The past 20 years have seen a massive transformation in the technology landscape of India. The emergence of new-age technologies has enhanced the role of telecom players from being just providers of voice and data services to becoming facilitators of the ongoing digital revolution in the country. Here is a mix of the top 20 technologies, both mature and emerging which are proving to be game changers for the country… 

Cloud computing goes mainstream

Cloud computing technology is fast gaining ground in the country. India is second to China as the largest and fastest growing cloud services market in the Asia-Pacific region. Broadly, cloud computing refers to the delivery of IT services through the internet without any additional infrastructure. It relies on the concept of sharing computing resources rather than developing local servers or personal devices to handle applications. On-demand availability, scalability and supercomputing features of cloud computing allow businesses to utilise data more effectively and in a cost-efficient manner.

All things connected through IoT

The adoption of internet of things (IoT) solutions has revolutionised the day-to-day operations of enterprises. IoT-enabled smart devices provide in-depth insights that help companies to respond to the evolving customer needs. Enterprises, across industries, ranging from transportation and logistics to healthcare and manufacturing, are steadily adopting the technology to streamline their business operations, achieve greater time and cost savings, and deliver new value propositions to customers. The number of internet-connected devices is expected to reach around 20 billion globally in 2020. India too is witnessing impressive uptake in the adoption of IoT. In fact, the government’s Smart Cities Mission and Digital India programme are also fuelling the demand for IoT products and services. Meanwhile, narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) which is a type of LPWAN technology, has the capability to enable a wide range of IoT devices and services. It efficiently connects devices on the existing mobile networks and is ideal for applications that need to communicate small amounts of data over long periods of time. The long-range connectivity of the technology provides users greater flexibility in terms of the choice of stationing of their devices and, therefore, has multiple use cases.

Automating business tasks

Automation transforms repetitive and mundane business tasks into streamlined processes, which is profoundly affecting businesses by driving cost and strategic benefits. Robotic process automation (RPA) is seeing traction across various industries and is modernising the way of administering business processes, IT support, workflow, remote infrastructure and back-office work. RPA can address queries in a natural language, making it a superior way to conserve resources by large call centres and for customer interactions.

AI makes telecom intelligent

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has ushered in the next wave of automation. By modernising business processes and generating cognitive insights, AI has enabled enterprises to minimise human intervention and fuel growth. Deep-learning algorithms facilitate analysis of past behaviours in predicting future purchase actions of customers. AI-based digital mediums such as chatbots have opened up new avenues for taking customer experience to the next level. These chatbots act as a conversational interface to support the work that was typically done through call centres earlier. The AI market in India is currently at a nascent stage with only about one-third of the organisations currently leveraging the technology. This number is set to increase in the coming years with organisations slowly becoming aware of the immense potential that this technology holds.

Computing gains an Edge

With the growing adoption of next-generation technologies, there is a perceptible shift away from centralised data management to edge computing, which enables organisations to process data as close as possible to end users. Edge computing brings computation closer to the network edge, optimising IoT devices and web applications. The migration from the centre of data’s gravity to the edge is transforming industries and opening up new market opportunities. Over the past few years, the demand for edge networks has been on the rise, driven by the need for real-time data processing. According to industry estimates, by 2025, almost 20 per cent of the world’s data would have to be analysed in real time, closer to end users, rather than being sent to core networks for processing.

Using big data for deep insights

The use of big data analytics enables enterprises to leverage the data generated throughout the value chain to gain insights for improving customer satisfaction and optimising operations. Companies across sectors are using big data analytics to improve and personalise customer experience, employ dynamic pricing for value maximisation, predict future demand scenarios and prepare for them, optimise operations and channelise marketing efforts in order to achieve targeted responses.

AR, VR and MR redefine reality

AI-based applications like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) are altering the way consumers are consuming content by providing a fully immersive and personalised viewing experience. VR provides a computer-generated three-dimensional (3D) environment that surrounds users and responds to their actions in a natural way, usually through immersive head-mounted displays and head tracking. AR, meanwhile, bridges the physical and digital worlds by overlaying information, such as audio, text, images and interactive graphics, on to the physical environment. MR is an overarching technology solution, that merges the real and virtual worlds.

Blockchain buzz

Enterprises, especially in the banking, financial services and insurance sector, are fast emerging as the pioneers of the blockchain technology. The key features of blockchain such as decentralisation, immutability and transparency make it appealing to the banking sector. Blockchain application can benefit the sector by minimising the chances of fraud. Further, it provides a very high level of safety and security for the exchange of data, information and money. It also provides a transparent network infrastructure, low operational costs and benefits of decentralisation. All data encrypted in blockchain solutions is decentralised and traceable, and the database can never go offline or be removed through a cyberattack, and thus helps in securing financial transactions. In addition, blockchain can ease the process of accessing and storing information.

Cybersecurity takes centre stage

The ever-expanding digital ecosystem has brought data privacy and security issues to the fore. Cybercrimes have been on the rise in India. Unprotected servers are the biggest contributors to data breaches in the country and enterprises not safeguarding their server entry points are most prone to being attacked by cybercriminals.

Big promise of small cells

Small cells are largely deployed for capex optimisation and network densification in the telecom space. Initial small cell deployments in the Indian telecom market began with 3G, primarily in residential areas, followed by 4G and LTE deployments. In the upcoming 5G era, operators will deploy small cells to achieve more reliable coverage, increase spectrum efficiency and improve network performance and capacity. Besides being actively utilised for indoor coverage, small cells are being deployed for outdoor coverage at a steady pace, essentially driven by the enterprise segment.

