PARTNER FEATURE: The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are designed as a blueprint for ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for everyone – in short making our planet a better place for all.

To understand the enormity of the challenge, it’s important to note 1 billion people live on less than US$2 a day and 1 per cent of the world’s population consumes roughly 30 per cent of its resources.

ICT is seen as a critical contributor to the SDGs and clearly has the power to speed up progress towards many of the UN’s 17 objectives. There is ample research showing the economic benefits from digital technologies, which can accelerate and scale sustainable development through three key enablers: access to information and services; connectivity between individuals and organisations; and efficiencies from improved productivity and resource utilisation.

The ICT Sustainable Development Goals Benchmark, commissioned by Huawei to SustainAbility, is intended to capture the impact of ICT on the SDGs from a national perspective and provides insight to accelerate the creation of a more sustainable world. The benchmark assesses the connectivity level and progress towards the SDGs in 49 countries and ranks where digital technologies can provide the greatest breakthroughs, and the pathway for digitally-enabled sustainable development.

The 2018 report identified three SDGs with the strongest links to ICT:

  • SDG 4: Quality Education (73 per cent correlation with ICT)
  • SDG 3: Good Health & Well-Being (71 per cent correlation)
  • SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (65 per cent correlation)

Access to education
It is widely understood the path to a more sustainable future starts with education. Yet, 57 million children don’t have access to education globally. Nigeria alone is home to 10.5 million.

While investment in ICT provides an effective and low-cost solution for children and adults to access information and educational resources, communication infrastructure is limited in the country.

Huawei developed a wireless technology called Rural Star, a simplified signal box as small as a backpack which is self-powered. By attaching the box to a poll, it can provide affordable cellular service to people in unconnected regions.

Frank Li, managing director of Huawei Nigeria, said he’s been to many rural areas and seen children without the opportunity to go to school. “We hope through our rural coverage programme we can help children receive a quality education.”

The programme has made a real difference in local communities, opening the doors to new resources for schools and transforming the lives of teachers and students.

Li noted that if it’s expensive for a mobile operator to deploy infrastructure, “it’s impossible for them to provide cheaper services for people. Innovation solutions can bring down the cost, then this vicious circle can be broken”.

Improved healthcare
Up to 6 million children die each year globally before their fifth birthday due to complications during childbirth, no access to vaccinations and malnutrition.

In Bangkok some hospitals lack reliable internet coverage, so administrators turned to Huawei’s PoleStar and LampSite infrastructure to solve the coverage issue as well as boost capacity.

At BPK Bangpakok Hospital Group improved access allows it to more closely monitor patients via their mobile phones, enabling them to confirm appointments and share data, as well as streamline communication between departments.

In many places ICT is already playing a major role in helping patients gain access to more information about their health and become more knowledgeable about health conditions. As these capabilities expand, healthcare solutions will increasingly move from reactive models to predictive models which promise even better outcomes.

More innovation
Wireless innovation also is playing an important role in the sustainable development of large cities with tens of millions of people.

Shenzhen, a city in southern China and the location of Huawei’s headquarters, is an example of how digital technology can help big cities become smart cities.

Peter Zhou, CMO of Huawei Wireless, said the company is working to develop technologies that make cities more efficient and help people enjoy life more as well as protect the environment, particularly as more people flock to cities from rural areas.

He noted the company’s Wireless X Labs is working to develop innovative applications for future mobile networks. “By doing this we can understand what kind of technologies and what kind of products such as terminals, base stations and networks the applications will require,” he said.

Zhou gave the example of the lab’s connected drone project which is studying use cases, such as delivering medicine in emergency situations or making express deliveries.

An estimated 100 million packages are delivered in China every day. “If we can use drones, we can reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion in some cities,” he stated.

It’s important to maximise the benefits of mobile networks to give people access to more intelligence as wireless technologies advance, he explained. “By ensuring ubiquitous connectively, everyone can have equal opportunity to share and enjoy access to education and healthcare,” Zhou said.

Covering all bases
Huawei, the leading telecoms equipment manufacturer in the world, has developed a comprehensive set of technologies to address different scenarios, covering everything from improved rural connectivity to enhanced capacity in high-density urban areas to cloud and AI solutions which bring down costs for operators, enterprises and SMEs.

ICT undoubtedly offers a wide range of benefits to society. While digital technologies have spread quickly across much of the world, its use and application in solving social and environmental problems has lagged. Fortunately, companies like Huawei are making it their responsibility to ensure new technologies contribute to a greener, more equitable and sustainable world.

Joy Tan, president of global media and communications at Huawei, said the world feels super connected these days, with many people enjoying the daily benefits of digital technologies.

“But for people in remote and distressed regions of the world, being connected isn’t just about convenience. It’s about basic economic inclusion. When it comes to sustainable development, emerging technologies such as 5G, cloud and AI are a path out of poverty and path to better health. They are access to better neighbourhoods and quality education.

“By making connectivity universal, affordable, open and safe, we can bring more people together and drive real global progress. We have a long way to go, but as long as we work together I’m confident we can achieve our shared goals by 2030.”