With its products and services deployed in over 170 countries and serving more than one third of the world’s population, Huawei is one of the biggest players in the ICT and telecommunication sectors in the world.
The Shenzhen based company has had presence in Bangladesh since its inception. In addition to its market leading telecommunications equipment production and services the company has had enormous success in the consumer market as well, namely with its handheld devices.
We sat down with the Chief Technical Officer of Huawei Bangladesh Mr Colin Shi for an exclusive interview. A jovial man who instantly puts everyone around him at ease, Colin Shi discussed Huawei’s history, operation, strategies and other related subjects with Fintech in detail. Here is the full interview for our readers.
FINTECH: You are the third largest smartphone vendor globally. You have kept that growth consistent. How Huawei is able to maintain that kind of consistency in performance and how difficult it is to hold onto your growth?
CS: Yes, that’s true. But at the same time smartphone is not our only business. In addition to our consumer business group, which is for the mobile phone business, we have the traditional carrier business group and the other one is for enterprise. Our consumer products or smartphone business has had steady incline, as you correctly pointed out. Globally we are at number 3. I believe the reasons for this success is our high investment in research and development, as well as in our operation. Every year we have new products coming out for different segments of people and catching different kinds of markets. Also, we have a lot of partners, like Leica. We have a strong brand image and we actively promote that globally. As you know, we have Messi as our brand ambassador. In Bangladesh we have Shakib Al Hasan.
We have a very big platform globally. Currently we are operating in 170 countries. We have very good footing in each of the countries. Like in Bangladesh we have been well received in other countries. All of these activities, I believe accumulated into our success. But we believe we still have a lot left in us and we want to go much further.
FINTECH: We also had questions about your enterprise solution and carrier services for later. But before that could you talk about how you approach some of the new disruptive technologies like Big Data and how you are going to incorporate them in your products and services?
CS: IoT and Big Data are the hot topics right now. In a way this is just a development in technology. And ultimately, it’s all about how you are going to use them. For Huwaei, there are two aspects. For our enterprise side we serve many sectors like power, education etc and different sectors have different demands. For example, Big Data is used in different sectors.
There are different ways in which the technology is being applied. In the carrier part of our business, we have found that globally operators are also looking into these new areas. This is going to
be a very competitive area in the future. And we hope to keep up with it and be able to use the new technology in ways that serves the need of our customers.
FINTECH: Please tell us about the enterprise solutions that you provide? We know that your solutions have received acclaims in the ICT sector.
CS: You know, the enterprise market is so huge and the demands are so varied. We focus on certain sectors, because obviously, we cannot do everything. Our solutions are for the education sector, financing and the power sector.
FINTECH: You have had quite a few successes in the power sector with your solar panels…
CS: We call them solar grid, yes. As I mentioned, the demands are diverse. And we have a lot of partners. For each of the specific requirements we partner with someone. We partner up with the appropriate organisation(s) and analyse the requirements. In most of the cases this is done to do the customization. But of course, we also have a lot of industry knowledge and we sometimes do consulting together with solutions. In Bangladesh, we provide solutions in different kinds of projects. We are supporting the government sectors as well.
FINTECH: You have been in Bangladesh for a while now. From your experience do you think Bangladesh was easier to penetrate compared to its South Asian counterparts like Cambodia, Vietnam, or Burma?
CS: Actually that is a very good question. In my understanding the emerging market of South Asia is actually the future. It is a high potential market. It’s good question. I think no market is easy. Each of the market has different kinds of challenges and also opportunity. It’s about how you balance these factors.
We have a strong presence in Bangladesh. We have been in Bangladesh for 19 years. That is a very long time. We understand the market and we understand our clients here. We know what the end users are thinking. This kind of understanding gives us good confidence for our future business development. And of course, I have to say, all of this has been possible because of the support from the government and the people of this country and all the different factions in the community that supported us. This is my understanding. I think this is going to help us for even further success in the future.
FINTECH: With the advent of IoT security is going to be a big concern; not to say it isn’t a big concern already. But how do you approach this and what kinds of changes you foresee?
CS: Security is another hot topic, especially with all the new technological developments. From Huawei’s point of view, we take security very seriously, not only in the face of technological innovation but simply from our beginning. We have security considerations from the development stage of every product. For some of the solutions like mobile finance etc it is of utmost importance. We follow the industry standards. We also collaborate with organisations to certify us on the security standards.
