BW Businessworld

‘The Futuristic Vision Is Now Becoming A Reality’

V S. Shridhar, Senior Vice-President and Head of Internet of Things (IoT), Tata Communications, is building a foundation for the country’s first IoT network that will be the world’s largest network of its kind, spanning nearly 2,000 communities and touching over 400 million people. In a chat with Vaishali Dar, he shares his plans and aspirations. Excerpts:

Q: Tell us about the future of Internet of Things (IoT) in India?

According to NASSCOM, the IoT market in India is expected to reach $15 billion by 2020, accounting for roughly five per cent of the global market. The growth of this market can be attributed in part to the digital push by the government, and its plan to develop 100 smart cities around the country, enabled by IoT. The IoT has paved the way for ubiquitous, always-connected applications that are making waves across industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, transport, logistics and utilities.

Q: What are the new technological advancements introduced by Tata Communications under this domain?

We are building the country’s first IoT network spanning nearly 2,000 communities and touching over 400 million people. By the end of 2017, it will be deployed in 60 cities, and the rest of India by December of 2018. This initiative will bring together devices, applications and other IoT solutions to create an India-wide mesh of smart buildings, campuses, utility sites, fleet management systems, security and healthcare services. This single network uses LoRa technology  (Long-Range Low-Power wireless communication), which overcomes the high-power consumption challenges with existing wireless solutions. Compared with other wireless technologies such as 4G, WiFi, ZigBee or Bluetooth, using LoRa on our network is more cost-effective. For example, Jamshedpur Utility Services Company (JUSCO) will use over 100,000 sensors and gateways to digitise 15 elements of its infrastructure, including street lights, utilities and parking metres, all connected to our IoT network. This will reduce energy consumption, increase efficiency of waste management, and better manage its precious water resources.

Q: IoT demands an extensive range of new technologies and skills that many organisations are yet to master. Is India ready for this?

The inherent drive for innovation could enable the country to emerge as one of the frontrunners in the global IoT market. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology has released an Internet of Things policy draft with the vision to “develop connected, secure and smart IoT-based systems for our country’s economy, society, environment and global needs”. The ambition is to create an IoT industry worth $15 billion by 2020, or have a share of 5-6 per cent of the global IoT market. It’s clear that this calls for new skills across the digital and IT spectrum.

Q: Tell us about your expansion plans in this sector?

The first phase of the roll-out of our IoT network targets tier I, II, III and IV cities in India. Alongside successful field trials in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, we have done 35 proof-of-concept application trials on the network. We will connect devices, applications and other IoT solutions in smart buildings, campuses, utilities, fleet management, security and healthcare services in nearly 2,000 communities. We are also looking at innovative IoT applications in the consumer market, such as women’s safety and healthcare. Overall, we aim to have around 50 million different IoT devices in the market by 2022. We have recently launched a global platform for the IoT called Tata Communications MOVE that enables people and things to become seamlessly connected on a global scale, and is lowering the barriers for businesses worldwide to launch their own IoT applications.

Q: IoT would introduce a wide range of new security risks and challenges to the IoT devices. Your comments?

Connecting billions of IoT devices represents major network security challenges as every device is a potential vulnerability that can be used by cyber criminals to stage an attack. But that does not mean businesses should scale down or delay IoT rollouts. They must take a predictive and adaptive approach to security. Firstly, businesses need to build security within IoT systems from the ground up, instead of retro-fitting piecemeal security products as new threats emerge. Secondly, they should work with specialist security service providers who can help them stay one step ahead of cyber-attackers, and through an adaptive security model, continuously monitor their IoT systems and the rest of their IT estate to spot threats before attacks happen.

Q: Are there any challenges in standardising IoT applications across the industry?

The lack of standards in the IoT industry is undoubtedly the biggest challenge it faces. At present, the technologies involved are simply too broad. For policymakers and organisations driving towards establishing IoT standardisation, regulations will have to be limited to certain categories and specific industry verticals. The industry needs to come together to standardise IoT systems that will help accelerate the growth of this market. 

Top Connected Technology Trends

Technology will converge with humans: Amazon Echo and Google Home will enable humans and machines to interact in a more seamless and converged way.

IoT will give more insights: IoT applications that are able to gather huge amounts of data from different sources, which is then analysed in real-time on high-performance cloud platforms and shared, will become indispensable for people and businesses.

Security threat: The more connected applications, the more vulnerable we become. There have been different efforts throughout the technology industry to tackle massive attacks aimed at webcams and other IoT devices, but the piecemeal approach is woefully inadequate as tens of billions of things become connected. We need a more holistic, standardised and industry-wide strategy to secure the IoT so cyber criminals are not able to exploit the vulnerabilities in the connected world.

Talent acquisition is a challenge: It's been reported that almost half (45 per cent) of IoT companies are unable to find people with the right skills, and a third (30 per cent) can’t get good candidates for digital marketing roles. Greater investment in schools, universities and businesses are required to ensure that the workforce of the future has the skills needed for the IoT world.

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