Huawei pledges $1.5 billion to its new developer program

Huawei has announced that it will invest $1.5 billion in the next five years to boost its developer ecosystem for the Kunpeng and Ascend computing platforms.

SDKs were also released at the same event when its Developer Program 2.0 was unveiled.The announcement was made at the 2019 version of the Chinese vendor’s annual Huawei Connect event in Shanghai. According to Patrick Zhang, CTO of Cloud & AI Products & Services at Huawei, the new program will cover five key areas:

  • Building an open computing industry ecosystem based on Kunpeng + Ascend computing processors
  • Establishing an all-round enablement system
  • Promoting the development of industry standards, specifications, demonstration sites, and technical certification system
  • Building industry-specific application ecosystems and region-specific industry ecosystems
  • Sharing Kunpeng and Ascend computing power, making it available to every developer

The focus areas are related to cloud computing and artificial intelligence. The applications and services the ecosystem aims to support are for server level, either in the centralized cloud or on the edge. To enable the ecosystem development, Huawei also published Kunpeng Developer Kit and ModelArts 2.0 AI development platform.

Despite that x86 architecture is still dominating the server market, ARM has worked to break the monopoly, and Huawei is one of ARM’s leading licensees. Earlier this year Huawei released Kunpeng 920, its CPU based on ARMv8 design. Huawei aims to expand its share in the server market with Kunpeng’s superior computing power claimed by Huawei, most likely starting from the market in China.

But Huawei’s ambitions go way beyond moving more boxes. Its cloud service has been promoted for its strong AI capability, supported by the Ascend AI chips. The Ascend 910, the latest version, was released in August, which the company claimed is the world’s most powerful AI processor.

By enriching its ecosystems, Huawei hopes it will be able to deliver a full suite of solutions, including supporting digital transformation undertake by increasing numbers of telecom operators.

This is the second iteration of Huawei’s Developer Program. The Developer Program 1.0 was launched in 2015.

Should operators try to own the edge?

At the Edge Computing Congress 2019 in London, the keynotes and panel discussions focused on the unique opportunity for operators to own the edge if they want to.

Edge computing refers to distributed datacenters that place reduce the physical distance between the cloud and the edge of the network – i.e. the RAN. The main point of this is to reduce the lag from interacting with the cloud in real time and to allow the kind of low-latency communication services that promise to be the most novel new feature of 5G. Edge computing is also expected to help with things like bandwidth flexibility for IoT, cloud security and data localisation.

The presentations were opened by Julian Bright of analyst firm Ovum, who warned that 5G probably needs the edge more than the edge needs 5G and set the tone for the rest of the morning by asking who will own it. Bright also raised the issue of interoperability and noted that the definition of a common framework for edge computing is some way from being determined.

As is often the way, most of the talking points came from a panel (pictured) that aimed to explore definitions of edge computing, what the point of it is, and the business cases for investing in it. It was agreed that the edge is not a discrete, standalone thing, but rather an extension of the cloud. That said, by definition it requires its own separate physical infrastructure, which has to be built and owned by someone.

This is presents a unique opportunity for operators, for whom distributed infrastructure is a core competence. They also own, or at least have access to, a lot of remote locations, so they have a head start over cloud specialists and IT companies. Edge computing was said to be the perfect example of the convergence of networks and IT, which raises the question of which of those worlds will define and own it.

A key issue for edge computing concerns interoperability. As an extension of the public cloud it needs to be usable by all stakeholders. One way to ensure this is standardisation, something the telecoms world is very familiar with. Standardisation typically takes a long time, however, and the panel warned that operators are likely to lose their advantages in this space if they allow themselves to be bogged down by it.

There are also cultural dynamics involved. The IT world typically moves faster and is less risk-averse than the networking world. While telcos are used to significant infrastructure capex, this is typically in areas where there is proven demand and ROI. Heavy investment in edge computing will require more of a ‘build it and they will come’ strategic philosophy.

This observation led to a discussion of the chicken-and-egg dilemma that comes with the prospect of investing in a new technological platform without a mature business case to go with it. As we saw with historical attempts to break the duopoly in smartphone operating systems, it’s hard to get customers for your platform without a strong app ecosystem, but developers are reluctant to embrace any platform that doesn’t have a large and enduring user base.

