UK government grapples with bias in artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has enormous potential for good, but with applications processing data faster than we can comprehend, how do you protect against bias?

To address this issue, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has unveiled the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, with one of the first project focusing on the idea of programmed or learned bias in the algorithms which power AI.

“Technology is a force for good and continues to improve people’s lives but we must make sure it is developed in a safe and secure way,” said Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright. “Our Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has been set up to help us achieve this aim and keep Britain at the forefront of technological development.

“I’m pleased its team of experts is undertaking an investigation into the potential for bias in algorithmic decision-making in areas including crime, justice and financial services. I look forward to seeing the centre’s future recommendations to help make sure we maximise the benefits of these powerful technologies for society.”

First up, the new centre will partner with the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit to explore potential for bias in crime and justice. As more applications emerge for use in the world of policing, assessing the likelihood of re-offending for instance, a lack of research on the potential of bias makes for a very dangerous scenario.

The algorithms which are in place might not demonstrate any bias at any point in the future, but implementation without understanding the risk is incredibly irresponsible. When these applications are used to inform decisions about policing, probation and parole, there is a very real-world consequence. Proceeding without such safeguards for bias in place is leaving developments down to chance.

This is of course just one application of AI, though the increased use of AI is becoming much more common. In recruitment, computer algorithms can be used to screen CVs and shortlist candidates, or in financial services, data analysis has long been used to inform decisions about whether people can be granted loans. The idea of unconscious bias can be applied to both instances with vert detrimental outcomes. In the recruitment case, there have already been reports circulating of gender bias.

Technology giant Amazon is one of those firms which got caught unawares. In 2014, Amazon began building an application which would review the CVs of the thousands of applicants it gets every week, giving each CV a rating between one and five stars. In 2015, it realised the application was not assessing the CVs in a gender-neutral manner, favouring male applicants for more technical roles.

The complication perhaps arises when machine learning applications search for attributes which are traditionally associated with roles. For a computer, data is everything and stereotypes are there for a reason, therefore it would appear to be a very logical decision to make.

This type of conundrum is one of the main challenges with AI. As these machines are driven by data and code, it is very difficult to translate ethics, morals, acceptable tolerances, nuance and societal influences into a language it understands. These are also limited applications, built for a single purpose. In the recruitment case, it looks at past attributes to decide, but does not have the ability to understand context. In this instance, the context would be sexism is not acceptable, but as the machine does not have the general knowledge or understanding of a human, how would it know?

This is the finely balanced equation which both industry and government have to assess. Without slowing the wheels of progress, how do you protect society and the economy from the known unknowns and unknown unknowns?

What is developing is the perfect catch-22 situation. The known challenges are known, but without a solution progress is a risk. Then you have the unknown challenges, those which might be compounded through progress but without anyone being aware until it is a complete disaster.

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is an excellent idea to benefit society in numerous ways. But, it faces an almost impossible task.

New Zealand telcos pen tech CEOs scathing letter over terror attack virality

New Zealand’s biggest telecoms providers have penned a scathing letter to several tech CEOs over failing to prevent a terror attack video from going viral.

A far-right terror attack targeted at the Islamic community in New Zealand left 50 dead and many injured. The perpetrator live-streamed part of the attack on Facebook.

Copies of the video spread like wildfire across social media platforms and Silicon Valley giants have failed to explain why they were unable to stop it.

Here is the letter jointly penned by Spark, Vodafone NZ, and 2degrees:

Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO, Facebook

Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter

Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google  

You may be aware that on the afternoon of Friday 15 March, three of New Zealand’s largest broadband providers, Vodafone NZ, Spark and 2degrees, took the unprecedented step to jointly identify and suspend access to web sites that were hosting video footage taken by the gunman related to the horrific terrorism incident in Christchurch. 

As key industry players, we believed this extraordinary step was the right thing to do in such extreme and tragic circumstances. Other New Zealand broadband providers have also taken steps to restrict availability of this content, although they may be taking a different approach technically.

