Just 15 years ago, working overseas meant limited communication with family and loved ones. Today, however, video conferences are a daily norm for both work and personal matters. Such is the progress of digital transformation over the years, illustrates Lu Qilin, President of Strategy & Marketing Department, Huawei Asia Pacific Region.

Digital technology and innovation are an integral part of our work and life today, Lu says. He was speaking with GovInsider during the recent Huawei APAC Digital Innovation Congress 2022, held on 19 and 20 May in Singapore. At the summit, Huawei leaders and industry players across the Asia Pacific (APAC) discussed the new frontiers of digital innovation in the region.

In the exclusive interview with GovInsider, Lu shares the trends surrounding digital transformation in APAC countries, and Huawei’s role in fuelling the growth of the digital economy in the region.

Challenges surrounding APAC’s digital transformation

“As a leader in the ICT industry, Huawei believes in the importance of digital infrastructure for the development of a digital economy,” says Lu.

Infrastructure, he believes, is the bedrock of innovation. With the popularisation and development of digital technology, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has become a core driver of global economic growth.

Among them, 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the key connection technologies countries need to develop, in addition to cloud and AI computing technologies, he states.

Across the globe, 170 countries have already released digital strategies to ensure they remain digitally competitive – what Lu calls “the digital race of the future”. While some level of competition is healthy, ensuring that no country falls too far behind is equally important, as connectivity is increasingly accepted as a basic human right.

Economic development in APAC is relatively diverse, Lu says. This has led to large discrepancies in network infrastructure across countries, or even between rural and urban areas.

For example, the cost of spectrum can vary up to 10 times between countries in APAC, and the spectrum in China and Japan is allocated free to the carriers. “These factors make the availability, network coverage, quality, and experience of digital technologies availability vary widely,” says Lu.

How Huawei drives the development of ICT infrastructure

ICT should be viewed as a basic industry – much like water and electricity, Lu says. Only then will there be sufficient policy and investment support to fuel the development of countries’ digital infrastructures.

In addition to wider coverage and improved network quality, cloud computing will also play an increasingly important role. Many countries in APAC have begun to deploy and build data centres and state-run cloud systems for startups and academics.

“Huawei will work with partners to jointly innovate and apply digital technologies, such as 5G, cloud computing, AI, and apply them to industries such as finance, transportation, healthcare, education, and energy, to provide scenario-based solutions to accelerate digital transformation,” says Lu.

The final key ingredient for economic recovery and digitalisation is talent – an area in which Huawei is continually investing in. One way they are doing so is through the Seeds of the Future programme, which was first launched in 2008 to help cultivate a local “talent ecosystem”.

To date, the programme has been implemented in 15 countries and regions, and more than 6,000 students across more than 90 universities in the Asia Pacific benefit from this programme. Meanwhile, the Huawei ICT Academy has helped to skill around 170,000 local tech talents in the region and aims to cultivate another 500,000 more talents in the next five years.

The next step after infrastructure: Innovation

“From my point of view, digital technology has always been an integral part of our work and life at different stages of human development, creating value for social progress and business,” says Lu.

The Huawei Intelligent World 2030 report predicts that by 2030, the total number of global connections will reach 200 billion. At these rapid rates of digitalisation, human society will also develop at an unprecedented rate, with ICT technology making greater contributions in sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, and sustainability.

Wearable technology, for instance, is revolutionising healthcare. Watches today no longer just tell the time. Instead, they come with AI-powered sensors that can help identify potential health problems, Lu says. This shifts the focus away from merely treating symptoms to preventing illnesses.

Digital transformation has also changed how the world tackled Covid-19. For example, cloud computing enables scientists to process large amounts of medical data quickly. This can speed up the time it takes to create vaccines, Lu shares. By 2030, remote surgery is also expected to be universal, he adds.

“In a digital-first era, Huawei will continue to innovate and invest in the future,” says Lu. Already, the tech giant has the second highest R&D expenditure in the world, investing over 20 per cent of its revenue in the past year.

Asia Pacific will be a highlight of the digital economy in the future, Lu says. “People here are full of passion and aspiration. They want to change something, they want to improve.”

Huawei is on a mission to help the region achieve its fullest potential by working with industry partners to “accelerate digitalisation and foster digital inclusion”, Lu says. “We aim to be a key contributor to the digital economy in the Asia-Pacific region, to create better digital lives for all.”