5G, IoT and Space: trends for Asia and beyond at Web Summit

By William Smith

Web Summit has arguably become the world’s most important technology conference since its inauguration 10 years ago. But what does the Lisbon-based event have to offer from an Asian perspective? An increasing amount, it turns out. Speaking to Pitchbook, co-founder Paddy Cosgrove hailed the increasing presence of Asian companies and investors at last November’s edition of the conference. "One of the biggest areas of [investor] growth has been China,” said Cosgrove. “We have Chinese and Japanese translations for the very first time on stage. And that kind of reflects the demographic and geographic change."

On the subject of China, one of the most heavily promoted talks coming from the chairman of Chinese technology firm Huawei, Guo Ping. Guo’s talk focused on Huawei’s idea of 5G X. “This ‘X’ can be AI, big data, VR or AR, among other technologies,” said Guo. “I believe that in the future, 5G X will create countless opportunities for entrepreneurs,” he went on to say, comparing the potential of the technology to the introduction of electricity. “The rollout of 5G commercial networks is occurring more [quickly] than expected. As of now, 40 carriers in over 20 countries are using 5G networks commercially. We predict that by the end of this year, we will see 60 commercial 5G networks.”

A raft of existing use cases of 5G technology were given by Guo, including musicians being able to remain in time while playing together over the internet, owing to real-time, low-latency communication, as well as reducing the need to inspect pipelines in person, thanks to high definition video streaming from remote locations. “The applications and software built on top of [5G] is what generates value. [...] Huawei has been working with carriers to create a foundation so app and software developers can fully unleash their potential,” he said.

The talk was in line with the company’s attempt to build its own “next generation” ecosystem of technologies, owing to the cold shoulder being shown to the company by the US government.

5G was also an important element of a talk from Samsung Electronics’ Chief Innovation Officer, David Eun, discussing an area where the full breadth of Samsung’s products can interact; the home. Eun believes that we are on the cusp of a third phase of home technology. The first saw the introduction of refrigerators, microwaves and vacuum cleaners, though “each stood alone, serving a single mechanical purpose.” Continuing, Eun explained that “the second phase began more recently, connecting our devices and appliances to the internet, leveraging sensors and software to bring it all together, giving us what is now referred to as the connected home.”

Eun expects the current, second phase to be accelerated by technologies such as 5G. “With the advent of 5G, the percentage of connected devices in the home will continue to grow,” he said. “In the near future, the question won’t be, ‘how many devices are connected?’ The question will actually be, ‘how many devices are not connected?’” Another promising avenue sees technology migrating from palms to everyday objects. “The majority of voice assistants live on smartphones and speakers, today. But I believe, in the future, it’s conceivable that most every device and appliance will have voice assistance built in.”

The third phase, as Eun sees it, is built around “experiences”. “I believe that technology in the home is ready to undergo its own reinvention,” said Eun. “People want their devices to be more than just amazing, connected things. They want them to be creators and enablers of experiences. This future is possible because the foundation of connected devices, along with new technologies, is bringing the digital and the physical worlds together.”

Samsung sees the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) technology in every room of the house. Regarding the kitchen, for instance, Eun said: “It’s a place that will intelligently provide everyone living in your home with the meal planning and preparation to enable a healthier and happier lifestyle. And these aren’t just kitchen appliances that simply store, cook and keep your food fresh. They will become your nutritionist, your personal chef, and shopping assistant.” Of the bathroom, “It will be transformed into a wellness and health center, constantly checking in and sampling key health indicators of your overall well-being.”

Aside from titans such as Huawei and Samsung, smaller Asian organisations also made their mark. One such example was Japanese lunar exploration startup ispace, which raised over $90mn in a Series A round led by Japan Airlines and Tokyo Broadcasting System. Takeshi Hakamada, CEO and founder, spoke about the business opportunities private lunar missions presented to non-space companies. “ispace is developing robotic spacecraft to provide transportation services to space agencies, and then to commercial companies,” summarised Hakamada. “Our vision is to extend human life into outer space.”

Hakamada highlighted the increasing activity surrounding the moon, thanks to government space agencies. India’s Chandrayaan-2, the US’ Artemis Mission to land people on the moon by 2024 and Japan’s upcoming SLIM were all mentioned. But increasingly missions are being achieved with the collaboration of private companies, as demonstrated by NASA’s Commercial Crew in collaboration with SpaceX and Boeing. “ispace is developing a lunar lander and a rover to explore the surface of the moon. We take a different approach from the others. Our strength is to utilise Japanese production technology to lower the mass of the hardware, as much as possible. That enables us to lower the cost of missions and increase their number.”

Having constructed a rover just 4kg in weight, Hakamada hopes it can be used to explore the lunar surface for resources as well as potential sources of water. “We have a vision to create  new industries in space,” said Hakamada. “But space companies cannot do it by ourselves.” If humans are to extract economic value from the moon, Hakamada suggested, industries as varied as construction, insurance, automotive and telecommunications have to be involved. “ispace aims to be a platform for non-space companies to bring their technology and their business to the lunar surface.”

Whether it’s 5G, IoT, or even space, Asian enterprises are increasingly at the forefront of both setting and driving the technological agenda, whether that’s in the region, the world, or beyond.


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