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Beyond borders

Global customers and greater insight into international smart city development is the focus for this full service Chinese smart city solution provider.


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ZTE has helped to build smart into 145 cities across 40 countries and regions
ZTE has helped to build smart into 145 cities across 40 countries and regions

In smart city timescales, ZTE Corporation is somewhat of a veteran. This technology titan is China’s largest provider of telecoms, enterprise and consumer technology solutions. It is one of the earliest vendors in the Chinese smart city space estimated to be worth 100 billion yuan (US$16.11 billion).


This year the company debuted at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona (SCEWC16). And while here, ZTE demonstrated its further commitment to the international smart cities ecosystem by signing a co-operation agreement with the Smart Cities Council of the US (SCC). This not only marks the company’s formal entry into the SCC, but also provides a route for its collaboration with renowned enterprises and research institutes in the smart cities space and related areas.


In an exclusive interview with Sun Peng, ZTE’s chief architect enterprise business and executive dean of ZTE Smart City Institute, he told SmartCitiesWorld that while ZTE was hugely successful in China, the way it did things was very different to other international companies. Collaborating with SCC was a very important learning exercise. “By working with this international mainstream council we can learn a lot of information from them and working together with them provides better solutions for overseas and international markets,” he said.


ZTE first started working in the smart city space in 2005. Its first city project was Chong Qing that is situated in southwest china and with a population now of about 30 million is one of China’s so-called six national central cities.


Since then, ZTE has helped to build smart into 145 cities across 40 countries and regions, with 100 of these in China alone. Many of these cities are green field sites built from the ground up. “It’s easier to do it in China because once the government says ‘go’ there’s not much resistance from many places,” says Peng.


Of the many smart cities facilitated in China to date, Peng holds Yinchuan, situated in the middle of the Xingxia Plain as an excellent example of the company’s smart city end-to-end implmentation.


This city, he says, benefited from the company’s top level design that was generated by identifying exactly what the city required to make it function much better.


In Yinchuan, the company has installed 10 modules and 13 systems supported by networks, the cloud and apps to make life easier, more efficient and far less bureaucratic.


Take ZTE’s street light solution, which provides a number of useful functions. Not only are these charging stations but wi-fi hotspots, surveillance cameras, environmental detectors as well the means by which public information can be shared and media opportunities created.


ZTE also offers a smart car parking app, whereby an IoT and cloud platform identifies vacant car parking spaces by searching for availability, navigating to the empty spot and then paying for it.


Citizens also have a smart citizen card that can be used for everything from travelling on public transport, visiting the doctor, shopping, hiring a bike and even taking out a library book. Data collected is said to be anonymous and is used to provide intelligence on how to further improve city services.


The US is not the only geographical location China is reaching out for. In June last year, leaders from China and the European Union met for the 17th EU-China summit. While it was understood that historically China operates a top down smart city approach and the EU operates a more smart cities 2.0 strategy i.e. from the bottom up, it was agreed common ground and learning could be built upon.


The summit set out three areas of partnership priorities between the two regions. a) The digital economy, b) research and innovation, c) strengthening the China – EU urbanisation partnership.


It was reported that with this third point there would be active co-operation in a number of smart areas from planning and design, through to transportation, public services and joint pilots involving Chinese and EU cities.


Asking Sun Peng what he believes the ZTE’s USP is as it begins to boldly navigate the world stage, he cites end-to-end solutions and top-level design, a proven track record and working to scale.


While smart cities are all about cutting edge urban living, the mechanism to make them happen needs guidance, education and most importantly a rather large dollop of old fashioned trust.


Experience thus far has shown him that often local governments don’t know what a smart city is. Conservative cities don’t like change. Visionaries can see the bigger picture but cities really need to get smart if there is someone on their side, who they can trust to get the job done.


With Donald Trump set for the White House with a briefcase full of protectionist-flavoured policies, what are ZTE’s chances of becoming fully involved in US smart city implementation?


Peng replies that the relations with both the US and Europe is for the good of the company providing valuable insights into differing attitudes and processes. He doesn’t care who the president is, it’s the cities themselves and the citizens within that determine smart city development.



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