Innovation amid uncertainty and education wins
The COVID-19 public health emergency has shone a spotlight on technology, as people sought to work, learn and play from home. Connectivity, devices and applications have all been heavily leveraged, as nations around the world have endured lockdowns.
TechCentral.ie spoke to Kevin Liu, president of Public Affairs and Communications, Western Europe for Huawei Technologies, about the experiences, successes, and areas where things could be better.
“The tech sector is integrally involved with doctors, academics, and government entities around the world to activate technology to help mitigate the effects of this pandemic,” Kevin Liu, Huawei
“We are seeing the rapid popularisation of online education,” said Liu. “Connecting educators and learners is vital in a situation like this. A great number of children and youth are not attending school at the moment. Subsequently, education increasingly moves to the online classroom. In-person classes will not be feasible in many parts of the world for some time, so teachers everywhere adjust with different formats of long-distance learning. COVID-19 sheds light on the need for a new education model, but this crisis can be a great opportunity for establishing truly digital education and preparing students for the future of work in this digital age.
“We are now spending more of our lives online and will be — at least for the foreseeable future. But every crisis breeds new technology and we are already seeing new methods of communication emerge. Artificial reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) services are being developed, both for educational and networking purposes. Different forms of social media can prove useful at a time when many of us are otherwise isolated from one another. Conversations around the virus, especially those at the community level, can help us navigate this crisis. Scientists and other public health experts are also using social media to more directly engage with the public or discuss emerging research, while community leaders are using it to form ad-hoc volunteer networks to help vulnerable neighbours.”
Smaller businesses have suffered as a result of the lockdowns, but many have made valiant efforts to adapt. As we now begin to emerge from the strictest period of lockdown, there is much speculation as to potential lasting effects.
“As of mid-April, roughly a third of the global population is on lockdown. In times like these, working from home becomes the norm for most people with office jobs. Many meetings are now held via video conference so as to avoid face-to-face contact. We have lost the immediacy of face-to-face communications. In this regard, the pandemic could be a boost for digitisation. Faced with this new reality, many companies will now increase investments in their digital infrastructure,” said Liu.
“Now is the time for organisations to think about their digital transformation and how adapting processes that have a positive long-term effect for their business. 5G has the potential to transform all industries, however, when looking at ICT technologies that can help an organisation it is important to consider the most appropriate solution to help deliver connectivity.”
While public networks and enterprise infrastructure have generally held up well, some weaknesses have emerged in various solutions under recent patterns of usage. Liu emphasises the need to ensure stability.
“If you have been working from home during this pandemic, you have probably noticed a tech glitch or two. Maybe your co-worker’s face froze in a video conference, or you watched a YouTube video that seemed grainier than normal.
“As we see more and more individuals work from home and students engage in online learning, it is a natural by-product that we would see an increase in web traffic. And as more entertainment options are cancelled in communities across the world, an increase in video traffic and online gaming is not surprising. But this means that providers will need to adapt to changing traffic demands driven by quarantines. Streaming services have announced plans to reduce video quality which is expected to cut traffic and help avoid congestion.
“As a provider of network equipment, supporting network stability is our paramount social responsibility. We strive to ensure that everyone is able to communicate, access data, and share information anytime, anywhere. That becomes even more crucial in a time like this. We have established a comprehensive customer network support system that covers organisational structures, designated personnel, processes, and IT tools,” said Liu.
The responsibility that rests with technology companies, Huawei included, is not lost on Liu. He argued that China’s experience showed how critical technologies can be to an integrated pandemic response.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that technology can play an important role in helping to control this pandemic. Since the first report of coronavirus, it has spread to almost 200 countries. As China initiated its response to the virus, it leaned on its strong technology sector and specifically artificial intelligence (AI), data science, and technology to track and fight the pandemic while leading tech companies, including Huawei, accelerated their company’s healthcare initiatives. As a result, the tech sector is integrally involved with doctors, academics, and government entities around the world to activate technology to help mitigate the effects of this pandemic.
“AI is a potential game-changer in fighting this virus,” Liu asserts. “Generally, the better we can track the virus, the better we can fight it. By analysing news reports, social media platforms and government documents, AI can learn to detect an outbreak. At Huawei, we have developed an AI tool which can automatically assess lung structure and function, alleviating the shortage of doctors qualified to perform such analyses. We hope to share these experiences with our European partners. In Italy, for example, Wi-Fi 6 network equipment was provided to 10 temporary hospital facilities in order to allow the communication with the other healthcare bodies. Huawei is working with some of its partners to create an ad hoc video conferencing platform capable of ensuring a real-time connection between the hospitals in the red areas and the crisis unit in the region to which it belongs or the designated government body, guaranteeing continuous coordination of the emergency remotely.”
While the industry’s, and the world’s, focus has been on the pandemic response, other major topics have been pushed aside. As major restrictions are eased across Europe, as well as here in Ireland, is sustainability likely to fall down the industry agenda?
“I would hope not. Sustainability is something which should remain on the agenda of both governments and businesses.
“At Huawei, we have set ambitious targets to slash per-connection carbon emissions by 80% by 2025. If achieved, this would make ICT one of the world’s most energy-efficient industries. To put it simply: with digital help, more can be done with less. Technology can help the world to better manage resources to become greener, smarter and more prosperous. To ensure Europe has the ‘greenest’ 5G possible as we move from development to deployment, government, policy makers, and businesses need to recognise the irreversible link between ‘green’ and ‘digital’ in the coming months and years.”
Liu believes the central role of technology in the various pandemic responses around the world will have a lasting positive effect.
“When we look to our future and our lives post Covid-19, I think we will consider how we used technology during lockdown and if we are to be living the ‘new normal,’ what will this look like, and how can technology be an enabler to our everyday lives.
“If you look to the restaurant industry and how they have adapted their business model to offer meal kits for sale online via their web site or social media, it has helped many restaurants keep their head above water. In times of uncertainty, people become creative, innovative, and technology can play a leading role in being the enabler to socio-economic development,” concluded Liu.