Huawei: ‘We believe tech can play a role in helping to control this pandemic’

18 May 2020804 Views

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Image: © skvalval/Stock.adobe.com

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Among the various ways technology is being used to tackle challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Huawei is trying to aid efforts with AI and 5G.

Whatever world we’re faced with at the other end of the Covid-19 pandemic will likely be radically different from the one that came before. Aside from our attitude to hand hygiene, the very structure of our society has changed almost overnight.

At one point, half the world was staying at home and now, as restrictions are easing in many countries, it seems possible that some companies and institutions will offer their employees the ability to continue working remotely in the months and years to come. Now, more than ever, the latest telecommunications technologies are vital for keeping individuals and companies – and particularly hospitals and frontline staff – connected at all times.

One of the companies to offer its support over the past few months was Huawei, which provided network connectivity support at the centre of the first major outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Closer to home, the company also caught Ireland’s attention after it agreed to send essential equipment for the country’s healthcare workers. As well as personal protective equipment, these shipments also included ICT solutions such as video conferencing screens for hospitals.

Huawei Technologies’ enterprise business director, Kevin McNerney

Huawei Technologies’ enterprise business director, Kevin McNerney. Image: Jason Clarke

5G network in three days

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, Huawei Technologies’ enterprise business director, Kevin McNerney, said that the company’s rapid pivot of its services to help tackle challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic was “yet another reminder that we share this world and share the same fate”.

“We believe technology can play a role in helping to control this pandemic,” he said.

During the earliest stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, authorities famously built the Huoshenshan Hospital in just 10 days to rapidly treat a surging number of Covid-19 patients.

As with any modern hospital, telecommunications systems were vital not only for day-to-day function, but data collection and remote diagnosis and monitoring. McNerney said that Huawei was instrumental in getting this technology set up at the hospital.

“Our role in the new hospital in Wuhan was to deploy its 5G network, including network planning, survey, design, laying fibre, deploying base stations and commissioning,” he said.

“We did this with 300 staff in three days so that – for obvious reasons – the hospital could get up and running as soon as possible.”

This helped doctors working at the hospital conduct HD video conferencing with colleagues across China, while minimising the need for on-site doctors at the new hospital.

5G in a post-Covid-19 world

5G is, of course, a topic that gets constant attention in the press and online world. More recently, 5G and Covid-19 have become intertwined in debunked conspiracy theories and misinformation spreading online.

Huawei’s Richard Griffith was among those who attempted to point people in the direction of scientific reasoning in a recent blog post, saying: “The videos, memes, and stories shared on social media linking 5G and Covid-19 fall in exactly the same basket of loony conspiracy theories as the earlier 5G scare story that claimed a flock of birds died in the Netherlands during an early trial of 5G.”

Huawei Ireland’s CEO, Jijay Shen, is unsurprisingly of the same opinion, noting examples of where he sees 5G contributing to society. This includes a partnership the company formed with firms in Switzerland to find ways of deploying 5G in farms for ‘smart agriculture’. In a post-Covid-19 world, he expects 5G will be transformational in many industries.

“5G can help with remote consultations and even remote examinations [in hospitals], which helps relieve the shortage of specialists on the frontline while helping to reduce the possibility of cross-infection,” Jijay told Siliconrepublic.com.

“When we look to our future and our lives post-Covid-19, 5G can help bring about a positive change to many industries. 5G is the foundation of digital transformation, and it can also help to reduce the digital gap between rural and urban areas, especially in regions that do not have fibre optic connections.”

Power of AI

Another important area of tech at the moment is AI, particularly in the healthcare sector where it has been deployed for frontline medical use. One of the most notable developments has been with CT scans, which can be used to help diagnose a person with Covid-19.

However, due to the large numbers of lesions in the lungs and the rapid changes caused by the virus, multiple rechecks and image reviews are typically required over a short period of time, significantly increasing doctors’ workloads.

To counter this, an AI solution put forward by Huawei’s cloud division and Huazhong University of Science & Technology and Lanwon Technology uses computer vision and medical image analysis to step in as a ‘CT-scan imaging expert’.

For confirmed cases in hospitals, Huawei said that this AI-assisted service can quickly perform registration and quantitative analysis on the 4D dynamic data of multiple rechecks, helping doctors evaluate patients’ conditions and the effect of drug treatments.

Doctor in full PPE gear pointing to a CT scan of lungs on a screen in a dark room.

Image: © DiedovStock/Stock.adobe.com

Diagnosis in minutes

McNerney said the technology Huawei has developed is a dramatic improvement on what came before.

“Taking screening alone, it usually takes 12 minutes for a radiologist to check the images and probably another a couple minutes to fill in the report. Aided by AI, it takes just 10 seconds for diagnosis, plus another two minutes for the doctor to confirm,” he said.

“The report then comes out in 30 seconds upon that click of confirmation. At the same time, Huawei is also supporting numerous initiatives led by other private organisations to fight Covid-19 by providing cloud and AI technologies as well as tech support.”

With millions now working from home around the world, McNerney added that Huawei is going to great lengths to maintain all of the infrastructure needed to keep people connected throughout the pandemic.

“In these times, it is important that networks remain resilient and can cope with the increased demand. Homes have become offices, friends and families now stay connected through video, and students access lessons online,” he said.

“This has placed significant pressure on telecoms systems. Here in Ireland, we are working closely with our partners and customers to ensure that people and businesses remain connected through mobile networks and high-quality ultra-fast broadband.”

Colm Gorey is a senior journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com