Huawei Goes All-In on AI but Acknowledges Telco Job Losses

Huawei has signaled its intent in the emerging world of artificial intelligence (AI), unveiling its first broad product set for what it describes as one of history's great transformative technologies.

In front of 25,000 people at the company's annual customer event in Shanghai, rotating chairman Eric Xu said the first "full scenario" AI chips would be available commercially by the second quarter of next year inside Huawei's own products.

The new Ascend chips are based on a unified architecture capable of scaling up from lightweight IoT apps to heavy-duty data center deployments, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. said.

The full-stack portfolio also includes tools to accelerate and simplify AI development, including an automated development toolkit and a unified framework for model training. (See Huawei Unveils AI Strategy, Portfolio.)

Xu said AI had the potential to reshape every industry and business, and Huawei aimed to help prepare them for change.

He outlined Huawei's AI strategy, which does not offer great detail but sets out some underlying approaches to development, such as the need for basic research and "an open global ecosystem."

The company offered no figures on its AI investment plans or expected revenues.

In contrast to the expansive rhetoric about AI's broad economic impact, Huawei sees the benefit for its core telco customers confined primarily to network efficiency.

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Xu said AI promised a path to an autonomous network, but acknowledged this could take a heavy toll on employee numbers.

"We certainly do not hope that one day all operations engineers employed by the telcos will become redundant -- that is, of course, bad news. But if one day we can realize the autonomous network, such jobs of O&M [operations and maintenance] engineers will become redundant." (See Huawei Can Help Cut 90% of Networks Operations Jobs, Says Senior Exec .)

He said AI was for telcos wanting to cut operational costs.

"If a telco CTO is not happy with their current level of network opex, then AI services would be music to their ears," Xu told a press conference.

He pushed back against suggestions that the focus on AI meant a shift away from Huawei's current business of selling network solutions and cloud services to telcos and enterprises, and making consumer smartphones.

AI was a powerful general-purpose technology like computing in the 20th century, and would make Huawei's existing solutions and services more competitive, Xu said.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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