Huawei pushing into NB-IoT through partnerships and research

While Huawei is not aiming to deliver IoT products itself, it is pushing into the market by providing equipment and technologies through its partnerships with businesses and research organisations.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and 5G are Huawei's biggest opportunities for growth in Australia, according to the Chinese network technology giant, which is pushing into the IoT space via research programs and project partnerships.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on Monday, Huawei Australia chair John Lord said providing NB-IoT solutions for such businesses as the agricultural sector, wineries, cattle stations, and energy utilities including South East Water (SEW) is the future.

"What we've got to do in Australia now I think -- and we've been seeking seed funding for this for a while -- is really now starting to put in consolidated money into areas where we see business growth in the future ... it's the Internet of Things, narrowband IoT, projects like South East Water are the future," Lord said.

"We provide the pipe, we provide the equipment, the latest technologies, but we leave the partnership around it to actually deliver the product.

"We think as the new technology rolls out and business gets more into digitalisation and takes up IoT and takes up 5G, that will be more chance for Huawei in Australia."

Huawei, which unveiled its NB-IoT solution in July aimed at enabling telecommunications providers to "turn IoT into a basic service", has been providing a data platform for SEW's recent NB-IoT trials.

According to SEW CFO and GM of Corporate and Commercial Philip Johnson, the water utility had decided back in 2015 to take an NB-IoT path for its digitisation process, saying it is all about predicting and preventing things such as blockages before they occur, with NB-IoT enabling a "proactive space".

Also part of SEW's NB-IoT trials in 2016 were Vodafone Australia, which is providing the NB-IoT network across Melbourne; three vendors to deploy their NB-IoT smart meters on its network; and Microsoft's Power BI business intelligence product, which generates dashboards containing the collected data.

Johnson said SEW will be going to tender during 2017 for a pilot of 10,000 to 50,000 devices, but explained that the company's NB-IoT solution is not just about smart metering; its goal is to have 1 million device end points connected eventually, which will be made up of around 800,000 meters and 200,000 detectors in such end points as sewers, manholes, and fire hydrants.

SEW is also looking to implement APIs, like weather data from the Bureau of Meteorology and electricity data to control pricing based on the electricity market, onto its platform.

Andrew Forster-Knight, group manager of Intelligent Systems at SEW, told ZDNet that the company wants an open ecosystem with no vendor lock-in or proprietary systems, which is why it is utilising traditional telecommunications providers for its NB-IoT solution, in addition to servicing the last 5 percent of the population using LoRa technologies.

SEW is also aiming to bring the project down to a household level in order to provide personalised information for customers -- such as information on leaks and blockages that directly affect a particular customer -- and by providing access to exception-based data across smartphones. This will be delivered through an app, possibly by utilising SEW's existing relationship with Salesforce, Forster-Knight told ZDNet.

"Huawei has really been the driving force," Forster-Knight said, adding that the networking giant has been working with vendors behind the scenes to drive the partner ecosystem.

As part of its push into IoT, Huawei is also forming research partnerships across the country.

"We're still working out cooperative research arrangements," Lord said, pointing towards Huawei's NB-IoT lab opening last week in Queensland.

As part of this lab, Huawei invested in an IoT degree at James Cook University, with Lord saying it is not necessarily about the students, but rather about the development of NB-IoT apps and raising awareness about IoT opportunities for smart agricultural and farming solutions.

In terms of government involvement, Lord expressed the view that the Australian government is no longer lacking in support for IoT or 5G uptake.

"I would have said about three to six months ago they should have been doing more, but I think that we're now seeing that," Lord told ZDNet.

"I think now you're seeing these bodies form, you're seeing them all get together, you're seeing a 5G coordinating body that will also dispatch with the industry, which we consider is essential ... the Australian government I think is catching up very rapidly.

"The awareness has happened and the government now is really getting active in these areas."

While Telstra is currently partnered with Ericsson on developing and deploying IoT and 5G technologies, Lord said Huawei is continuing to "chip away" at Australia's incumbent telecommunications provider in an effort to build partnerships by continuing to offer lucrative technology solutions into the future.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert attended MWC in Barcelona as a guest of Huawei

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