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  1. Spotlight on Policy
20 May 2021updated 09 Sep 2021 9:13am

Investing in innovation

Research and development is the key to better connectivity and collaboration within the global technology industry and wider economy. 

By Jeremy Thompson

Our growing reliance on technology and connectivity was made clear during the Covid-19 pandemic. These were the tools that enabled us to learn and work from home and access many of the key services we need as businesses shifted online. They helped us stay in touch with our friends and family when our lives were turned upside down.

And there can be no doubt they will be key to the economic recovery we need in a post-pandemic world, fuelling growth and creating the opportunities of the future. For example, 71 per cent of organisations surveyed by Huawei said they would implement a hybrid approach to office and remote working this year. Yet we can only allow technology to play such a significant part in our lives if we feel confident about putting our trust in it.

The next generation of wireless (5G) and fixed-access (full-fibre) technologies can support all sorts of applications, from medicine through to transport or financial services. But as technology evolves, so too do the risks attached to it. And all organisations from governments to small traders have a responsibility to protect their data and their users as best they can.

When we talk about standards, we should not mistake these for regulations for the sake of it. Rigorous cyber security standards are not intended to stifle organisations – quite the opposite. A secure internet, where different providers and users can interact seamlessly, is more likely to encourage innovation, and by extension, a more thriving, globally minded economy.

What is the “splinternet” and why is it best avoided?

The “splinternet” is a term used to describe the co-existence of various internet networks – i.e. those based on different standards and technologies, which results in the fragmentation of the World Wide Web at a conceptual level. This will increase costs for consumers, and limit trade, knowledge exchange or even conversations between people or companies from different parts of the globe.

Technological decoupling – that is, to say, making it so certain technologies cannot work in certain places – would undermine the positive progress that globalisation has made in terms of business, education and travel. It is in no sector’s interest to cut itself off from the rest of the world.

Why is research and development (R&D) so important, and what does this mean for connectivity?

Investment is the key to innovation and Huawei knows that. Our commitment to R&D borders on an obsession. More than half (53.4 per cent) of our workforce, that is 105,000 people, are employed in R&D teams and, as of the end of 2020, we had more than 100,000 patents for products and services. Huawei is equipped to lead on 5G because we have invested in the expertise required to do so.

A shared space with shared rules that benefit and protect everyone should be the aim that companies and governments work towards. Huawei doesn’t want to hide away patents. Under a banner of unified standards, and in a cooperative cyberspace, Huawei would relish the opportunity to share innovations with industry partners, and help to establish better connectivity. Everyone wins if we collaborate well.

Huawei’s intellectual property needn’t be the preserve of Huawei, but rather the catalyst for progress in the connectivity sphere. Huawei wants to follow the FRAND – fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory – principle when engaging with different industry partners on patents licensing.

We want our products and services to be available to the masses. This includes companies and consumers in the US, the UK, and everywhere else, for that matter. Huawei wants its intellectual property to create practical value in a globalised marketplace.

Again, this is why it is important for the internet to be a shared and collaborative space. Of course, all new products and services need to be secure by design. The best way of ensuring that is to invest in R&D. And on this front, Huawei leads by example, publishing many research papers. Every year, we submit more than 6,000 contributions to international standards organisations, and actively try to advocate for open-source communities.

What does the future of internet connectivity look like?

Standards are not meant to spook people. But standards should be strict enough to underscore how important it is to get them right. The onus is on technology firms and governments to work together and make this so.

While Covid-19 may have stunted travel, it did not cause globalisation to abate. The internet kept the world moving. And so, going forward, the internet needs to be reflexive, responsive and able to facilitate and support the many different actors who use it.

Ultimately, at Huawei, we know that people are always more innovative when they can work together. And it is that mentality that underpins our approach to intellectual property.

Just as Huawei’s patent portfolio includes many of the essential breakthroughs for 3G and 4G previously, we are also well-placed to do the same for 5G. The age of hyper-connectivity is upon us and will transform our lives in ways we can’t yet imagine. By sharing our ideas, collaborating on new technology and working in a spirit of transparency, we can build trust in the future so we can all make the most of it.

Jeremy Thompson is executive vice-president at Huawei UK. 

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