How China’s cities are building tech ecosystems

By Amit Roy Choudhury

Yingtan, a small city, has become a benchmark for how governments should use technology.

In many cities of China, tap water is not safe to drink and households and enterprises have to install water purifiers. But these are not cleaned or maintained often. Till recently Yingtan was no exception.

But the city has now installed smart water purifiers which allow residents can to check water quality using a smartphone app. Companies can also subscribe to water management services to ensure that their drinking water is clean.

Most governments have neither the expertise nor the finance ability to build cities with “smart” facilities by themselves. This is where public-private partnerships between large technology providers, with deep expertise in technologies that make cities smart, like Huawei, and city officials make sense.

Delivering clean water

The small city of Yingtan in China’s Jiangxi province is a good example of the transformative nature of such partnerships. It has a population of 1.3 million and it has made great strides by partnering with the industry to use technology to provide better services to its residents.

A local company, Jiang Xi Wotai Environmental Protection Technology, is using NB-IoT (narrow band Internet of Things) technology to develop an intelligent water system. It has added sensors with the ability to transmit information to connected purifiers.

This technology significantly improves the power consumption of user devices, system capacity and spectrum efficiency, especially in providing deep and reliable coverage. As a result, it can have a battery life of more than 10 years for a wide range of use cases.

Jiang Xi Wotai monitors in real time 72,000 water purifiers distributed in different parts of China. The company can detect potential filter problems before they arise, send out real-time alerts, and assign people to do maintenance in advance. This ensures the safety of drinking water for enterprises and households.

Cutting water leaks

Another example of how the city uses smart technologies is the connected water meters developed by Sanchuan Wisdom Technology, another local company. Sanchuan has upgraded all traditional water meters in Yingtan to smart onesdigital water meters.

The smart water meters are configured to report meter reading information twice a day, enabling water companies to better manage the meters’ status. This allows water companies to be more accurate in locating leakages and performing repairs.

Thanks to these digital water meters, the water leakage rate of the city's water supply system has dropped from 20% to 11% thanks to these meters. This translates to a savings of 2.5 million tons of water per year, which is about 2.5 billion litres of water per year – equivalent to about 1,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Building an ecosystem

According to Guo Ping, Rotating Chairman, Deputy Chairman of Huawei, Yingtan's smart city initiative has helped make the city's industrial sector more competitive.

“Yingtan has become a benchmark for other small and medium-sized cities in China that aim to go smart. This is in large part attributable to Yingtan's sound ecosystem,” he says. There are three key players in the smart city ecosystem, he adds.

The first is the Yingtan city government which has been leading the top-level design of the initiative, and putting in place preferential policies that encourage local businesses to innovate, transform, and implement new ideas.

The government has set up an industrial park, which is home to an IoT research centre , a smart application demo centre, and three open labs OpenLabs, Guo notes. The OpenLabs provide spaces for the company and its partners to test new ideas, including in areas like smart city, finance, transport, energy, manufacturing and media. “The government has also built a public cloud service platform, and taken the lead in forming an IoT alliance.”

The second key players are the mobile network carriers, he adds. Leading carriers are racing to roll out coverage, and every district in Yingtan, including rural areas, is now covered by NB-IoT networks. As a result, companies can commission NB-IoT products in any part of the city.

The third key players are the enterprises. Local SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) are actively innovating and transforming, notes Guo. They have launched multiple products and created new business models.

In addition to the water purifiers and smart water meters, about 20 other products and solutions have been incubated and deployed locally. Some of them have been rolled out to other parts of the country as well, Guo says.

Ushering competition

“As a strategic partner of Yingtan in building a smart city, Huawei has provided a series of solutions, ranging from chips, to networks, and IoT platforms. We have also helped build local ecosystem alliance,” he adds.

For instance, the company has worked with local partners like Sanchuan to provide 100,000 smart water meters in Yingtan – the largest deployment in China.

Meanwhile, in labs, partners continue to innovate on Huawei's platforms. Over the past two years, Huawei has been committed to building an open and thriving digital ecosystem, Guo says. “We will work with both our partners and competitors to deliver value to customers based on our own unique advantages.”

Huawei believes that a bigger pie is better than a bigger slice of a shrinking pie. “Growing the industry pie is the only way for Huawei to build a future-oriented digital ecosystem. It is also Huawei's responsibility as an industry leader,” he notes.

In Yingtan, the government created an environment for such collaboration to thrive. It is now leading the way for cities in China and elsewhere to do the same.

This article was produced in partnership with Huawei.