From the equipment point of view, we have our own mechanisms in place to implement high
quality security measures. We share knowledge with our clients and that is particularly valuable because of our experience globally. Security is a sensitive matter. From a telecom point of view, it is very important for us to follow the industry standards, which we do.
FINTECH: You have one of the biggest R&D in the technology sector globally. Why so much importance on R&D? And would you say this is main driving force behind your success?
CS: We have approximately 80 thousand staffs working in our R&D, which is almost half of our total working force, 45 percent. Currently, we have 15 R&D centres globally. We have them in America, in India, in China, in Japan and so on.
Our strength is technology and we must focus on innovation. You know that Huawei invests 10 percent or more of its revenue for innovation. So, we can churn out very good products in very short time. As a result, customers choose us and that in turn gives us more and more opportunities. So, you are right actually. Our R&D is our engine that drives us.
FINTECH: You are the largest manufacturer of telecom equipment. How much that expertise helps you in making your own consumer products?
CS: I think it does help, yes. They help each other. Our strength is actually that we provide end to end solutions. So, for example, in Bangladesh the penetration in the smartphone sector is a big influence on our traditional business. If the smartphone situation is good that helps the other areas of our business a lot.
And I have to stress that Huawei provides end to end solutions. In most of the places some of the features we developed work better with Huawei products.
FINTECH: What are your plans for the digital banking related services, particularly here in Bangladesh?
CS: Our main focus is going to be on mobile phone based services, like mobile financing solution. We believe that is the future. If you go to China, for example, and use cash, most people would think you are strange. They would think ‘why is he using cash?’ In Thailand you can use the ‘Alipay’ at the 7-Eleven stores, like in China.
So, these developments are happening so fast and we believe Huawei is playing a very important role in the industry. We focus on this a lot. We have a dedicated R&D for mobile finance solutions. And as of last month, we are serving world’s top two mobile finance operators already. One is bKash in Bangladesh. And the other one is M-Pesa in Kenya. These are the top two in terms of number of users. We are supporting them already. We have other operators globally, for whom we provide solutions.
Our main focus goes into providing strong platforms. As you already pointed out, security is of utmost importance. Especially in mobile finance the platform stability is very crucial. How to make sure the platform is stable is the big concern.
In most of the cases we have our local teams. We work to meet the demands of the local market. After the analysis of the market and finding out all the requirements, we then rely on our R&D to come up with the best solutions. The most important thing for us is to provide very high quality platforms in addition to providing customized features. That really is our strength.
We focus a lot on the mobile finance in the emerging market because it is certainly very important in this market compared to other countries. That is why we think it is very important in Bangladesh, simply because of the huge population. So, we hope we will have more partners in the future other than bKash. We are actually about to embark on another partnership but I can’t really comment on that right now, or disclose it.
FINTECH: You have mentioned that you have been operating here for a long time. We know that you have very publicized CSR programmes in Malaysia and other places. Tell us about your engagements here.
CS: Of course. We have programmes like ‘Seeds for the Future’ as you correctly mentioned. Every year we have 10 young students from different universities under this programme and we take them to China to visit our company facilities. They learn about new technologies like cloud computing and a lot of exciting stuff that others do not see. We also enroll them to Chinese language courses for cultural exchange. Actually, we do this globally, not just in Bangladesh.
We also donate to the ICT training buses for women in Bangladesh. That helps us share our ICT knowledge in Bangladesh. That is one of our contributions.
Other than that, we recruit fresh graduates every year from different universities. Actually, I think it is very important for us to come very close to people. We engage in a lot of other CSR activities as well. We have collaborated in projects in different universities, like with the Jahangirnagar University. An exquisitely beautiful university, I have to add. We really felta connection with the people we reach out to and who love our brand.
Bangladesh has had very rapid economic growth in recent years. The country has very good resources in the industry. The government has an excellent vision, as you know, the Digital Bangladesh vision. Most of these help create remarkable opportunities. That is why Bangladesh is a great market for us. We employ all of our technological innovations here, so that people can have the same technological advances that are happening globally. We intended to educate and change ideas about how to use and benefit from new technologies. This is something we will be doing more and more.
Currently we have 550 staffs in Bangladesh. And I also have to share that 85 percent of our staffs are local. We rely on our local staff. This are the main reasons, and it is one of the main strengths for us, that we have very good local platforms. I have to say that we are the only ones who can provide the fastest service to our users. That is one of the main reasons for which they trust us. I think it is the most remarkable thing that we have such a strong local platform compared to others.
FINTECH: Thanks very much for your time.
CS: Thank you for talking to me.