We also accept it is impossible as internet service providers to prevent completely access to this material. But hopefully we have made it more difficult for this content to be viewed and shared - reducing the risk our customers may inadvertently be exposed to it and limiting the publicity the gunman was clearly seeking. 

We acknowledge that in some circumstances access to legitimate content may have been prevented, and that this raises questions about censorship. For that we apologise to our customers. This is all the more reason why an urgent and broader discussion is required. 

Internet service providers are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, with blunt tools involving the blocking of sites after the fact. The greatest challenge is how to prevent this sort of material being uploaded and shared on social media platforms and forums.

We call on Facebook, Twitter and Google, whose platforms carry so much content, to be a part of an urgent discussion at an industry and New Zealand Government level on an enduring solution to this issue.

We appreciate this is a global issue, however the discussion must start somewhere. We must find the right balance between internet freedom and the need to protect New Zealanders, especially the young and vulnerable, from harmful content. Social media companies and hosting platforms that enable the sharing of user generated content with the public have a legal duty of care to protect their users and wider society by preventing the uploading and sharing of content such as this video. 

Although we recognise the speed with which social network companies sought to remove Friday’s video once they were made aware of it, this was still a response to material that was rapidly spreading globally and should never have been made available online. We believe society has the right to expect companies such as yours to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms.

Content sharing platforms have a duty of care to proactively monitor for harmful content, act expeditiously to remove content which is flagged to them as illegal and ensure that such material – once identified – cannot be re-uploaded. 

Technology can be a powerful force for good. The very same platforms that were used to share the video were also used to mobilise outpourings of support. But more needs to be done to prevent horrific content being uploaded. Already there are AI techniques that we believe can be used to identify content such as this video, in the same way that copyright infringements can be identified. These must be prioritised as a matter of urgency.

For the most serious types of content, such as terrorist content, more onerous requirements should apply, such as proposed in Europe, including take down within a specified period, proactive measures and fines for failure to do so. Consumers have the right to be protected whether using services funded by money or data.

Now is the time for this conversation to be had, and we call on all of you to join us at the table and be part of the solution. 

The letter acknowledges the huge task faced by the platforms. Facebook claims it removed 1.5 million videos in the first 24 hours after the attack (1.2 million before they were seen by users).

AI has played a part in detecting and removing such content, but YouTube noted its software failed to work as expected. A team of YouTube executives worked through the night to remove tens of thousands of videos that were uploaded as quickly as one per second in the hours following the massacre.

YouTube’s engineers “hashed” the video so any clones of the video uploaded would be automatically deleted. However, the many edited versions were unable to be picked up by the algorithm.

There's no clear solution to the problem, but more effort needs to be made to find one. Such a horrific video should not have been able to spread as it did.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

Money is piling up in the US 24 GHz auction

Over 30 companies have put more than $560 million in bid money on the table at FCC’s auction for the 24 GHz frequency. And this is only the beginning.

Following the underwhelming auction of the 28 GHz (dubbed Auction 101) spectrum, which only returned $703 million, the new auction of the 24 GHz (dubbed Auction 102) is heating up quickly. The auction started last Thursday and has gone through 11 rounds of the first phase of the auction, or the “clock phase”, when participants bid on a Partial Economic Area (PEA) blocks. By the end of round 11, the gross proceeds have reached a total amount of $563,427,235. There are still two days, or six more rounds to go, before the winners can move to the next phase of the process.

The “assignment phase” will allow the winners from the first phase to bid for specific frequency licence assignments. The total bid value for the 24 GHz frequencies could go up to between $2.4 billion and $5.6 billion, according to the estimate by Brian Goemmer, founder of the spectrum-tracking company AllNet Insights & Analytics, when he spoke to our sister publication Light Reading.

The key difference the has driven up the interest from the bidders for Auction 102 is the locations where the frequencies are made available. While major metropolises like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, were absent from 28 GHz auction, they are all on the current 24 GHz auction together with other major cities that would be the candidates for the 5G services to roll out in the first wave.

