Surveillance cameras watch closely as visitors walk around the Bund in Shanghai, China on April 4, 2019. (Image Credit: TechNode/Eugene Tang)
Surveillance cameras on the Bund in Shanghai, China on April 4, 2019. (Image credit: TechNode/Eugene Tang)

Artificial intelligence (AI) unicorn Sensetime is partnering with communications tower company China Tower to retrofit its 1.9 million sites with video surveillance systems.

Why it matters: At a recent trade show, China Tower offered a range of scenarios where the monitoring tech could be useful, including forest fire prevention and curbing illegal farmland construction.

  • A large-scale, AI-powered surveillance network could raise concerns from privacy advocates worried about China’s already massive security apparatus.
  • The partnership provides a boost for Alibaba-backed Sensetime, which is China’s biggest AI startup with a valuation exceeding $7.5 billion.

Details: The new system is part of China Tower’s Trans-sector Site Application and Information business (TSSAI).

  • A new subsidiary named Smart Tower that was set up in June will drive the surveillance business, according to a report by communications industry media Light Reading. Smart Tower has registered capital of $130 million.
  • China Tower has also contracted Shanghai-based China Pacific Property Insurance to analyze insurance claims using AI.

Context: China Tower previously partnered with Alibaba in a similar infrastructure-oriented deal, lending its towers in return for collaboration on cloud computing, edge computing, big data, and 5G.

  • Along similar lines, in 2018 China Tower joined the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s (MIIT) pilot program to explore potential uses for retired electric vehicle batteries, technology it already leverages to provide backup power for its base stations.
  • Tower firms outside China have been slow to adopt China Tower’s business strategy, with the exception of Barcelona-based Cellnex, which offers its infrastructure for services like Wi-Fi, irrigation management, and the internet of things.

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