‘We have many IoT customers’ says Huawei CTO

Czech 'em out

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A dumb streetlight with two non-IoT-enabled oxygen burners at its base. Pic: Shutterstock

IoT World Congress “Our customer base is growing very fast,” Huawei CTO Wu Chou told The Register at IoT World Congress in Barcelona yesterday. The firm is long on smart Czech streetlights but short, it seems, on customers.

“Our customers are growing very fast,” Wu said. “We have now opened five labs to allow our partners to come in, to build their apps on our platform so we can jointly develop and go to market together.”

According to Wu, Huawei has been doing IoT for several years, building on its earlier work with narrowband networking technologies. The firm founded, in partnership with Vodafone, the narrowband IoT working group (NB-IoT WG) earlier this year.

While the firm may be unwilling to reveal the number of customers it has, it does have a solid vision for IoT-enabled streetlights, turning old-fashioned lightbulb-on-pole setups into low energy LED lights complete with integrated Wi-Fi, sensor and networking hubs.

You got to light me up

“There is a big move worldwide with smart lights,” Wu told El Reg, saying that it gives “immediate economic returns” and bringing energy savings of 80 per cent and cost reductions of 90 per cent. While that is just a matter of swapping traditional sodium lamps for LED lamp heads, the real value Huawei says it adds is in doing this as well as turning streetlights into a ready-to-go citywide IoT network.

“You need to drive a lot of streets at night to find out which lights are dead. Today we can monitor every light and we can see which lights are about to go off. We can pinpoint them and enable proactive maintenance, which was not possible in the old days,” said Wu.

Streetlights cover almost all areas of cities, he pointed out, explaining that Huawei “makes streetlights an IoT platform by putting “sensors on lighting poles” such as air pollution sensors “and traffic sensors to monitor flows”. They could even be used for electric car charging stations, he suggested, which doesn’t quite fit with your correspondent’s knowledge of the power drawn by current electric cars on charge, requiring much greater juice supplies for a reasonably-timed charge than the typical current supplied to a streetlight.

Wu also suggested putting Wi-Fi hubs on the lighting poles along with CCTV cameras - “safe city applications,” as he put it.

As a practical example of all this, Wu said that Huawei had deployed smart streetlights in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. When El Reg pressed him, he also said the technology has been trialled in China, without giving any further specifics.

Security? Right at the chip level

The question on everyone’s minds with the explosion in the number of Things on the Internet is security. What is Huawei doing to reassure its customers?

“We started from the lowest chip level,” said Wu. “We can use hardware to safeguard critical information which cannot be touched by malicious software. We also work on security, on the operating system level. Things you need to communicate to the cloud are safely guarded,” he added, explaining how Huawei’s IoT setups apply security at the platform level - what he described as “a vertical line of defences to stop the attackers.”

“We designed our new gateway to support edge computing and processing at the edge. We are advancing the new tech called the NFV [network function virtualisation, brief overview here] at the edge. You can push down the security functions to the edge so you stop the attackers right at the edge instead of waiting in the cloud. This is significant because if you can do the NFV function at the edge, you can stop the intrusions, you can also stop the malicious traffic and save your bandwidth,” Wu said.

It seems to your correspondent that Huawei is keen to break into the IoT market but is still casting around for use cases. While smart streetlights certainly make sense from a conceptual point of view, it seems the company has a long way to go in convincing potential customers to sign up and try it out. ®

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