Bidders have included AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and more than 30 other companies. The FCC will announce the winners including those from Auction 101 only after both phases of Auction 102 are completed.

In addition to bidding for mmWave frequencies, operators like AT&T are also actively refarming the lower frequency bands in their possession that are used to provide 3G services. AT&T sent a notice to its customers in February that it will stop 3G only SIM activation, urging customers to move to LTE. The company said “we currently plan to end service on our 3G wireless networks in February 2022.” Specifically the company is planning to refarm the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz frequency bands, saying “it may be necessary for us to turn down one band of our owned and operated 3G network, such as 1900 MHz or 850 MHz service”.

Considering the AT&T only switched its 2G networks off at the beginning of 2017, this is a clear sign that the generational transition of mobile telecom services is accelerating. Earlier in the middle of last year, Verizon confirmed that it will shut down its 3G CDMA networks by the end of 2019. Even earlier at the MWC in 2017, T-Mobile’s CTO Neville Ray said the company was looking to sunset both GSM and WCDMA.

Europe fines Google another €1.5 billion after belated Android concession

US search giant Google has received yet another fine from the European Commission, this time for abusing its dominant position in online advertising.

Specifically this ruling refers to ads served against Google search results embedded in third party websites. The EC doesn’t like the way Google used to go about this and, having reviewed loads of historical contracts between Google and these other websites, found the following:

  • Starting in 2006, Google included exclusivity clauses in its contracts. This meant that publishers were prohibited from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages. The decision concerns publishers whose agreements with Google required such exclusivity for all their websites.
  • As of March 2009, Google gradually began replacing the exclusivity clauses with so-called “Premium Placement” clauses. These required publishers to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and request a minimum number of Google adverts. As a result, Google’s competitors were prevented from placing their search adverts in the most visible and clicked on parts of the websites’ search results pages.
  • As of March 2009, Google also included clauses requiring publishers to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed. This meant that Google could control how attractive, and therefore clicked on, competing search adverts could be.

EC google ad graphic

Taken at face value this would appear to be a clear abuse of Google’s dominant position and it seems to have got off pretty lightly, since it got a much bigger fine for abusing Android’s dominant position last year, on which more below. The EC has been pretty consistent in its position on dominant US tech players deliberately seeking to restrict competition, just ask Microsoft and Intel, so none of this can have come as a surprise to Google.

“Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts,” said Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager. “Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate – and consumers the benefits of competition.”

As the quote indicates, Google isn’t doing this anymore, but only packed it in once the EC flagged it up in 2016, so that’s still a decade of naughtiness. For some reason Google also chose today to show some belated contrition for one of the things it got fined for last year: forcing Android OEMs to preinstall Google Search and the Chrome browser.

In a blog post amusingly entitled Supporting choice and competition in Europe, Google SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker started by stressing there’s nothing he loves more than healthy, thriving markets. Having said that he went on to make it clear that its most recent move to improve competition was taken solely to get the EC off its back.

“After the Commission’s July 2018 decision, we changed the licensing model for the Google apps we build for use on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search,” wrote Walker. “In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app.

“Now we’ll also do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones. This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.”

How touching. Presumably today was some kind of deadline for Google to comply or else. The matter of browser choice is highly reminiscent of Europe’s case against Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. The prime beneficiary of that was, you guessed it, Google, which now accounts for around two thirds of European desktop browser share (see chart), achieved through merit rather than cheating. How sad then, so see history repeating itself on mobile.

So that takes the total amount Europe has fined Google to €8.25 billion. In response to a question after her announcement (below) Vestager revealed the EC has some kind of fine ceiling of 10% of annual revenues so, since Google brought in around €120 billion last year that still leaves plenty of room for further fines if Google keeps getting funny ideas. Incidentally she also revealed that the fines get distributed to member countries, not trousered by the EC itself, which is reassuring.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Browser Market Share

Inmarsat once again in the acquisition crosshairs

Acquisition rumours are once again swirling around British satellite company Inmarsat, this time to take the company back to private equity control for £3.3 billion.

