July 30, 2021

Bridging the Digital Divide in Asia Pacific

Bridging the Digital Divide in Asia Pacific

This blog post is based on the topics to be covered at the following FT & Huawei summit tomorrow. Register for the event here.

We are now living in a digital world, accelerated by businesses and governments globally as they shake off the hangover of an unprecedented world event, and Asia Pacific is poised to benefit significantly; but there is a real risk that this new frontier will create an even greater rift between the digitally literate and those left behind. 

GSMA reports that our current digital transformation could leave as many as 700 million people unconnected. Reaching these challenging remote areas requires ingenuity, innovation, and more importantly, a concerted effort by an ecosystem of operators, vendors, government and industry.

As an ICT enabler and local partner for bridging the digital divide, Huawei is combining technology and social responsibility to drive economic recovery and sustainable green development in 3 fundamental ways.

1. Increasing ICT Connectivity to Drive Balanced Development

Connectivity and cloud are the lifeblood of the digital frontier; unfortunately, the digital readiness of the region varies greatly. Huawei’s 2020 Global Connectivity Index (GCI), which attempts to evaluate the digital readiness of an economy by looking at a combination of connectivity and capabilities, shows that India, Indonesia and Philippines ranked respectively 63, 58 and 59 out of all countries, while Singapore ranked No.2. Philippines and Indonesia are the lowest in fixed broadband speeds compared to Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand at the front (Ookla Speedtest, Oct. 2020).  More broadly, cloud penetration in the region is less than 20%, 4G mobile coverage is slightly above half, and FBB reaches barely one third of households.

Singapore ranked second in the Huawei GCI 2020, scoring well above average in the four major technology enablers

Corelating with Huawei’s GCI, countries with higher scores respond to the COVID-19 pandemic more quickly, with GDP per capita in these countries expected to decline 50% slower than in countries with lower GCI scores.

Under our Tech4All initiative, Huawei’s RuralStar program has aimed to provide Internet and connectivity for underdeveloped regions since 2017, successfully cooperating with 12 operators in 8 countries, including Thailand and Indonesia, in its first year. The latest iteration, RuralStar Pro, further reduces costs by integrating baseband, radio frequency (RF), and wireless backhaul functions and consumes barely 100W, benefiting remote villages with populations smaller than 500.

Broadband plays an increasingly important role in the alleviation of poverty in rural areas and Huawei will continue to innovate products and solutions to bring digital to every person, home, and organization.

2. Narrowing the Digital Talent Gap through Inclusive Strategies

Research by Korn Ferry suggests that Asia Pacific is facing an imminent labor shortage of 47 million by 2030 and an annual opportunity cost of US$4.238 trillion. The distribution of talent is uneven, according to the Network Readiness Index 2020, which sees Singapore ranked No.3 among 134 countries and Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh at 113, 104, and 105 respectively.

Asia Pacific is facing an imminent labor shortage of 47 million by 2030 and an annual opportunity cost of US$4.238 trillion.

At its recent “Tech & Sustainability: Everyone’s Included” forum, co-hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Huawei Chairman Liang Hua said, “Digital skills and literacy are not just the foundation for the digital economy; they are also a basic human right defined by the United Nations.”

Read his speech in full: Technology for a Greener & More Sustainable Intelligent World

This was backed up by the announcement of Huawei’s Seeds for the Future Program 2.0 on July 8, 2021, with an investment of US$150 million in digital talent development over the next five years, benefitting more than 3 million. Echoing this global initiative, Huawei Asia Pacific plans to cultivate 400,000 local ICT talents based on Seeds for the Future and other programs.

To facilitate inclusive learning opportunities during the period of disruption caused by COVID-19, Huawei Singapore joined the UNESCO through the Learn ON program to provide high-quality learning resources. This Virtual AI Academy program was firstly launched in Singapore 2020 and provides 140 sets of courses covering Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, 5G, and Internet of Things (IoT), aiming for all levels users upskilled to prepare digital age.

Helping pave the way for gender equality, Huawei launched a Digital Training Bus specifically to benefit rural women in Bangladesh, which as of December 2019 provided training for over 63,000 women. Huawei is working hard to provide the necessary tools and knowledge to prepare the next generation of digital warriors.

Bangladeshi women boarding the Digital Training Bus to start to class

3. Innovating to Conserve Nature and Achieve a Sustainable Green Society

This is the only planet we have, and we need to protect it.  Currently 1 million species are at risk of extinction. Climate change is increasing the occurrence of natural disasters, our oceans are 10 times more polluted than they were just 4 decades ago, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, which is itself melting.

Huawei has been publishing its annual Sustainability Report for 13 consecutive years, the most recent highlighting Huawei’s commitment and progress over the past year in its 4 strategies for sustainability: digital inclusion, security and trustworthiness, environmental protection, and a healthy and harmonious ecosystem.

In Asia Pacific, Huawei has been increasing its investment in sustainable green solutions, leveraging clean power generation, electric transportation, and smart energy storage. 

For Digital Power, Huawei has promoted 93 of the top 100 suppliers to set carbon reduction targets.  Leading by example, the annual power generation of PV plants in Huawei’s campuses have reached 12.6 million milliwatt, and similar Smart PV solutions have been deployed at Singapore Changi Airport, the Indonesian Institute Technology Sumatera and the National Airport of Thailand. Huawei FusionSolar Solution has supported Sunseap Group, a solar energy solutions provider, to build the world’s largest offshore floating Photovoltaic (PV) farms in Singapore.

Find out more about the Renewable Powered Future summit

Leveraging technology to protect the environment with multiple partners, including Rainforest Connection, Huawei has successfully helped conserve natural resources through significantly improved energy footprints of telecom equipment, assisted the protection of rainforest and endangered species in the Philippines and Malaysia by combining cloud and AI technologies and solar-powered sensing devices to prevent illegal logging and animal poaching, and even played a role in preventing the fallout of natural disasters with early warning systems and predictive analytics. 

Rainforest Connection CEO & Founder Topher White installing a “Nature Guardian” in the Palawan Rainforest in the Philippines

These solutions will help enable green development in Asia Pacific, including sustainable green solutions, energy conservation and circular-economy development in all industries.

The adoption of digital technology follows the law of increasing returns, meaning the more we deploy and use it, the exponentially greater the economic output and wellbeing of all involved.  However, it’s time for a wake-up call to prevent a widening digital divide. This starts with fair access to digital services and skills development specifically focusing on connecting the unconnected. Throughout this process we must be even more vigilant in protecting our world with green sustainable development.

After all, what’s the point of replicating our world in the digital space if we can’t be around to enjoy it?

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