Smart City ecosystem to the smartphone ecosystem, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure for each city is analogous to smartphone handsets and the systems to which they connect. Both feature strong performance, robust computing and storage resources, and high-speed network connections. The digital Operating System (OS) for each city is open and standardized like a smartphone OS. City application systems have diverse needs, and the best outcomes occur when the efforts of all social forces are combined. Ripe to adopt the same properties of natural selection as are seen in the mobile telephone market, Smart City ecosystems promote the creativity of entire societies.
Cities vary greatly. In all cases, residents, businesses, and visitors need to have agile, fast, and innovative applications. The digital transformation of cities is propelled by the urgent requirement for architectural innovation throughout their ICT-based Smart City infrastructures.
Traditional innovation chains feature long development cycles, including the example of smartphones: Vendors identify requirements and contact integrators who transfer them to software developers. Software developers create services and bring technical requirements to hardware developers. Hardware developers assess and accept the requirements, initiate development, and then deliver the hardware. Software developers then develop and deliver the software. Such a long period cannot meet the demands of a Smart City.
The bottom-level of hardware innovation requires heavy investment and long periods for development. For example, advanced silicon chips routinely take three or more years from design to production. Engineering projects at this scale create risk and require continuous investment to be delivered.
Smart City OSs are currently updated once or twice a year. However, large numbers of upper-layer applications require rollouts that are rapid and agile. Development periods are often reduced to months, or even days. Huawei’s goal is to empower all social forces throughout the industry chain to pursue innovation. Though the needs of government and industry may vary greatly, the specific needs for each is addressed through a robust ecosystem that boosts platform innovation.
Users select from a growing diversity of Smart City applications provided by developers that operate independently of the system vendors. The value of such applications is driven by popularity, and the developers ought to be rewarded to ensure continuous iterative improvements. In this way, we are building a Smart City ecosystem that maximizes the impact of urban digital transformation.