By Rajesh Mishra, Co-Founder, President and CTO, Parallel Wireless

India is all set to play a significant role in the global internet of things (IoT) eco­­system. The IoT market in the country is poised to reach $15 billion by 2020 ac­c­ording to the National Association of Soft­ware and Services Companies. With the government’s commitment to invest $1 billion in developing 100 smart cities, the IoT ecosystem has received a significant push.

IoT is a network of devices and sensors connecting devices, vehicles and other th­in­gs. These sensors collect and exchange da­ta, which can be leveraged by the concerned authorities to gain insights into cus­tomer usage and come up with targeted campaigns and services for clients. The technology is particularly relevant for a developing economy like India. Going beyond the well-documented use ca­ses, including autonomous vehicles, re­mote surgery and smart homes, IoT pro­mises to significantly change the way we live and work.

It can be used to address many problems faced by developing countries. For in­s­tance, smart devices can monitor water quality and regulate water consumption. The efficiency of waste management systems can be enhanced. The technology can also improve access to various government services relating to healthcare and education. Further, the use of digital platforms promises to break the silos in which government services operate. Even in the enterprise segment, the technology promises to enhance operational efficiency. It br­in­­gs down the cost of doing business and opens new growth areas for bu­si­nesses. More so, it is a significant op­por­­tunity for Indian firms to be a part of the global value chain, making it easier and simpler for them to explore new global opportunities.

At the same time, IoT opens up new revenue streams for service providers. Indian firms have already started planning for the IoT era. Tata Communications is reportedly building the world’s biggest  long range (LoRa) network, which covers 38 cities in the country. Vodafone India is looking to develop IoT solutions and products for the next growth phase. Similarly, Airtel and Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited are planning to leverage the technology to provide new services to their subscribers.

Preparing networks for future requirements

As service providers warm up to the concept of IoT, they also need to start transforming their network to be better prepared to harness the full potential of this technology. Indian networks continue to be dominated by hardware and are monolithic in nature. They are not built to connect billions of devices and sensors. More­over, some of the mission-critical IoT use cases demand real-time transmission of data, which is not possible with the present-day network infrastructure. IoT demands a reliable, secure and robust network.

Both telcos and IoT service providers need to explore newer technology concepts to prepare the networks for IoT and 5G. The transformation and upgradation of the network is not just about installing a few more base stations. It demands a shift in network strategy and architecture.

An IoT network needs to be agile, flexible and easier to scale. It needs to be capable of storing and analysing a huge amount of data, which will be used by the concerned parties to gain insights into usage pa­tterns and capture trends. With these insights, firms come up with targeted pro­ducts and solutions for customers.

Service providers need to adopt the concept of virtualisation, which essentially allows them to reduce the hardware component of networks. It leverages the principles of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) to bring down costs and enhance network operations. A case in point is software-defined ra­dio, which can be easily upgraded to 3G or 4G and will allow service provi­ders to reduce the deployment time and to roll out services faster in keeping with the mar­ket requirements.

IoT enables automation, which en­sures improved network management. SDN and NFV also allow real-time network orchestration, which is required to manage the ma­ssive amount of data generated by the IoT network. There is little doubt that connected things are the future. Thus, telcos and service providers need to transform and prepare their network infrastructure for IoT to leverage the vast market potential.