There was unanimity among the panel that ownership of the edge is there for operators to take if they want it, but they need to move fast. If they do they will need to accept risk in the form of capex without the guaranteed ROI they’re used to and they will also need to seed the app ecosystem in ways they have historically avoided. For operators the edge is about new revenue opportunities rather than efficiencies and their approach to it needs to reflect that.

After the panel there was a keynote from Mahadev Satyanarayanan, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, who further explored the value propositions of edge computing. He stressed that the deeper the use of the edge, the more of a premium can be charged for the resulting service. A real-world example of such a service can be seen in the video below of a project Satyanarayanan oversaw, using vehicle cameras to enable crowdsourced traffic information without the driver needing to be actively involved.

75% of enterprise data expected to be processed on the edge by 2020

Industry experts participating in the Edge Computing Congress shared their views on how and when enterprises can benefit from edge computing.

Vodafone believes the market is quickly evolving from a centralised cloud to distributed cloud, expecting 75% of enterprise generated data will be processed outside of a centralised data centre by 2020.

This year’s Edge Computing Congress is being held in west London, where stakeholders on the value-chain are bouncing ideas off each other on how edge computing will impact the industry and how to capture opportunities brought about by the evolution of computing from the centre to the edge.

In a recent Telecoms.com Intelligence report, we predicted that 5G will help push edge computing from a small group of early adopters to be embraced by a much larger number of companies. This prediction is largely confirmed on Day 1 of the conference.

According to Vodafone’s data, shared by Simon Withers (pictured), the company’s Head of Digital Solutions Design, 27% of businesses are already implementing edge, and a further 18% plan to do so in the next year. The operator also predicted that, as a result of the trend towards edge cloud, 90% of customer deployments will be critically dependant on latency and bandwidth, the key technology properties 5G will offer.

To serve the fast-moving market, Vodafone is pursuing a multi-cloud strategy and is offering enterprise customers with two different solutions: dedicated and distributed. Withers also shared a few use cases the operators is working on with its partners, including supporting connected factory with dedicated edge, next generation retail with augmented reality on the edge, and worker insights through augmented operation.

Edge computing does not have to wait for 5G to happen. One of the most broadly adopted edge computing cases is private LTE for campus, for enterprise, etc. Yet this is an area that has become controversial to telecom operators. A representative from another big European operator believed private LTE, and in the future private 5G, may prove a new business opportunity for mobile operators if it is a network slice bought from the generic mobile network.

It would be a challenger if it was operated independently—for example the discussion in Germany that 5G frequencies could be awarded locally to private networks. However what worries the operator the most, according to the representative, is the webscale companies (AWS, Google, Microsoft) getting frequencies and offering services on the edge. This is already happening. Amazon has filed to FCC to expand its test on 3.5GHz band and, as Light Reading reports, this could be related to Amazon’s plan to “offer cloud-native, private mobile networks in the CBRS band to developers, telecom operators, public sector operators, enterprises and others.”

Another sign that there still lacks consensus on edge computing presented itself when a straw poll was conducted on the conference participants by the speaker from STL Partners, a consulting firm. When asked to choose the leading benefit of edge computing, two came on top, both at 25%, which are “enabling low-latency applications” and “data localisation, security and sovereignty”. Reducing connection cost to the central cloud, which the presenter expected to be high on the list, and we highlighted in our recent report, came joint last, selected by only 5% of the conference attendees.

AT&T joins the retail robot revolution

AT&T Business has unveiled a new partnership to target the retail segment, a vertical which might look completely different in a few years’ time.

Working alongside Badger Technologies, the aim here is to improve capabilities which are already in place as opposed to create a human-less shopping experience. With its new 5G capabilities, improvements for indoor coverage and expansion of MEC, the duo are targeting operational efficiencies throughout the super market.

“In-building cellular solutions, including 5G and edge computing, are critical drivers of digital transformation for retailers,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO of AT&T Business.

“These technologies will eventually equip robots with both the compute power and lower latency needed to increase revenue, improve the in-store experience, and elevate employees to better assist customers. Badger Technologies’ robots can help retailers make sure they have products in stock and in the right place, increasing customer satisfaction. That leads to increased revenue. That’s the power of data.”

Robots in supermarkets are not exactly a new idea. In some of the larger retailers in the US, small robots roll through the aisles hoping to identify out-of-stock, mispriced or misplaced inventory as well as store hazards, informing human colleagues of up-coming tasks which need to be completed. However, running these systems over wifi can be inefficient and even impossible when it comes to transmission and processing of data.