The consortium, featuring Apax, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and Warburg Pincu, comes at a time where the firm has been facing investor pressures. Over the last six months, poor performance from Inmarsat share price decline by 26%, while acquisition rumours have caused this trend to reverse recently. Share price is still down, but there does seem to be appetite in the market for an acquisition.

On January 31, Inmarsat received a non-binding proposal from the consortium offering $7.21 per share for the entire issued, and to be issued, share capital of the firm. The offer values the business at $3.3 billion, roughly £2.5 billion. This is not a concrete offer, but it is seemingly enough to get the market excited.

Although Inmarsat has reported flat sales growth in its core business units, maritime and government connectivity contracts, there has been increased demand in the aerospace industry, as more airlines demands connectivity, while 5G is on the horizon. The failure to deliver material progress on the promises does seem to be frustrating investors, but there is potential.

While satellite connectivity has been snubbed in recent years, usecases which demand ubiquitous connectivity in the future imply satellite has a broader role to play outside of the developing nations. Due to the civil engineering difficulties, and sometimes commercial constraints of connectivity, satellite is increasingly becoming a critical component of the connectivity mesh.

Interestingly enough, Apax might be a familiar sounding name to Inmarsat lifers. Apax was part of a consortium which bought the satellite firm in 2003, before taking it public two years later.

For some, this might be good news, but what is worth noting is this deal will be placed under scrutiny from the UK Government, which will view Inmarsat as a national strategic asset, and other attempts have failed. EchoStar attempted to acquire the business last year, investors rejected an offer worth £3.2 billion, while Eutelsat was also rumoured to be considering a bid.

Germany pushes back against US Huawei threats

It tried scaring her, to convince her with niceties, the diplomatic approach and finally threats, but the US cannot seem to break the will of German Chancellor Angela Merkel over Huawei.

Speaking at the Global Solutions Summit this week, Merkel has continued to defy the desires and demands of the US over China and its telco champion Huawei. Germany is not only standing resolute against the political propaganda, but this message seems to be more of a push back against the White House.

“There are two things I don’t believe in,” Merkel said during the interview. “First, to discuss these very sensitive security questions publicly, and second, to exclude a company simply because it’s from a certain country.”

This has been the on-going message from Germany and it seems the US threat of intelligence exclusion has landed on deaf ears. Germany wants proof of nefarious activities, and it will not make a knee-jerk reaction to punish a company (or a country for that matter) when the drivers are political and economic.

While there is of course a threat of espionage from the Chinese Government, this on-going narrative is one chapter in the wider US/China trade saga. Threats should of course be assessed and mitigated in a reasonable fashion, but you must consider all branches of the storyline. And Germany isn’t buying into US chest beating.

In terms of what has actually been said, there are five key takeaways:

  • Sensitive security issues should not be discussed on the public stage
  • Punishing a single company is not the right way to ensure security
  • Targeting China due to its economic success is unfair
  • Security requirements should be across the ecosystem to mitigate risk
  • The same security requirements should be escalated to a European level

Each of these points made by Merkel this week, and various German government agencies for months, are completely fair, reasonable and pragmatic. But fair, reasonable and pragmatic does not help the US.

Why is Germany resisting?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t make sense to ban Huawei.

Firstly, from a competition perspective the telco industry is not flush with vendors, especially ones which can offer the same scale as Huawei. Removing Huawei, and Chinese vendors across the board, reduces the number of vendors available for telcos to choose from. This weakens the negotiating position of the telcos and, theoretically, slows down the deployment march.

Secondly, a Huawei ban would impact some European nations more than others and Germany is one of them. Huawei has deep relationships with German operators, with equipment embedded into 4G networks. Banning Huawei would potentially result in kit having to be ripped and replaced, slowing down progress, while backward compatibility becomes more difficult also, again, slowing down progress.

