Huawei has launched a US$10 million, 5G-powered AI Lab in Singapore, opening it up to local startups, companies, government agencies and education institutes to use. “We position this lab as a public facility,” said Nicholas Ma, CEO of the Huawei business in Singapore.

The lab will serve as a space to test, trial and train on technologies that Singapore has made a cornerstone of its Smart Nation agenda. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat just launched a National AI Strategy, committing over S$500 million for research, with a new government AI unit and projects in five key areas: healthcare, freight, municipal services, education and border clearance.

Meanwhile, in October, Minister of Communications and Information S Iswaran announced that the “5G ecosystem will be the backbone of our digital economy”, announcing S$40 million for research and trials, including for consumer applications, smart estates and transport.

Inside the lab

Huawei’s lab will ease access for companies to test 5G without having to go through separate licencing processes with the government. Startups will not need their own permits and equipment to test their systems on 5G. Huawei secured a separate licence from the Infocomm and Media Development Agency that allows for any other companies to use their space, Ma said.

The lab will showcase oversees examples for local companies to learn from, he added. For instance, an AI tool allows supermarket weighing scales to recognise different types of apples and charge accordingly.

There will be AI developer kits, that can be used to build algorithms across a range of capabilities from novices to researchers. Huawei is running workshops and hands-on training at the lab for those who want to get familiar with these tools.

The company’s S$10 million investment in the lab is just a start, Ma said, and it will look to spend further after working out new requirements with its partners next year. “We will try to mobilise the whole ecosystem for the long term,” he added.

The lab is located at Huawei’s offices at Changi Business Park. Its launch last week was attended by the Economic Development Board’s Assistant Managing Director Kiren Kumar, Members of Parliament, civil servants and business leaders from Singapore and China. They were joined by customers such as Japanese smart scale company DIGI and regional e-learning platform ULearning.

In Singapore, Huawei has provided equipment for 5G trials ongoing at ports, Ma said. And last week, it signed partnerships with local AI and robots companies OTSAW MI Robotic, AR and VR companies Hiverlab and Hellohold, and NAVINFO Datatech, a Singapore-China joint venture for mapping technology.

Singapore-China skills partnerships

The lab’s opening also marked the launch of a slew of partnerships to strengthen ties between Singapore and China for talent development. In Guangzhou, last week Singaporean Minister Ong Ye Kung witnessed Business China and CapitaLand signing partnerships with Huawei to run student exchange programmes between China and Singapore. Students from Singapore will be able to go on 6-month internships to China to work with the latest tech, alongside cultural and language immersion, Ma said.

Huawei plans to train 100 AI architects and 1,000 AI developers in Singapore over the next three years. Companies can “treat this as their own facility to do training”, Ma added, with Huawei providing training expertise when needed. “Combined with cloud, we support local companies and partners with AI and cloud platform services with skills transfers and enable the local companies with skillsets and resources needed to better support their research and development,” he said.

The company has 680 employees in Singapore and has created 5,000 other jobs in Singapore through its partner ecosystem. It also signed a partnership with Nanyang Polytechnic at the lab’s launch to build 5G, cloud and AI talent.

With Huawei spending millions on a new facility, what are its objectives? Ma, who is now completing one year leading the Singapore business, has three long term objectives. “The first is if the whole government sector can treat this AI lab as really a public facility,” he said. “We want to be deeply involved in the local ecosystem.”

Second is to help Singaporean companies reach the Chinese market, and bring Chinese and Southeast Asia companies to Singapore. Customers like DIGI and ULearning have expanded their business overseas through its partnership with Huawei, he added. And the third goal is to build stronger local talent in tech. “We want to help different industries to get their staff trained and get more students trained,” Ma said.