Although this is a very simple application focused on improving efficiency as opposed to revolutionising the retail experience, it is an incremental step towards automation in the industry. In a few years’ time, there might not be any need to have humans working in the supermarket whatsoever; MEC and improved connectivity will be critical components.

Firstly, you have to look at the home delivery segment. Not all consumers will buy into this concept, however with improved connectivity, this could be a completely autonomous process. Amazon fulfilment centres already incorporate robotic processes to reduce the need for humans, whereas progress is being made on autonomous vehicles and small robots to make the delivery over the ‘last mile’. In theory, this does not have to have a single human in the process.

One other area which seems to attract headlines every couple of weeks are the cashier-less stores. The concept is not new, self-check out machines are becoming increasingly common, though this idea could be taken up another level. Amazon is once again making progress here, potentially removing the need for self-scan tills completely, though improvements in indoor connectivity and MEC could help this idea progress even further.

Finally, you only have to look at companies like Boston Dynamics to see the advancements which are being made with humanoid robots. Cashiers are heading towards the door and it might not be too long before shelf-stackers might follow them. Robotics is a field which is advancing ridiculously fast (see video at the bottom of article), and while the economics will not make sense for the moment, that is only a matter of time.

The warehouse could be robotic, payments could be managed through sensors and apps, on-shelf-stock and hazards could be monitored by simplistic robotics and cameras, restocking and hazards cleared by advanced robotics and deliveries could be performed by drones or autonomous vehicles. With MEC decreasing latency, cloud-based AI constantly improving all the processes and indoor connectivity ensuring everything runs smoothly, soon enough there might not be any need to have a human involved in the supermarket.

This might seem like an unrealistic idea right now, but always remember this Bill Gates quote; most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten.

AT&T + HPE = edgy TLC

AT&T has announced a new partnership with HPE to drive the benefits of edge computing in enterprise services.

The duo has agreed a go-to-market strategy to accelerate business adoption of edge connections and edge computing, seen by some as one of the most interesting areas of the up-coming 5G economy.

“AT&T’s software-defined network, including our 5G network, combined with HPE’s intelligent edge infrastructure can give businesses a flexible tool to better analyze data and process low-latency, high-bandwidth applications,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO of AT&T Business. “Bringing compute power closer to our network helps businesses push the boundaries of what is possible and create innovative new solutions.”

“HPE believes that the enterprise of the future will need to be edge-centric, cloud-enabled and data-driven to turn all of its data into action and value,” said Jim Jackson, CMO of HPE. “Our go-to-market alliance with AT&T, using HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems, will help deliver AT&T MEC services at scale to help our customers more quickly convert data into actionable intelligence, enabling unique digital experiences and smarter operations.”

There are of course many benefits to edge computing, though one of the areas AT&T will be hoping to address through this tie-up will be the security concerns which will emerge. This looks like it could be one of the key marketing plugs of the AT&T proposition, as its Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) Services will hope to drive the benefits of mobility to enterprise customers.

From HPE’s perspective, the team will be contributing on the low-latency side of the 5G euphoria. HPE suggests its Edgeline Converged Edge Systems could help create use cases where applications can reside on premises for lower latency processing.

It might not be as ‘sexy’ as plugging ridiculous download speeds, but the greatest benefits of 5G to the telcos would appear to be diversification as opposed to increased squeeze on the wallets of consumers. With more data being created each day, the edge will become increasingly important to activate products, services and business models in a faster and more operationally efficient manner. Enterprise organizations will largely be unaware of how to reap the greatest benefits, a pleasant niche the telcos could certainly profit from.

SK Telecom looks to the edge to monetize 5G

SK Telecom has announced the launch of its ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Open Platform’ in an effort to marry two of the industry’s hottest topics.

While 5G has dominated industry discussions for years, this years Mobile World Congress saw edge computing steal at least some of the limelight. This may well be evidence of a more pragmatic approach to connectivity ROI, with telcos removing some of the buzz surrounding 5G and creating a more realistic story about how to commercialise the connectivity bonanza; 5G is only one step forward, but the edge is another.

“By opening up the ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Platform’, SK Telecom will secure the basis for expanding the MEC-related ecosystem and accelerating the release of 5G services,” said Park Jin-hyo, CTO of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will join hands with diverse companies throughout the globe to boost the adoption of MEC-based services.”

