Business / Technology

University tie-ups unleash innovation

By DAI TIAN in London (China Daily) Updated: 2016-10-25 09:14

Huawei Technologies Co, China's leading smartphone and equipment maker, made big inroads into Europe by tying up with world-class universities in the United Kingdom that have been leading the way with innovation for decades.

They complement Britain's affluent market, easy transportation, quality workforce and a reliable legal environment.

Huawei has invested close to 10 million pounds ($12.22 million) in academic research in the UK, ranging from 5G, graphene applications and high-speed broadband to data science, 3-D audio and interactive multimedia technology.

The investment is part of the $2 billion Huawei has pledged to invest in the UK by 2017.

"When it comes to research and development, companies naturally focus more on the 'D' side (of R&D), and that's why collaborating with universities can strengthen their fundamental research and bridge the gap," said Deng Ziliang, associate professor of the School of Business at Renmin University of China.

Edward Brewster, Huawei's head of communication, said: "Now with more than 20 collaboration projects with universities across the country, we're confident we'll exceed our commitment."

James Baker, business director for the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester, said: "We first got in touch with Huawei via Nobel laureate Kostya Novoselov."

Two professors of the university were awarded the prize in physics in 2010 for their groundbreaking isolation of graphene, a thin layer of pure carbon, tougher than a diamond, yet lightweight and flexible. It allows electrons to glow up to 100 times faster than in silicon, and is therefore seen as a "wonder material".

Huawei signed an initial two-year research project with the university in October last year, exploring graphene's applications in consumer electronics.

"The project is running well in bringing together academia research and market demand," said Baker, adding that Huawei's R&D team is working closely with the 250 researchers on campus through regular progress-sharing sessions.

The jointly built 5G Innovation Center at the University of Surrey was another high-profile deal Huawei signed in September last year.

Keith Robson, COO of the center, said: "The 5GIC uses state-of-the-art Huawei equipment to provide an advanced 4G architecture which is gradually being developed on-site toward a full 5G standard."

Research on autonomous vehicle technologies and the internet of things is continuing.

Later this month, Imperial College London will unveil a data analysis system for precision healthcare, backed by Huawei's enterprise computing servers, according to Guo Yike, director of the university's Data Science Institute.

Guo said Huawei stands out for its stance that immediate returns are not essential. "Huawei won't fund any ordinary university, and neither in itself is it any ordinary company."

The University of Oxford and Huawei are "natural partners", said Nick Rawlines, the pro-vice-chancellor for development and external affairs, given "the company's innovative business structure and Oxford's bottom-up management approach".

Johannes Benedikt, a professor at the University of Cardiff, worked on a research program on high-speed broadband. "What I value most in Huawei is its long-term vision on solving problems for the future."

Renmin University's Deng said: "As Chinese firms move beyond buying and manufacturing globally, internationalization on the R&D side is the next crucial step."

However, Li Qi, associate professor in applied economics of Peking University, voiced concerns that it would be difficult for smaller firms to replicate Huawei's strategy.

"Capital would be a major challenge. In 2015, Huawei's R&D expense surpassed Cisco by $3 billion. That's a luxury smaller players can't afford," Li said.

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