Narrow-band IoT announcement on track for Huawei

After NB IoT standards 'freeze' in June 2016, Huawei is expecting to make its own announcement during the second half of the year, with plans to then implement smart parking at Shanghai Disney.

After years of collaboration between a consortium of tech giants and telecommunications carriers on the narrow-band Internet of Things (NB IoT), the 3GPP standards will reach a concrete form in June this year, with Huawei undertaking trials across the globe ahead of its own announcement in the second half of 2016.

The industry has been looking into cellular NB IoT for several reasons including cost, scale, and security.

"It's the scale," Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss told media at the Chinese tech giant's research and development (R&D) lab in Shanghai on Thursday.

"It allows for a lot of devices to be working on the network at the same time ... the security's said to be much stronger than Wi-Fi, because it's over a cellular network, and it's also the cost; they're talking about $5 per unit, which is attractive when talking about so many devices.

"So it's cost, the scale as well, and then it's good for the telco industry as well, because it allows them to use the existing resources or upgrade them to get more. It opens up new revenue streams."

Schloss added that Huawei is looking into NB IoT with a particular interest at the verticals made possible by the technology.

"It's the vertical industry approach which is attractive to Huawei, and also the operators as well; it lets them and Huawei become more involved with industries," he said.

"We need to work with the operators to access these industries: Mining, for example, linking up mining operations with the trucks that are moving around, and having censors all attached to that; agriculture, utilities, retail as well."

Schloss pointed towards three levels of IoT: Fast-moving, for high-speed video and similar applications; mid-level, which is for retail point-of-sale applications; and low-level, which involves the utilities, smart metering, and smart parking.

Smart parking has been trialled across the globe by Huawei over the past few years, with the company announcing alongside China Unicom July 2015 that they would be collaborating on rolling out smart parking and a 4.5G network to the Shanghai Disney Resort.

"Aiming to further contribute to the modernisation of Shanghai as a tourist destination through the introduction of the Internet of Things ... Huawei and China Unicom Shanghai will first deploy a 4.5G network at the Shanghai Disney Resort," Huawei said last year.

"High-quality cellular IoT services will be deployed, including smart parking, smart people flow management, and smart bands during initial stages. Innovative service applications including 2K/4K video services, virtual reality, and LTE-Vehicle will then be introduced within the next three years, providing world-leading high-quality mobile broadband services."

According to a source from Huawei, Shanghai Disney will not have the smart parking service in operation upon opening its gates in June; instead, it will be implemented over the next couple of years.

"Disney in Shanghai has an agent called Shundi ... for the resort. And Huawei, China Unicom, and Shundi have reached an agreement to introduce 4.5G to that resort. And as part of that, there's a smart parking option that will be introduced in the next two years," a Huawei source said.

"It's envisaged as part of a smart city concept ... it's basically a smart city approach, and with this NB IoT, it's smart parking."

Huawei has undertaken several other smart parking trials in the meantime, including with Etisalat last year, allowing it to refine its sensor-based system.

"There's a sensor -- we're looking at telecom operators who are putting in sensors in parking spaces indoor and outdoor, which detect when a vehicle's there or not," Schloss said.

"When the vehicle moves away from the sensor, a signal is sent, and drivers who are using the apps on their phones are alerted to the parking spots nearby that are vacant, so they can find it more conveniently."

Technology companies are able to work directly with vendors on smart parking, Huawei added.

"An operator can work with a vendor, and an evolution I've heard about with smart parking is that the driver's mobile wallet then gets deducted for the parking time and the fee ... so it becomes all integrated and quite seamless."

At Shanghai Disney there will also be a "people flow application", according to a source from Huawei, to track the flow and movement of people within the resort.

China, which currently sits on a 4G network, will introduce 4.5G in due course. Shanghai Disney will itself be enabled by a China Unicom public network available inside of the resort.

Speaking at the Huawei Analyst Summit in Shenzhen on Monday, Huawei's president of Products and Solutions Ryan Ding outlined the company's efforts in improving both fixed and wireless broadband networks, with plans to continue testing and moving from 4G towards a 4.5G mobile network before the arrival of 5G in 2020.

"Last year, I was very glad to see that 4.5G was accepted ... the official name is called LTE-Advanced," said Ding.

"In wireless broadband, we are focusing on 4.5G; we're using MIMO to realise high peak rates.

"In 2016, we're going to deploy more than 60 4.5G networks."

Ding also discussed Huawei's core strategy for the IoT itself, outlining a three-pronged approach.

The foundational layer of this involves what he called Huawei's "lite OS", which enables low-latency and energy-saving things to be connected to the IoT. The second layer involves collaboration between wired and wireless connections to ensure that connectivity is ubiquitous and coverage is enhanced. The third and final step is to invest in a cloud-based IoT connectivity management platform by which Huawei can ensure tens of millions of connections of devices, and fast integration of these.

"Our strategy on IoT is to focus on connectivity," added Huawei CEO Eric Xu on Monday.

"And that's going to be an intrinsic part of our mission around building a better-connected world ... connecting more things to the network."

Huawei has been working on a chipset and modules to promote the development of IoT for its partners to take advantage of, while also collaborating with telcos to come up with a standard that is "conducive for the carrier network to carry more IoT connections".

While the chief executive recognised the importance of securing a much higher number of connected things to the internet, he said service providers shouldn't wait for this to be solved before innovating on the IoT.

"Security is a very, very important part of the IoT. It's the very issue that the entire industry has to work on through innovation and through technology," the CEO said.

"Having said that, I think there is no need for us to wait until the security issue is fully resolved, as that may take years."

The level of required security varies between IoT devices, he pointed out, and the industry can begin in areas where it is not much of a concern, such as with smart parking.

To ensure its continued success, Huawei has more than 79,000 R&D engineers, amounting to 45 percent of its total workforce, 16 R&D centres, 36 joint innovation centres worldwide -- including a AU$30 million National Training and Innovation Centre in Sydney as well as centres in China, Germany, Sweden, Russia, and India -- and R&D investment amounting to approximately $37 billion over the last 10 years.

The company invests at least 10 percent of its sales revenue back into R&D each year, with 15.1 percent of its 2015 sales revenue being invested last year.

Huawei filed the highest number of patent applications worldwide during the course of 2015, making 3,898 applications, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization. Trailing were Qualcomm, which filed 2,442 patent applications; ZTE, which filed 2,155; and Samsung, which filed 1,683.

According to Huawei, it has had a total of 50,377 patents authorised, with 52,550 patent applications made in China and 30,613 patent applications made outside of China.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to China as a guest of Huawei.