As part of the initiative, SK Telecom will offer enterprise customers the opportunity to improve customers Quality of Experience (QoE) by connecting their service server or data-centre to SK Telecom’s MEC platform. SK Telecom will also provide open Application Programming Interfaces to enable customers to easily develop MEC-based 5G services.

By enabling the edge, ideas such as the smart factory become more of a reality. SK Telecom claims that latency can be reduced by up to 60% by using the edge.

Although the traditional means of generating revenue in the telco space has been through very simplistic and consumer orientated marketing strategies, this cannot be the case for 5G. Such is the expense of deploying a network which meets the connectivity expectations of tomorrow, leaning on traditional business models will likely not work. To realise the promise of 5G, initiatives such as this one, which encourages more creative projects with enterprise customers, are an excellent step forward.

This was perhaps one of the most satisfying outcomes from Mobile World Congress this year, as while some might have viewed the switching on of 5G networks as somewhat of an anti-climax, for us it was a very palatable outcome.

The focus on the edge, and the dampening of 5G hype, set the stage for progress. Yes, the industry has spent a lot of the futureproof networks, and yes, investors are craving the promised profits, but conversations felt much more realistic, pointing towards the work which still needs to be done. Afterall, 5G should be viewed as a catalyst to secure new revenues, not as the silver bullet.

Are you ready to look at 6G?

We can hear the groans already, but we’re going to do it anyway. Let’s have a look at what 6G could possibly contribute to the connected economy.

Such is our desire for progress, we haven’t even launched 5G but the best and brightest around are already considering what 6G will bring to the world. It does kind of make sense though, to avoid the dreaded staggering of download speeds and the horrific appearance of buffering symbols, the industry has to look far beyond the horizon.

If you consider the uphill struggle it has been to get 5G to this point, and we haven’t even launched glorious ‘G’ properly, how long will it take before we get to 6G? Or perhaps a better question is how long before we actually need it?

“5G will not be able to handle the number of ‘things’ which are connected to the network in a couple of years’ time,” said Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone UK. “We need to start thinking about 6G now and we have people who are participating in the standards groups already.”

This is perhaps the issue which we are facing in the future; the sheer volume of ‘things’ which will be connected to the internet. As Petty points out, 5G is about being bigger, badder and leaner. Download speeds will be faster, reliability will be better, and latency will be almost none existent, but the weight of ‘things’ will almost certainly have an impact. Today’s networks haven’t been built with this in mind.

Trying to find consensus on the growth of IOT is somewhat of a difficult task, such is the variety of predictions. Everyone predicts the same thing, the number of devices will grow in an extra-ordinary fashion, but the figures vary by billions.

Using Ericsson’s latest mobility report, the team is estimating cellular IoT connections will reach 4.1 billion in 2024, of which 2.7 billion will be in North East Asia. This is a huge number and growth will only accelerate year-on-year. But here is thing, we’re basing these judgments on what we know today; the number of IOT devices will be more dependent on new products, services and business models which will appear when the right people have the 5G tools to play around with. Who knows what the growth could actually be?

IOT Growth

Another aspect to consider is the emergence of new devices. As it stands, current IOT devices deliver such a minor slice of the total cellular traffic around the world its not much of a consideration, however with new usecases and products for areas such as traffic safety, automated vehicles, drones and industrial automation, the status quo will change. As IOT becomes more commonplace and complicated, data demands might well increase, adding to network strain.

Petty suggests this will be the massive gamechanger for the communications industry over the next few years and will define the case for 6G. But, who knows what the killer usecase will be for 5G, or what needs will actually push the case for the next evolution of networks. That said, more efficient use of the spectrum is almost certainly going to be one of the parameters. According to Petty, this will help with the tsunami of things but there is a lot of new science which will have to be considered.

Then again, 6G might not be measured under the same requirements as today…

Sooner or later the industry will have to stop selling itself under the ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mantra, as speeds will become irrelevant. If you have a strong and stable 4G connection today, there isn’t much you can’t do. Few applications or videos that are available to the consumer require 5G to function properly, something which telco marketers will have to adapt to in the coming years as they try to convince customers to upgrade to 5G contracts.

4G and arguably todays vision of 5G has always been about making the pipe bigger and faster, because those were the demands of the telcos trying to meet the demands of the consumer. 6G might be measured under different KPIs, for example, energy efficiency.

