Telecom Italia and Huawei team up for Rome innovation lab

The pair have laid the foundation for The Foundry, a project to help speed the time to market for the telco's new products.

Telecom Italia and Huawei have announced a three-year cooperation agreement to create a Business Innovation Centre (BIC) in Italy to develop new technologies and services.

Huawei will provide technical staff, skills, and international experience for the BIC while Telecom Italia will define which projects and services should be deployed, coordinate the various tasks, and use its own developers to customise the solutions created in the Foundry, tailoring them to its strategic goals.

The Chinese corporation, which employs roughly 600 people in Italy, is a long-time partner of the Italian one. The two started collaborating since 2007, when they launched the Mobile Innovation Center in Turin, followed one year later by the Network Innovation Center in Rome.

The BIC incubator, whose funding is slightly under €6m, will focus on strategies to reduce the time to market for new products and on the search for new business models. For Telecom Italia, Italy's largest telco, the move is the first part of a wider project called The Foundry, which will be launched in the next months. Telecom Italia intends the Foundry, as its name suggests, to be a hotbed of innovation, a lab in which to forge ideas and test the latest innovations before marketing them.

"That's why it will be located in Rome - near the marketing, customer care, and sales departments, so that the key decision-makers in our company will be able to fully evaluate the user-experience and suggest improvements springing from the everyday relationship with our customers," Telecom Italia's head of strategy Mario Di Mauro told ZDNet.

This auditing process will not involve just internal resources: focus groups with customers will also be held at The Foundry, as well as hackathons for independent web developers who will be encouraged to create new services on top of the technologies and the APIs released by Telecom Italia.

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Huawei is the first of several companies that will work with Telecom Italia at The Foundry. The number of staff working at the new 'lab' will vary according to which projects are being worked on. Telecom Italia will employ at least ten people, which will work side by side with other tech partners involved in the project.

One example of a project stoking Telecom Italia's interest is the development of products to change the smartphone into a digital wallet.

"We have already launched the first solutions for NFC mobile payments. In The Foundry, we'll work at other applications that can leverage the digital identity safely stored in the SIM and in the cloud, allowing users to store in their devices credit and debit cards, loyalty cards, public transportation tickets, and coupons for supermarkets," de Mauro said.

Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM), the company's cellular division, has been working on NFC products for a while now. In 2011, it signed an agreement with ATM, Milan's public transportation company, allowing a restricted number of customers to pay for their tickets via NFC as part of an initial pilot project. In 2013, it defined the guidelines for the development of mobile electronic payment systems with some of the most important Italian banks and issuers, and in July 2014 it launched Tim Wallet to handle credit card payments.

The customer's banking details are stored on a special, NFC-enabled SIM and all the users have to do is download the Tim Wallet app, and hold their smartphone near the service provider's contactless POS reader to make a payment. After experimenting in Milan for the next two years, Telecom Italia aims to make TIM Wallet available throughout Italy.

Other areas of research will include the Internet of Things and the smart home. "For what concerns services to municipalities and companies, we will focus on smart cities and the Internet of Things, to provide the services on which to build cities increasingly liveable and more environmentally sustainable," de Mauro says.

"For private customers, we imagine a house in which ultrafast broadband will change the way in which we live our domestic environment. We will be able to watch high-res on demand videos, save energy thanks to the interaction among the various household appliances, and introduce security systems that are easy to install and use," he adds.

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