Open source to be a mega trend

Open source is expected to emerge as a mega trend that will impact the telecom industry in a big way. It will be a key factor in telcos’ transition to the cloud and digital platforms. In recent years, a large global community has emerged around open source software, with companies now providing robust support services. This also ensures reduced risk of vendor lock-in for telcos as compared to lock-in in the case of proprietary software licence investments. Another key benefit of open source software is better security, as there is a higher likelihood of bugs being detected by a large community. Currently, only a few telcos in India are leveraging open source software, that too in a limited way, to redefine the return on investment metrics.

A virtualised world with SDN and NFV

Software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) are helping enterprises improve the agility, automation capability, flexibility and interoperability of their network designs. The surge in data consumption is compelling telecom operators to adopt SDN and NFV in a big way. Operators are increasingly using SDN and NFV to manage and provision network services from a centralised location, thereby enabling faster and cost-efficient delivery of on-demand applications with minimal disruption. Besides, the bandwidth flexibility, programmability and automation capabilities of SDN and NFV are helping service providers monetise their range of services linked to IoT and cloud infrastructure. The technology is expected to accelerate 5G deployment by addressing the major functional needs of 5G networks.

3D printing for prototyping

3D printing is set to emerge as a potential game changer in the manufacturing space as it is helping industries streamline design processes at a lower production cost. Prototyping continues to be the dominant reason why enterprises adopt 3D printing, providing the opportunity to speed up new product development and time-to-market. The technology can allow manufacturers to shift from mass production to full customisation and from centralised production to distributed production.

Tap and pay with NFC

Near-field communication (NFC) has evolved from radio frequency identification technology, for short-range connectivity, especially developed for intuitive, simple and safe connections between electronic devices. NFC, though at a nascent stage in India today, is growing faster because of factors such as cross-industrial applications, penetration of smartphones, and affordable devices and mobile internet data rates. Several digital wallets including Google Pay use NFC for ensuring seamless transactions. Further, many tech accessories such as speakers use NFC to quickly pair with phones.

Massive MIMO to meet data demand

Massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) is a wireless network that allows the transmission and reception of more than one data signal simultaneously over the same radio channel. It is often termed as the pre-5G technology that will make networks future-ready. Telcos such as Airtel and Vodafone Idea have been deploying massive MIMO and carrier aggregation. Massive MIMO significantly improves spectral efficiency by expanding the existing network capacity by five to seven times over the existing spectrum. Further, the beam-forming capabilities of massive MIMO systems will enable telcos to rapidly spread high speed coverage to rural areas as well.

FTTx to secure the last mile

Fibre is emerging as the foundation on which the high speed data economy will thrive. In light of growing digitalisation efforts and rising data demand, fibre-to-the-x (FTTx)deployments have become imperative for building future-proof telecom networks. Fibre has emerged as the most promising solution for providing last-mile connectivity and also for preparing backhaul networks for 5G. Fiberisation of towers is a must if India has to usher in 5G. However, to achieve widespread fibre penetration in the country, challenges related to right of way need to be addressed.

SD- WAN for better performance

Software defined-wide area network (SD-WAN) technology uses a centralised control function to securely direct traffic across WAN, thereby increasing application performance, enhancing user experience and reducing IT-related costs. It can help solve problems of bandwidth costs and traffic latency, allowing organisations to move beyond multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) to include public broadband connections. SD-WAN also allows enterprises to leverage any combination of transport services including MPLS,  LTE and broadband internet services to securely connect users to applications. Owing to its flexible nature, SD-WAN helps reduce the need for overprovisioning, thus bringing down the overall WAN expenses.

Machine learning leads the way

Among the various AI technologies being implemented in India, the highest investments are in the field of machine learning applications. Cloud-based analytics, when used in conjunction with machine learning, helps analysts identify anomalies in real time, so that they can be rectified swiftly. The introduction of the concept of stream-based analytic platforms has opened up new avenues for the extensive use of machine learning applications in various sectors of the Indian market. As per a joint report by PwC India and the  Data Security Council of India, machine learning will power the “cyber war rooms” in organisations to protect them from increasing cyberattacks.

VoLTE and VoWiFi enable voice over data

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) has been benefiting carriers and enterprises in several ways. The technology is more efficient for delivering voice services than the traditional circuit switched networks. It allows for handling voice calls over a 4G network resulting in greater bandwidth as well as cost-effective and high quality voice call delivery. It ensures greater voice clarity, fewer call drops and faster call connectivity compared to 2G/3G networks.

Another upcoming technology is voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi), which enables voice calling using a Wi-Fi connection when the cellular network is poor or not available. VoWiFi is quite similar to VoLTE, but instead of 4G it uses the Wi-Fi network to make calls. VoWiFi will significantly improve indoor connectivity. Recently, Airtel and Jio launched their VoWiFi network service in select cities. The service can be currently accessed on select smartphones. To this end, several handset vendors in India such as Apple, OnePlus, Xiaomi and Samsung have recently pushed software updates to enable VoWiFi on their smartphones.

5G future

5G has created a buzz in the industry, given its immense potential in improving network speeds and connectivity. 5G is expected to offer network speeds of up to 10 Gbps and 1,000 times increased bandwidth per unit area, compared to 4G. Telecom operators around the world have accelerated their efforts to launch 5G services. The Indian market too has taken early steps to create an ecosystem that is conducive to 5G deployment. Operators are discussing and exploring use cases. However, there is still a long way to go, especially with regard to the development of backhaul networks to support the technology.