Over the past year, there has been a significant transformation in the IT set-ups of various organisations. Se­ve­ral enterprises have adopted new technologies like cloud and network vir­tualisation to gain better control of their information and communications technology assets and drive business efficiency. Even telecom operators who were traditionally providing these solutions as part of their enterprise suite offerings have begun using them to fine-tune their own operations. Public Wi-Fi is emerging as a reliable and robust medium for delivering high speed service even outside homes and offices. It has also become of paramount importance to deploy security solutions for protecting the humongous amount of data being generated on networks.

As 2016 progresses, the telecom industry is likely to build on these trends to re­define the country’s technology landscape.

A look at the key technology trends…

Cloud services gain traction

The increased adoption of cloud services is being seen across a large number of enterprises in India, particularly in the retail, banking, finance, education, health care and IT sectors. The public cloud service market is being driven by the high growth rates in subsegments like cloud infrastructure-as-a-service, cloud management and security, and software-as-a-service (SaaS). A host of Indian start-ups are also adopting the cloud platform as the cost of the infrastructure is lower than that of older forms of IT. By using SaaS and platform-as-a-service, these start-ups are only paying for what they use. As their client base grows, they can ramp up their use of technology.

The uptake of cloud services in India is also going to grow as the government implements its Digital India programme. Government departments are already using their cloud platform, called Meghraj, to host massive information sets. They can also use private cloud platforms after securing the approval of the Department of Electronics and Information Technology.

Future growth in cloud consumption will be driven by the mass adoption of new technologies like big data and the internet of things (IoT). Under IoT, a large number of start-ups and leading vendors are creating solutions with the ability to connect devices to each other, and cloud will play a major role in elevating these solutions in a coherent manner. The technol­ogy is also becoming important with the growing traction of the bring-your-own-device enterprise model. Under this, enterprises enable employees to conduct company business using personal devices with the help of a safe, secure and reliable cloud service.

Given the plethora of opportunities offered by cloud in India, it is imperative that the obstacles facing this segment are removed. The first key issue is that Indian companies operate in silos and need integrated solutions as the majority of cus­­tomers that require simple and cost-effective data management solutions are small- and medium-scale businesses. They do not have the resources or the technical capability to integrate disparate cloud solutions. Another major issue is that of data security. With the increase in information on the web, customers are concerned about data protection, lack of control, cyberattacks and network protection. While permissions are required in Western countries before an organisation can move data, services or applications on the cloud, there are no such guidelines for data security and privacy in India.

The move towards cloud computing and the rising demand for storage space are expected to create vast growth opportunities in the technology domain.

Operators explore SDN and NFV

A severe spectrum crunch in the face of growing bandwidth requirements has led several Indian companies to explore technologies like software defined networks (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV). According to Ciena, around six players in the Indian telecom market are currently conducting trials for the network virtualisation of their own assets. Doing this can help them manage networks and services better, and offer on-demand and differentiated services. NFV allows operators to automate processes, improve resource utilisation and provide service assurance.

“Over the past year, software has transformed data centres and networks in general, with service providers and enterprises turning to SDN and NFV to create, scale and deliver new services quickly and easily in a user-centric manner. In 2016, the adoption of innovative, open and automated software networking platforms will expand as enterprises and service providers migrate to new IP networks,” says Swapna Bapat, director, system engineering, Brocade India.

The journey towards NFV adoption, however, is not without challenges. The deployment of this technology is complicated as it requires a significant overhaul of back-end and IT systems as well as changes to operations support systems/ business support systems (OSS/BSS) and new components.

Redefining Wi-Fi services

Operators are now focusing on the monetisation of Wi-Fi networks, which were primarily used for offloading traffic to decongest mobile networks. The scarcity of spectrum and lack of infrastructure in the face of rising data demand have made public Wi-Fi a lucrative business proposition. It gives service providers an opportunity to offer on-the-move data by offloading data traffic in crowded areas. It also enables them to provide wider coverage and cater to more users.

In India, the deployment and uptake of public Wi-Fi has been increasing gradually. For instance, Ozone Networks’ traffic has more than doubled over the past eight mon­ths and the consumer response has been positive. Meanwhile, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited has been setting up public Wi-Fi hotspots across various tourist destinations over the past year as part of the Digital India programme. It recently stated that it would be setting up about 40,000 hotspots by 2018 with a total investment of Rs 60 billion. Other operators like Tata Te­l­e­services Limited, Telenor India and Sis­te­ma Shyam TeleServices Limited are anticipating a surge in Wi-Fi uptake as well. Rel­iance Jio Infocomm Limited, which is planning to provide pan-Indian 4G services, is already offering public Wi-Fi in Kolkata.