According to Alan Carlton, Managing Director of InterDigital’s European business, the drive towards more speed and more data is mainly self-imposed. The next ‘G’ can be defined as what the industry wants it to be. The telcos would have to think of other ways to sell connectivity services to the consumer, but they will have to do that sooner or later.

The great thing about 5G is that we are barely scratching the surface of what is capable. “We’re not even at 5.0G yet,” said Carlton. “And this is part of the confusion.”

What 5G is nowadays is essentially LTE-A Pro. We’re talking about 256-QAM and Massive MIMO but that is not really a different conversation. With Release 16 on the horizon and future standards groups working on topics such virtualisation, MMwave and total cost of ownership, future phases of 5G will promise so much more.

The next step for Carlton is not necessarily making everything faster, or more reliable or lower latency, but the next ‘G’ could be all about ditching the wires. Fibre is an inflexible commodity, and while it might be fantastic, why do we need it? Why shouldn’t the next vision of connectivity be one where we don’t have any wires at all?

Carlton’s approach to the future of connectivity is somewhat different to the norm. This is an industry which is fascinated by the pipes themselves and delivering services faster, but these working groups and standards bodies are driving change for the benefit of the industry. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about making something faster, so you can charge more, just a change to the status quo which benefits the industry.

Coming back to the energy efficiency idea, this is certainly something which has been suggested elsewhere. IEEE has been running a series of conferences in California addressing this very issue, as delivering 1000X more data is naturally going to consume more energy to start with. It probably won’t be 1000X more expensive, but it is incredibly difficult to predict what future energy consumption needs will be. Small cells do not consume as much energy as traditional sites, but there will need to be a lot more of them to meet demand. There are a lot of different elements to consider here (for example environment or spectrum frequency), but again, this is a bit of an unknown.

Perhaps this is an area where governments will start to wade in? Especially in the European and North American markets which are more sensitive to environmental impacts (excluding the seemingly blind Trump).

Echoing Petty’s point from earlier, we don’t necessarily know the specifics of how the telco industry is going to be stressed and strained in six- or seven-years’ time. These changes will form the catalyst for change, evolving from 5G to 6G, and it might well be a desire for more energy efficient solutions or it might well be a world free of wires.

Moving across the North Sea, 6G has already captured the attention of those in the Nordics.

Back in April 2018, the Academy of Finland announced the launch of ‘6Genesis’, an eight-year research programme to drive the industry towards 6G. Here, the study groups will start to explore technologies and services which are impossible to deliver in today’s world, and much of this will revolve around artificial intelligence.

Just across the border in Sweden, these new technologies are capturing the attention of Ericsson. According to Magnus Frodigh, Head of Ericsson Research, areas like Quantum computing, artificial intelligence and edge computing are all making huge leaps forward, something which will only be increased with improved connectivity. These are the areas which will define the next generation, and what can be achieved in the long-run.

“One of the new things to think about is the combination of unlimited connectivity as a resource, combined with low latency, more powerful computing,” said Frodigh. “No-one really knows how this is going to play out, but this might help define the next generation of mobile.”

Of course, predicting 6G might be pretty simple. In a couple of years’ time, perhaps we will all be walking around with augmented reality glasses on while holographic pods replace our TVs. If such usecases exist, perhaps the old ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mantra of the telco industry will be called upon once again. One group which is counting on this is EU-funded Terranova, which is currently working on solutions to allow network connection in the terahertz range, providing speeds of up to 400 Gbps.

Another area to consider is the idea of edge computing and the pervasiveness of artificial intelligence. According to Carlton (InterDigital), AI will be every in the future with intelligence embedded in almost every device. This is the vision of the intelligent economy, but for AI to work as promised, latency will have to be so much lower than we can even consider delivering today. This is another demand of future connectivity, but without it the intelligent economy will be nothing more than a shade of what has been promised.

And of course, the more intelligence you put on or in devices, the greater the strain on the components. Eventually more processing power will be moved off the devices and into the cloud, building the case for distributed computing and self-learning algorithms hosted on the edge. It is another aspect which will have to be considered, and arguably 5G could satisfy some of these demands, but who knows how quickly and broadly this field will accelerate.

Artificial intelligence and the intelligent economy have the potential to become a catalyst for change, forcing us to completely rethink how networks are designed, built and upgraded. We don’t know for sure yet, but most would assume the AI demands of the next couple of years will strain the network in the same way video has stressed 4G.

Who knows what 6G has in store for us, but here’s to hoping 5G isn’t an over-hyped dud.