With the world increasingly being defined by wireless, Europe’s largest economy cannot afford to slip too far behind in the 5G race. According to data from Opensignal, Germany has been falling behind numerous European nations when it comes to average 4G speeds.

While it might not have a massive impact on what we associate with connectivity today, primarily consumer smartphone applications and entertainment, with 5G promising a revolution in the way connectivity influences enterprise and the economy, this could become much more of an issue in Germany.

In short, Germany cannot afford to stomach the consequences of banning Huawei.

The turning tide of momentum

The anti-China rhetoric from the US has been consistent and loud over the last couple of months, though it does not seem to be gathering the same support as during the initial propaganda assault.

After Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand seemingly turned against Huawei and China, the ear-whispering has not been as successful in Europe. The European continent has been a successful arena for Huawei in recent years, and such is the dependence of telco infrastructure on the vendor, it is unsurprising these nations are resisting the call to ban Huawei.

While individual states have been pushing back against US ambitions, this leaves the governments in slightly precarious positions. Such is the power and influence of the US economy, individually European nations will be in a frustrating negotiating position when defying US requests. However, escalating to a European level changes the dynamics.

This is perhaps why Merkel is keen to escalate this discussion to European Commission level. The power of the collective against US ambitions is an excellent way to mitigate risk on an individual level. Sovereign nation states often begrudgingly hand over power to the Brussels bureaucrats, but in this instance, it might prove to be a very pragmatic idea.

The European Commission was reportedly looking into new rules which would effectively ban member states from purchasing equipment from Chinese companies (although China would not be mentioned specifically), but we can’t see this carrying through. Brussels would face a huge amount of backlash when seemingly contradicting the wishes of the majority of its member states.

That said, should the US be able to produce concreate evidence of Chinese espionage and collusion with Huawei, attitudes could shift incredibly quickly.

What does this mean for Huawei?

This is neither good or bad; it’s pretty much maintaining the status quo.

Being banned in the US won’t really impact the prospects of the business, it never really cracked this market, while it will continue to maintain its healthy position in Asia. Europe is a key battle ground though.

Europe is in a difficult position. It needs to tread carefully to ensure it can still use equipment from the vendor. European governments will not want to ban Huawei and this continued resistance is a good sign for Huawei. Germany and the UK, two influential voices across the bloc, are both preparing frameworks to allow Huawei’s business to continue, and should such ambitions be escalated to the European Commission, these trends would likely continue.

Due to on-going security concerns, some of which are not fairy tales despite a lack of evidence, and telcos desires to introduce more diversity in the supply chain, Huawei is unlikely to dominate the 5G world in the same way it did 4G. This is far from a secured position, politics has a way of U-turning occasionally, but the anti-Huawei brigade is starting to run out of puff.

Huawei Launches the 5G-Ready Converged Transport Network Solution, Helping Operators Jump Start 5G

Huawei’s 5G-ready converged transport network solution will help build a transport network that supports all services, helping operators jump start 5G development through simplified 5G transport and fast deployment. So far, Huawei has won over 40 commercial 5G transport contracts.

GSMA predicts that by 2025, there will be 1.3 billion 5G users and 1.36 billion 5G mobile devices around the world, with 40% 5G network coverage. To build 5G networks, transport networks should get prepared in advance. 5G networks have three major use cases, bringing 10x higher network bandwidth, 10x more complexity in network operations & maintenance (O&M), and 100x more connections. These are the core challenges that operators will face when building 5G transport networks of the future. During this process, operators will need to consider the future-proof evolution capabilities of their transport networks.

jeff

Jeffrey Gao, President of Huawei Router & Carrier Ethernet Product Line, launches the 5G-ready converged transport network solution

“Operators must systematically consider their business needs of the next decade when building 5G transport networks,” said Jeffrey Gao, President of Huawei Router & Carrier Ethernet Product Line. “During this process, we believe operators will have to take into account three major standards: affordable bandwidth upgrade costs, 4G and 5G converged transport, and end-to-end automated O&M.”

