Aditya Rao, Partner, Consulting, PwC India

Internet of things (IoT) is a buzzword for anyone who is keen to create more with less, get more work done with the use of technology and reduce human dependencies. If we were to view the current developments through a 20-year old lens, some of them would seem like a dream – automatic fleet routing, agricultural drones, automatic energy management systems, gas detection and predictive maintenance, home automation, water quality systems and so much more. I think the human race still does not know what could be created eventually when we bring together IoT and artificial intelligence.

By blending both the physical and the digital environment, IoT has given rise to a multitude of possibilities, which in turn has inspired innovation and transformation. Simply put, IoT refers to any physical device that can be connected to the internet, and thereby collect and share data. It is a network of connected and integrated devices that communicate and exchange data with each other. These connected objects usually have an in-built or installed sensor that captures the data points at pre-defined intervals and transmit it to the IoT platforms wherein the ap­p­lications perform different forms of analytics to monitor and track performance. This degree of digital intelligence creates endless opportunities for transforming the world around us. The IoT sphere is getting bigger by the day. According to a Gartner report, around 8.4 billion IoT devices were in use in 2017, and this number is likely to reach 20.4 billion by 2020 and it is estimated that more than half of the devices will be consumer products like smart homes.

While the evolution of IoT dates back to 1990s, it has recently gained momentum and importance owing to increased connectivity and cloud adoption. IoT has an extensive set of applications across the consumer, commercial, industrial and infrastructure verticals. The consumer space seems to be gaining momentum, if not more, as much as commercial and industrial verticals. Smart homes, wearables, security systems and elderly care are aspects that are being mostly explored by consumers.

A number of market forces are driving Indian firms to deploy IoT in their functions. Some of the reasons include ease in instant and real-time decision-making, the rise of big data analytics, surge in smartphone and mobile internet penetration, ever changing life­styles of the consumer as they become more tech savvy and the need to maintain a safe and secure environment. In India, IoT has gained immense market traction and by 2020, almost 60 per cent of the businesses will develop IoT centres of excellence to drive adoption of IoT technologies and applications. Also, industrial automation, consumer behaviour and government initiatives like Smart Cities Mission and Digital India are paving the way towards sc­a­lable IoT solutions and adoption. Though its adoption is at a nascent stage, IoT has the potential to generate unprecedented economic flows in the near future. As per NASSCOM reports, the global IoT market is poised at $1.5 trillion while the Indian IoT market is likely to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 28 per cent to reach $15 billion by 2020, with 60 per cent being contributed by industrial markets and the remaining 40 per cent driven by consumers. Indian IoT deployments are not only limited to metropolitan cities, but also cover Tier-II and Tier-III cities with applications like smart parking sensors, city-wide CCTV surveillan­ce, smart water and waste disposal management. Sectors like utility, manufacturing, telecom, energy, transportation and logistics, automobile, healthcare and agriculture have shown tremendous interest in IoT adoption.

While such expansive use cases are evolving, connectivity remains a challenge – with cellular technologies like 2G, 3G and 4G being used for IoT solutions. The emergen­ce of low cost, low power and wide-area network coverage specialised technologies like LoRa (long range wide area), NB-IoT (narrow band IoT) and LTE-M by incumbent telcos will be very relevant in disrupting the market, while remaining cost effective. One of the leading connectivity players has already laid the foundation to build the world’s largest dedicated LoRA IoT network covering all cities in India. Other telcos, with their extensive telecom footprint and existing network infrastructure, are also gearing up for NB-IoT.

So, is this all generating incomes for a larger workforce? A simple answer is yes. India is also witnessing rapid growth in the rest of the ecosystem like devices, plat­forms, applications and analytics with over 500 firms offering unique and sizeable solutions – with significant investments in start-ups for smart wearables, embedded computing, industrial internet and connected homes. Private organisations and states need to collaborate and focus on developments across IoT-related technology, manpower and business mo­dels to build a scalable and conducive eco­­system. The government’s focus on Digi­tal India and Smart Cities Mission should provide the necessary thrust this sector needs to catapult it to the next stage of evolution.

While all this is good, IoT deployments and growth may be hindered by issues around security, governance, infrastructure, technology, uniform standards and cost effectiveness. Regardless, IoT  will drive India’s economic and social growth as well as the Digital India initiative. It might seem overhyped as there are limited use-cases at present but, slowly and gradually, IoT is turning into a big reality as India tries to catch up with its global peers.