However, several technical challenges are associated with the deployment of public Wi-Fi hotspots. “In the case of wireless telecom, a consumer connects directly to a network and avails of the service. However, in a public Wi-Fi architecture, a consumer does not enter a shop or outlet thinking that there will be a Wi-Fi facility. Thus, if there is no awareness about the location, it becomes a challenge to ensure the effective utilisation of our networks,” says Sanjeev Sarin, chief executive officer, Ozone Networks. Identifying networks and typing in user IDs and passwords is another hindrance that consumers face.

Increased adoption of big data

Operators have realised that big data analytics and data monetisation strategies will become indispensable for driving long-term business and revenue growth. For one, these technologies can help them use data for in-house innovations across products and services. The need to be creative on the service front has never been more profound than it is today, and competition in telecom markets has resulted in the emergence of customer experience and quality of service as key parameters for ensuring loyalty. This, coupled with services like mobile number portability, has enabled subscribers to make swift shifts across operators in case service quality is unsatisfactory. In such a scenario, big data analytics can help operators differentiate service offerings. By dedicating a substantial amount of time and resources, they can develop transaction processing, warehousing and analytical capabilities to unlock insights from network and OSS/ BSS data. This will help them introduce personalised products/services, deliver tailored offerings, ensure network optimisation and manage customer churn, all of which will result in incremental revenues and improve performance.

Apart from using data to innovate in terms of services, operators can explore the option of providing these data sets to other enterprises. They can make their network and OSS/BSS data accessible to businesses through a controlled application programming interface environment, and also offer insights from it. Several operators are now exploring the option of earning revenues by selling pure data or data analysis to third parties for advertising or market research.

However, addressing challenges related to security, cost and talent shortage will be crucial in convincing companies to invest in this segment. Companies across the board are yet to be fully convinced of the quantifiable benefits that big data analytics brings to their top lines, especially while considering the massive investment requ­ire­ments. Big data analytics needs large amounts of money to be spent on storage, servers, cloud infrastructure, discovery and applications. Data security is also a big concern, and consumers must be assured that protocols and processes relating to security, confidentiality, privacy and protection are followed while handling and analysing data. Apart from cost, a key issue is the shortage of skilled technical professionals for managing big data.

Data centre business to grow

India’s data centre market is maturing rapidly. Most of the data centres are for captive use, and some of them provide third-party services as well. According to estimates by Gartner, India’s data centre market is expected to reach $2 billion by the end of 2015, marking a 5.4 per cent increase over a market size of $1.92 billion during 2014. The segment’s growth is being largely driven by the strong resurgence of growth-related projects across verticals like banking, insurance and telecom, as well as those under the government. Indian enterprises are focusing on building intelligent data centres that optimise existing hardware by using additional software capabilities. A number of hosted data centres have been launched over the past few months, and others are in the offing. The move towards cloud computing and the rising demand for storage space are expected to create vast growth opportunities in this market.

However, the segment is dealing with some serious constraints. The primary con­cern of most data centre operators is that of business continuity, with a focus on reducing energy consumption and enhan­cing manageability, scalability, efficiency and security. In India, the lack of reliable power is a major restriction that affects industries across the board. This translates into data centre operators increasing their reliance on power backups, making the cost of operations even higher and affecting a data centre solution provider’s ability to expand. The other big obstacle is the high cost of internet bandwidth; although this has come down in recent years, it is still higher than in most Wes­tern countries. Another consideration is the steep charge for cable landing stations, which are the points at which submarine fibre optic cables enter and exit the mainland.

Importance of security solutions

As more enterprises move towards cloud-based networks, a shift in mindset is required from a point-protection approach to one that encompasses the premises as well as the extended enterprise cloud. Most importantly, the complexity of today’s security needs necessitates in-depth knowledge and understanding, which few IT departments can claim to possess. Moreover, with enterprises adopting 3G/broadband wireless access/long term evolution time division duplexing services and the growing uptake of smart devices, the need for security services has also increased.

“Organisations operating in today’s new IP networking environment face a growing demand for cloud-based applications. They need to support social, mo­bile and big data initiatives. However, security-related attacks and breaches continue to impede service delivery and create add­itional reliability challenges. New IP networking solutions allow organisations to deploy advanced security that is designed into the network from the start, not added as an afterthought. The network itself can be pervasively vigilant and track network behaviour and access to quickly identify and prevent unwanted activity. Security services can be virtualised, enabling organisations to deploy them wherever needed and customise them at various levels: by geography or location, function, group or individual, or application,” adds Bapat.

Telecom operators and other large enterprises are following a moat-and-castle approach towards security. They are using network security elements like firewalls and intrusion detection systems to defend internal assets from threats posed by third-party interconnected networks; antivirus and content filtering are dep­loy­ed for mitigating risks from viruses, spyware and trojans. Most security policies in­clude multiple devices and processes for comprehensive coverage and there is no single solution for networks and traffic.

Akanksha Mahajan Marwah