Huawei CEO: Connecting the next billion needs investment and collaboration

Connecting the next billion people to the internet will require massive investment and greater cooperation, according to Huawei’s CEO.

Speaking at Huawei’s Ultra Broadband Forum in Frankfurt, Houlin Zhao, rotating CEO, called for policy makers, telecoms companies, and OTT businesses to come together for the benefit of unconnected people in developing countries.

He claimed that despite over 7 billion mobile subscriptions, connectivity is not evenly distributed around the world. Currently 41% of households have broadband, but that figures falls to 15% in developing countries.

“Telcos and governments should prioritise connecting households no matter where they are,” he said.

Aside from the business benefits of connecting a billion people, Zhao pointed to the benefits connectivity brings, claiming it was “an enabler for development” and could increase global GDP by 1.5%.

Connectivity needs investment

To connect 50% of global households by 2020 (up from a current 41%) will require a minimum of $450 billion, but could require double or even triple that figure.

However, Zhao believes the money can’t just come from telecoms. “There’s a misperception that telcos are very rich and the business is a goldmine,” he said, adding that he has to try and to convince heads of state that isn’t the case – massive infrastructure costs, customer demands for ever-lower prices, plus competition from OTT businesses mean it is “hard to survive.”

“It’s very important for heads of state to support telcos.”

Beyond the bottom line benefit

Luis Neves, Executive Vice President at Deutsche Telecom and Chairman of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) went beyond the increased bottom line and highlighted the environmental benefit of connectivity.

The GeSI’s latest sustainability report, Smarter2030, suggests carbon emissions could be reduced by up to 20% through IT efficiency. Smarter agriculture, better water management, less commuting through remote working all offer ways to lessen our emissions. 

“No other industry can have this impact,” he said. Adding that compared to the $11 trillion the Smarter2030 report claims can be saved through greater connectivity, the $450 billion investment required is “peanuts”.

“We have an opportunity to decouple growth from emissions.”


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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