To meet operator needs, Huawei launched the 5G-ready converged transport network solution, enabling global operators to maximize their business value by offering three core capabilities.

The 5G-ready converged transport network solution was built upon the industry’s first 50GE router and 5G microwave solution based on the four-level pulse amplitude modulation (PAM4). This results in 10 Gbps to sites and 30% lower total cost of operation (TCO). For fiber access scenarios, the router supports two-way single-fiber transmission, reducing cost per bit by 30% and fiber resources required by 50%. For scenarios without fiber access, Huawei’s 5G microwave solution can deliver 10 Gbps bandwidth access over any frequency band. It also offers flexible channel expansion capabilities, so that only one site visit is needed for service provisioning, reducing operator TCO by 30%.

The 5G-ready converged transport network solution uses the industry’s first commercially-ready SR and SRv6 solution, enabling smooth evolution from MPLS to SR and SRv6 protocols, with no interference between 4G and 5G services. Huawei’s 5G transport solution supports both MPLS and SR protocols, so that operators can use the SR and SRv6 protocols for deploying end-to-end 5G services while simultaneously using the MPLS protocol for 4G services. This means new services can be deployed while ensuring the continuity of older services.

Built on the network processor (NP) programmable architecture, the SR and SRv6 solution supports smooth evolution from MPLS to SR and then to SRv6 without any changes to the hardware.

The industry’s first Network Cloud Engine (NCE) integrates network control, management, and analysis, allowing the 5G-ready converged transport network solution to support full-lifecycle automated O&M across the entire transport network. Huawei’s NCE supports the unified control and management of 4G and 5G transport networks, and provides a machine-machine interface that is driven by models, instead of a human-machine interface. This reduces the time required for service provisioning from hours to minutes. And the telemetry and AI technologies mean it takes minutes, rather than hours, to complete fault demarcation.

The NCE also possesses big data analytics capabilities that enable visualized service level agreements (SLAs) and targeted transport network expansion and optimization.

“5G will meet the needs of both individuals and vertical industries, and support new services such as Cloud VR, private lines, and connected vehicles,” said Jeffrey Gao. “Future 5G network architecture will be built upon data centers. The quality of various innovative services requires 5G networks to provide guaranteed SLAs. Therefore, upstream and downstream industry players must seize the opportunities presented by 5G development and build an All-in-One converged transport network.”

“Huawei continues to work with industry partners and innovate in data communications and optical fiber to build non-blocking physical networks. Together, we will work to ensure high availability and non-blocking physical networks that support deterministic low latency, on-demand services, and zero touch O&M.”

Huawei has remained at the top of the global mobile transport market for seven consecutive years, leading the development of the mobile transport industry. It has also helped leading global operators build over 40 5G transport networks. Huawei plays an active role in international standards organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), and European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). It is a key contributor to 50GE and SRv6, and is a leader of 5G microwave and intelligent networks.

For more information, please visit www.huawei.com/mwc2019/.

Huawei Unveils New Digital Inclusion Drive at Mobile World Congress

“Tech4ALL will benefit 500 million more people over the next five years” says Huawei’s Ken Hu

Huawei’s Deputy Chairman, Ken Hu, unveiled a new digital inclusion initiative, Tech4ALL, during his speech at ministerial program during this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC2019). In his speech titled “Redefining Inclusion,” Hu outlined Huawei’s plans to help 500 million additional people around the world benefit directly from digital technology in the next five years. He called on governments, industry organizations and business partners to act together to promote digital inclusion for all.

KEN HU

Expanding the definition of digital inclusion

“While much of the telecommunications industry is focused on next generation technology like 5G and AI,” Hu said, “we can’t forget that there are still many people excluded from the digital world. There are still more than 3.8 billion people who are offline, and one billion people without mobile broadband coverage. We need to expand the definition of digital inclusion beyond connectivity to include applications and skills too.”

“We can’t just think people,” Hu continued, “but also small businesses. By expanding our definition of digital inclusion, we can help more people and organizations directly benefit from digital technology.”

