A World of Technology at NEC iExpo
In North America NEC is known for its telephony, UC, and computing products, but the firm’s portfolio is much broader in other countries – especially Japan. NEC offers a diverse portfolio of networking, electronics, and computing products and services. NEC is organized into five business groups operating globally. For fiscal 2013, NEC reported revenue equivalent to $32.7 billion USD, which would place it around 95 on the Fortune 500 list of US companies.
I attended its recent annual showcase and users conference called iExpo. The event, at the International Forum in Tokyo, follows a trade show format except that the exhibit hall included only technologies from NEC.
NEC President Nobuhiro Endo kicked off the event with a keynote presentation. The keynote was live translated to attendees in multiple languages via wireless receivers. Mr. Endo discussed how NEC can use computing and communications capabilities to assist in the management of limited resources. His vision of a more livable and affluent society stem from NEC’s 10-year vision cast in 2007: “To be a leading global company leveraging the power of innovation to realize an information society friendly to humans and earth.”
Mr. Endo discussed how an increasing world population will impact city management, food harvesting, clean water, power management, and our very lifestyles. Which create a need for new information computing technologies (ICT).
“If we could get by on 90% of the resources that we are using today, then available resources would increase by 10%. ICT can help us to achieve this goal...One way of using Big Data is to gather, process, and analyze huge volumes of data to make predictions about the future. The new value created through these predictions could demonstrate effects in resolving social issues in a variety of fields, including energy, meteorology, and agriculture.”
He spoke considerably about big data and analytics, two areas where NEC is very active. His keynote also touched on SDNs, power management, Cyber-security, and cloud computing.
NEC reapplies many of its technologies into different sectors and markets. For example, it developed deep visual analytics, previously demonstrated at Enterprise Connect 2010. With this technology, NEC cameras and software passively determines a person’s race, age, and gender. The exhibit hall showed numerous applications of this technology from marketing to security.
In marketing, digital ads are served based on the demographics of the audience, or measure effectiveness of an ad by analyzing who stops for how long. Regarding security applications, since not all camera feeds can be actively watched, NEC software can monitor for unusual behaviors like fights and crowds and notify as appropriate. There was an application of this with subway surveillance that alerts security when a fight is detected. Another application monitored employees for specific behaviors such as retail clerks standing in one place for too long. My favorite application was a grocery check-out scanner that can accurately identify produce (including different types of red apples).
Video analytics and biometrics make NEC a leader in security. I could not help but notice that Passport control took my photo and fingerprints with NEC equipment at the Tokyo airport. At iExpo there was a presentation on Jurong Island, the heart of Singapore's energy and chemicals industry. Jurong Island relies heavily on biometric systems by NEC to manage what was claimed to be the busiest security checkpoint in the world.
It was quite surprising how broad the NEC portfolio is; there were about 125 exhibits. Here’s a sampling of notable booths from iExpo 2013 (many items not available in the US):
Making Cities Safer: This was a collection of applications and solutions for law enforcement, critical infrastructure management, immigration control, inter agency collaboration, and disaster management.
Portable DNA Analysis: The world's first fully integrated portable DNA analyzer helps speed up criminal investigations and aid in crime prevention efforts. Designed for use at crime scenes.
NEC Infravision IRV-2060C: A small infrared camera that can be attached to a drone to assist disaster responders with locating survivors.
Stadiums: NEC provides information computing technologies to major stadiums around the world. For example, NEC was recently awarded the contract for nearly all of the technology at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador including the wired and wireless networks, the sound system, large-scale video screens, security systems including video surveillance, fire detection systems and building management systems. Other large stadium projects include Arena do Grêmio in Brazil (World Cup in 2014).
Fleet Management Service: A vehicle recorder that uploads operational metrics and videos to a fleet management cloud service.
SmoothMeeting: This application reduces paper by simulcasting presentations and whiteboarding to individual iPads and smartboards within a meeting room.
Much more: including Android tablets, laptops, and computers. Undersea cable repeaters, satellite radios, and 4K projectors.
Communications, computers, and cloud were major themes, so UNIVERGE 3C – NECs software-based communications platform – was prominent. NEC’s newest desktop device, the UNIVERGE DT770G, is designed to facilitate BYOD implementations.
A smartphone or tablet pairs via Bluetooth with the DT770G, and then the mobile device can be placed on the adjustable cradle. A USB connector is also available to charge the mobile device. Both direct and cellular calls can be processed through the enterprise-grade handset or built-in speaker. The Cradle phone extends its life and versatility by avoiding specific connections and mounts. The DT770G cradle device is available worldwide for UNIVERGE 3C and SV systems – with support for other NEC platforms coming.
NEC was also showcasing the expanded APIs for the UNIVERGE 3C and SV products. An example application integrated 3C mobile clients with Google Maps to reveal real-time location information for remote staff.
NEC announced its next generation enterprise appliance, the SV-9500, for the Japanese market, and what appeared to be some new endpoints.
A fairly large area in the exhibit hall was dedicated to software defined networking (SDN). NEC was early to embrace Openflow with its implementation called ProgrammableFlow. OpenFlow was ratified as an open standard with the Open Networking Foundation, and NEC was among the first to commercialize it within its products. NEC ProgrammableFlow controllers can perform control plane functions with OpenFlow-supported switches from any vendor.
I was also able to visit the NEC Executive Briefing Center (EBC) in Tokyo. I’ve been to a lot of EBC’s, including the NEC facility in Dallas – but I’ve never seen an EBC like this one. It was quite large (huge portfolio for the domestic market), with theater-like demo pods for the various technologies and solutions. Each had a professional demonstration team. The UNIVERGE 3C included an elaborate mobile executive scenario using multiple devices and modalities. In addition to the NEC gear, the demonstration included third-party components including mobile devices and Polycom video conferencing gear.
It was refreshing to see a high-tech firm so committed to such a broad long term vision. Throughout the demonstrations and tours, I repeatedly saw that NEC is committed to a low-carbon and healthy society. Its purview is technology, so its contributions include high-efficiency energy devices for (homes and cars), advanced sensing and analytics technologies, and satellite development technologies. For enterprise communications, NEC’s focused on a wide range of communications and IT computing and networking solutions especially UC and SDNs.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.