Can Chinese dragon Huawei tame the Internet of Things?
Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications kit maker, this week accelerated its play for the fast-growing Internet of Things (IoT) market with the launch of what it claimed to be “the world’s most lightweight IoT OS”. LiteOS is a bold move for Huawei in an industry which it predicts will generate 100 billion connections globally by 2025.
But with a market currently as fragmented as this one, does the Chinese giant’s proposition have what it takes to gain real global traction among developers?
The LiteOS itself is just 10KB in size and “supports zero configuration, auto-discovery, and auto-networking”, according to the firm. So far, so good. It will also be “opened to all developers” in a bid to appeal to as many IoT manufacturers as possible – with use cases ranging from smart homes to wearables and connected vehicles, according to the press blurb. It’s not the only IoT announcement Huawei made, either, with the firm also launching its Agile IoT gateway and Agile Controller – two innovations it hopes will appeal by reducing the IoT data load on networks.
Time to cash in
The firm is clearly right to be making a move into the burgeoning IoT space – a market IDC predicts will grow 19% this year and reach $27.5bn by 2018. If it’s successful in becoming the de facto platform provider to enough IoT players then revenue could soar. Huawei also has the cash to invest in new projects. Its revenue jumped an impressive 20.6% from 2013 to 2014 to reach 288.2 billion yuan ($46.5bn), of which 40bn yuan ($6.6bn) went into R&D – a 29% jump over the period. These figures propelled it above the likes of Apple and IBM in terms of R&D spend, with only US giants like Intel, Microsoft and Google spending more.
Despite dabbling with wearables, the firm is also right in sticking resolutely to its strengths. Head of strategy and marketing, William Xu, told the FT the firm wants “to provide the connections, not the devices” for the Internet of Things.
From an enterprise strategy perspective, Huawei’s IoT announcements are a smart move, according to Forrester principal analyst, Charlie Dai. “LiteOS as an embedded platform supported by Huawei's comprehensive product portfolio for telcos and enterprises will help Huawei further enhance the agility and richness of its solutions,” he told me by email. Dai also claimed that the open nature of the OS would “help Huawei extend its value ecosystem and take the lead in the enterprise IoT industry.”
Will it work?
I’m not quite so optimistic. After all, there are a large and growing number of players looking to own the IoT operating systems space, including the open source Contiki, RIOT and TinyOS projects. Also circling is ARM, which will make its mbed OS free of charge for use on its chips this year. Although it hasn’t developed an OS before, crucially it does have a slew of partners already on board. These include the likes of IBM and Salesforce, which will ensure interoperability with their apps, and chipmakers like Freescale. ARM and IBM announced an mbed development kit in February to help encourage adoption.
There are also still question marks over whether Huawei’s offering is fully open source, which could rouse from slumber that elephant in the room - security. Researchers are yet to fully work out the potential impact of the Internet of Things on security and privacy. But if the IoT pervades the corporate world – including critical infrastructure – as experts predict it will, then Huawei could still find major resistance in the US, as it has done in the past.