Ken Hu delivers a keynote themed “Redefining Digital Inclusion” at the Ministerial Program at MWC2019

To this end, Huawei’s Tech4ALL initiative is designed to promote digital inclusion for both individuals and organizations by focusing efforts on connectivity, applications and skills.

Connectivity

“Connectivity is the bedrock of digital inclusion. We will keep on innovating to lower the barriers to connectivity, including cost and coverage,” said Hu.

For 30 years, Huawei has been working closely with its partners to bring better digital connectivity to people and communities in the world’s most remote regions and extreme climates – from the countryside to the city, to polar regions and remote villages the world over. The company has achieved this with network solutions specifically designed to address regional challenges, such as its RuralStar solution that helps connect rural communities in Africa, Asia, and South America, and its 5G Air Fiber solutions to provide next-generation broadband to Inuit populations in the Canadian Arctic.

Applications

“We will empower the ecosystem, providing developers and SMEs with easy-to-use development platforms. This will help them create more specialized applications for different communities and industries.”

Hu gave the example of a mobile application called StorySign, which Huawei jointly developed with the European Union of the Deaf. With an AI-powered cartoon avatar, this application translates the content of books into sign language to help deaf children overcome barriers when first learning how to read.

StorySign is currently available in 10 different languages, and Huawei will keep working with its partners to expand the reach of this application. Ultimately, Huawei hopes to provide more than 34 million deaf children around the world with the tools they need to bridge sign language and reading.

“We are so proud of what we have achieved with StorySign,” said Hu. “All communities have different needs. As an industry, we can provide unique value for each community to make sure nobody is left behind.”

To create practical value for more communities and industries, Huawei has invested nearly US$1 billion in its Huawei Developer Program, which is designed to promote open source capabilities in the industry, provide development platforms and tools, train developers, incubate great ideas, and fund innovation.

More than 800,000 developers have registered for the program to date. Moving forward, Huawei will increase its investment in the ecosystem, focusing on enabling AI development and training one million AI developers over the next three years.

Skills

“We need to work more closely with governments, local communities and other industries to enhance the digital skills of individuals and society as a whole,” said Hu.

In addition to helping people enhance their digital skills, Hu pointed out the importance of digital skills among small and medium-sized organizations. Having the right set of awareness and skills is key to the future development of countries and local communities, and will level the playing field for SMEs to compete in the digital economy.

Building digital skills among young people and vulnerable communities is also one of Huawei’s priorities. Over the past 10 years Huawei’s Seeds for the Future program has helped more than 30,000 college students from 108 different countries enhance their digital skills.

In 2018, the company hosted its third annual Huawei ICT Competition, where more than 40,000 students from over 800 universities in 32 countries gathered to compete. This event helped promote more in-depth knowledge exchange between schools and enterprises.

Separately, the company has taught online skills to 20,000 women in Bangladesh through its mobile training school.

Technology is good. Pass it on.

Digital inclusion isn’t a problem that one company can solve with technology. It will take coordinated effort between governments, industry organizations, and enterprises across every cross-section of society – and the more people involved, the greater the impact will be.

Huawei hopes to work more closely with governments and industry organizations to expand the reach of this program and make the digital world more inclusive for more companies and people in local communities. It also hopes to work more closely with industry partners and organizations to understand the specific needs of different groups and organizations, and provide them with the best possible technology to meet those needs.

“Technology is good, and it should be used for good too. This is just the beginning. We hope that more people will join us to amplify these efforts. Together, we can pass the benefits of digital technology to every person, home, and organization, and help build a fully connected, intelligent world. This is our mission, and we hope you will join us.” concluded Hu.

Visit Tech4ALL program site: www.huawei.com/en/fully-connected-intelligent-world/digital-inclusion

US warns UK on efforts to cage Huawei

The UK Government feels it is capable of mitigating any risk associated with Huawei 5G equipment, but the US is not so sure.

