Why New Zealand Must Once Again Embrace Innovation

ByAndrew Bowater

March 15, 2021

Andrew Bowater

Watch: Huawei’s 15 years in New Zealand

Historically, New Zealanders have had to develop innovative solutions due to their geographic isolation from the rest of the world. Ernest Rutherford, the New Zealand physicist and the first person to split the atom, famously said, “We didn’t have the money, so we have to think.”

Portrait of Ernest Rutherford

In those early days, Kiwi farmers used technologies like the number 8 wire – initially designated for building fences – to solve various mechanical and structural problems. That resourcefulness, ingenuity and open attitudes to new ideas, technologies and innovations are rooted deep in New Zealand’s DNA.

Today, the existence of a robust and diversified economy in one of the world’s furthest corners, especially in a country with a relatively small population, can be hard to fathom. And yet, New Zealand continues to take the top spot in the World Bank’s Doing Business report, ranking highly on the Huawei Global Connectivity Index and the UNDP’s Human Development Index.

So is there a lesson here for the rest of the world?

Commitment to technology yields results

For Huawei, this embracing nature has been evident from the very beginning. After establishing its New Zealand office in 2005, it continued to work across all directions of New Zealand’s telecommunications industry, bringing in innovative solutions for the country’s leading operators.

Over its 15 years in New Zealand, Huawei has partnered with local organisations to develop a new nationwide mobile network. It also helped to build 30 per cent of the technology behind the Government’s Ultra-Fast Broadband program. It continued to expand 3G and 4G networks’ capabilities – launching the first 4.5G site in the Pacific region that opened the door to wireless home broadband with fibre-like speed.

Fast forward to 2020, and the country has managed to control the pandemic successfully. Meanwhile, the significant investment in telecommunications technology over the years allowed the majority of its citizens to work from home during nationwide lockdowns. Despite the all-time usage surge, its networks have continued to perform well throughout this period.

With border closures impacting some of its traditional tourism sectors, New Zealand is still very open for global business. While it is mainly known for premium, primary industry exports and its tourism – its embrace of innovation has led it to develop a diverse and advanced tech sector.

A New Zealand founded rocket company became the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space. The country has also developed leading biotech, cloud, payments, agri-tech, video game and many other high-tech sectors.

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, New Zealand’s tech industry profitability grew three-fold between 2018 and 2019. These ‘weightless exports’ will not only help drive the NZ economy in the short term but are on track to become the country’s biggest export in the next decade.

Partnership and investment openness serves local interests

Embracing technology has not just helped progress economic development. It also improved the livelihood of local communities. Most New Zealand healthcare workers tend to gravitate towards the major cities, leaving some of country’s rural communities lacking doctors and nurses. In some instances, overbooked clinics have refused to take on new patients.

In 2020, Dr. Lance O’Sullivan, in partnership with local network operator 2degrees and Huawei, developed the innovative concept of delivering healthcare to remote and underserved regions. Under the Huawei TECH4ALL initiative, we jointly launched a prototype mobile medical clinic called the MAiPOD.

The four domains of Huawei’s TECH4ALL initiative

Essentially, it is a tech-powered 40-foot shipping container converted into a 4G connected medical clinic. It utilises a cloud platform to enable remote, real-time consultations by doctors and specialists – meaning that it only needs a nurse and an assistant to operate the clinic. The MAiPOD can simply be loaded onto a truck and driven into the heart of a remote community to serve as a doctor clinic. The first clinic went into operation in the Far North town of Kaitaia just days before the nationwide lockdown, with COVID-19 testing quickly added to the MAiPOD’s healthcare armoury.

The MAiPOD in action in Kataia. Click the link for the full MaiHealth MAiPOD video & story.

Lance’s team worked around the clock, contributing to New Zealand’s much-lauded response as a global success – eliminating the pandemic within just 101 days. It also showed that technology could play a crucial role in delivering vital services to underserved communities. Further progress on the MAiPOD project is definitely worth watching.

Digital technology as a driver for a sustainable future

Beyond the pandemic, the next great challenge faced by New Zealand – and the rest of the world – is addressing climate change. New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission has released a draft blueprint with recommendations on how to slash emissions to ensure the country is carbon neutral by 2050.

The Commission’s plan points to using existing technology such as electric vehicles, accelerated renewable energy generation, and climate-friendly farming practices to help meet that target. While the Commission acknowledges these technologies will continue to improve over the next three decades, it’s worth noting that digital technology will also play an increasingly important role in helping New Zealand meet its expanded green goals.

Given that agriculture is a significant driver of New Zealand’s economy, it’s also possible to use technology to optimise farming practices and make them more sustainable. In Rio Verde, Brazil, we’ve combined cloud, AI, 5G and IoT devices to help take agriculture to the next level. The combination of tech made farming more precise, resulting in less fertiliser and pesticide use and minimised water use through smarter irrigation systems.

Read more: 5G Smart Farming Lands in Brazil

We’ve also seen that marrying intelligent AI systems with traditional solar panels solutions has proven to convert solar energy into electricity more efficiently. For example, a commercial Huawei smart photovoltaic solution has resulted in up to 30% higher energy yield by optimising solar panel performance compared to traditional solutions. It also saved up to 95% of onsite troubleshooting time and cost with accurate fault positioning, which resulted in less power loss. We are keen to roll out this technology in New Zealand soon.

Smart PV solar panels automatically track the sun in China’s Ningxia

Read more: Smart PV: Breathing Life into a Desert Landscape

To meet the net-zero carbon emission targets by 2050 and ensure that New Zealand is thriving for the future generations will require transformation that will undoubtedly impact established industries and be met with some resistance.

Lasting change will require resourcefulness, ingenuity and an open attitude to embrace new ideas, innovations, and technology. 

Read more about Huawei New Zealand.

Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.

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Andrew Bowater

Deputy Managing Director, New Zealand, Huawei

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