According to the Financial Times, a US delegation has reached out to the UK Government warning its means of testing and monitoring Huawei equipment will not protect it against any curious eyes from the Chinese Government. How this warning is received could dictate the US/UK relationship over the coming months.

The UK, and generally Europe on the whole, has taken a much more pragmatic approach in dealing with the potential threat of Chinese espionage. While the US was quick to banish any Chinese equipment from critical infrastructure, European governments are implementing new regulations and conditions to heighten security requirements, theoretically mitigating risk while also allowing telcos the luxury of increased choice.

This might sound like a perfectly logical way to manage a potentially nefarious situation, but the US is not happy. Perhaps this is evidence of the eroding influence which the US has on the world and a shift in the geo-political landscape. Once upon a time, US politicians might have been able to whisper in the ears of the European political elite and achieve their aims, but this does not seem to be the case anymore.

US officials fear that because 5G networks will be software-orientated, any equipment which is embedded into communications networks could altered at a later date, creating virtual backdoors at will. Theoretically, this is a genuine risk, however, nefarious individuals at any juncture of the supply chain, in any country, for any vendor, could also create the same vulnerability.

Although the National Cyber Security Centre is yet to respond to the comments from the US, CEO Ciaran Martin played down fears during a conference speech last week.

“Huawei’s presence is subject to detailed, formal oversight, led by the NCSC. Because of our 15 years of dealings with the company and 10 years of a formally agreed mitigation strategy which involves detailed provision of information, we have a wealth of understanding of the company. We also have strict controls for how Huawei is deployed. It is not in any sensitive networks — including those of the government. Its kit is part of a balanced supply chain with other suppliers.”

While the US has been visiting various countries around the world in an attempt to convince governments to ban Chinese companies, successes are becoming less frequent. European governments in particular have seemingly been very resistant to the idea, with the US reportedly threatening Germany with consequences; should the Germans allow Huawei into their networks, German intelligence agencies would not be granted access to US intelligence databases.

This plea to the UK Government seems to be setting up a similar timeline; should the UK not react in the same manner, the US might well start thumping its chest and stamping its feet, threatening a similar exclusion.

What is worth noting, is that while the US is preaching the benefits of a total ban on Huawei and other similar Chinese vendors, it has not done so itself. Chinese companies are barred from providing products and services in most critical and sensitive products, but the White House has not gone as far as a complete ban. Perhaps the worry is over repercussions from the Chinese, though it does not seem to care whether China punishes its allies.

Ericsson wins TDC 5G gig

Danish operator TDC has chosen Ericsson to help it build and maintain its 5G network.

The deal involves Ericsson’s 5G platform, supported by its Operations Engine, as support system that’s heavy on the AI and automation. The resulting network is heavy on the buzzwords, with lofty talk of industry 4.0 and Digital Denmark. They’re not planning to waste any time, with pilot testing due to take place later this year and full nationwide commercial rollout by the end of 2020.

Allison Kirkby, President and CEO, TDC Group, says: “I am truly excited that TDC will now start to build the infrastructure of the future in partnership with Ericsson, and enable a Digital Denmark with the best nationwide wireless network,” said Allison Kirkby, CEO of TDC. “5G will bring a step change in capacity, internet speed and intelligent connectivity – in other words – 5G will empower a new era for the digital economy and will allow Denmark to build on its position as a global digital frontrunner.”

“TDC becomes the latest service provider in Europe that we will switch on 5G for,” said Ericsson boss Börje Ekholm. “We are delighted to partner with TDC not just in 5G radio and core, but in related R&D and innovation, and the absolute latest in managed services through Ericsson Operations Engine. We will work with TDC to digitalize the Danish economy to ensure Danish consumers, enterprises and society benefit from the new experiences, services, and capabilities enabled by 5G.”

Ericsson has restructured its managed services business to focus on supporting networking kit business and this seems to be a classic example of the kind of thing it has in mind. The managed service contract with TDC will last five years and is so intimate that 100 TDC networking experts will be transferred to Ericsson.