How Indian telecom operators are transforming into IoT providers?

With telecom becoming the biggest spenders in Internet of Things (IoT), what’s the real value for IoT in telecom? While there is a promise of new revenue streams, the challenges are steep. IoTIndiaMag caught up with Dr. Matthias Wurster – VP, Marketing & Business Development, UNLIMIT, who gives a peek inside their new game changer, Unlimit Enablement, the application enablement platform; Unlimit Control, Cisco Jasper cloud-based connectivity platform and reveals LPWA is on Reliance’s roadmap.  

Also, we size up how other Indian telecom players are seizing the IoT growth opportunity.

Indian telcos are at the heart of change, driving IoT opportunity

Indian telecom operators are repositioning themselves using digital platforms like IoT that combine connectivity, data, analysis, security, mobile and cloud to support business, Wurster cites. The real driver is reducing operational expenditure while enabling end-users to consume technology in a business focused manner, thereby saving time and money, he adds.

Dr. Matthias Wurster – VP, Marketing & Business Development, UNLIMIT

The modus operandi – Indian telecom operators are using their network infrastructure to deliver IoT solutions, consumer applications and managed services to enterprises. Another potential revenue stream is providing being tapped is Application enablement platforms (AEP) that enables developers to rapidly deploy IoT application or services.   

Making a leap from managed connectivity to application enablement platforms

Apart from just connectivity, operators can also offer application platforms, analytics and even hardware, positioning themselves as end-to-end IoT solution provider. Reliance Unlimit recently announced their application enablement platform Unlimit Enablement at the Mobile World Congress that enables developers and customers to easily connect, manage and extend IoT deployments.

“With Unlimit Enablement, customers, startups and developers can use pre existing widgets and code blocks to quickly create a compelling UI to display, analyze and report collected IoT sensor data. It makes it easy to create advanced dashboards and alerts that can be displayed on any type of device. This enables developers and startups to focus on their core competency without having to learn or invest in developing a new skill set,” Wurster shared.

Globally, AT&T is a trendsetter, plays a huge role in IoT

The global telecommunications player and a front runner in IoT solutions, telecom operator AT&T offers not just connectivity option but solutions in three layers – multiple options on connectivity and management; platforms that allow developers and solution builders to build applications, through the partnership with HP and also areas like fleet management or asset management, healthcare patient monitoring where the telecommunications leader provides end-to-end solutions, revealed Mobeen Khan, IoT Strategy & Product Management Executive at AT&T.

“When we talk to our customers, we talk about connectivity from an expansive perspective than just cellular, many of our customers are looking for connectivity options through cellular. But also other means like satellite, WiFi, short range communications. It not only depends what the needs of the customers are where the solutions are being deployed,” he said.

On the home front, Reliance Unlimit snaps the first mover advantage in IoT

Unlimit definitely has the first mover advantage in India, being the first telco player to deploy Cisco Jasper cloud-based connectivity platform named Unlimit Control. “The announcement with partnership with Cumulocity powers our Unlimit Enablement offering. It makes the creation of cloud-based IoT applications easy to deploy,” said Wurster. Reliance is betting big on IoT, being the only dedicated IoT business unit in India, focused solely on end-to-end IoT solutions for enterprises leveraging the best-in-class 4G LTE coverage along with 2G from several carriers including Reliance Communications and roaming partners. There’s more in the offing, reveals  Wurster “In addition to Unlimit Control and Unlimit Enablement, we will be announcing a wide breadth of vertical solutions in the coming months.”

Their market, as  Wurster elaborates, any enterprise falling under the verticals of Automotive, Transport & Logistics, Utilities, Industrial Automation, BFSI, Healthcare is an ideal customer for Reliance Unlimit. “This approach applies for our internal companies such as Reliance Power as well as for our external customers as well,” he shared.

Tata Communications & HPE team up for nationwide LoRa IoT network

Another big announcement coming out recently is Tata Communications partnering with HPE to roll out LoRa based IoT network in India. Madhusudhan Mysore , Chairman & Managing Director, Tata Communications Transformation Services Ltd spoke at MWC about the win-win partnership with HPE, the market leader in OSS/BSS space. Making a grand plunge in the IoT space, Madhusudhan revealed how Tata Communications is deploying one of the largest LoRa network in India primarily focused on IoT spread across the geography, starting from Tier-1 cities and depending on the requirements, it would be deployed down to Tier 4 as well.

According to Madhusudhan, the IoT platform is pegged an enabler for any application provider and can be leveraged across various verticals – retail, healthcare, manufacturing to even telecom. Citing an example, he shared, “In telecom industry, there are tons of equipment that can be managed through this platform. For us, telecom is number #1 use case; then we see a wide application in healthcare sector, seeing how imaging can be transformed through IoT applications and the list goes on”.

Big reveal: Reliance Unlimit to take a crack at licensed and unlicensed technology LoRa

Not one to stay far behind, the Indian telecom giant has plans to roll out both licensed (i.e. 3GPP compliant Cat-M1 and NB-IoT modules) and unlicensed technology such as LoRa,  Wurster divulges. “LPWA is on our roadmap,” he affirms. “Most likely, we will deploy a mix so that we can accommodate areas where there is no cellular coverage. This tends to be the case in agricultural areas where there is a need for LPWA IoT technology to support use cases like soil monitoring and precision agriculture,” he shared.  

How is Airtel capitalizing on IoT for growth opportunity

Meanwhile, Airtlel’s role in IoT plays out through its Connectivity Management Platform — a one-stop solution for all the IoT connectivity needs of global carriers and OEMs of connected devices planning to gain a toehold in India. The company’s page reveals their IoT roadmap and vision. “IoT refers to technologies that allow wired and wireless systems that connect to communicate.” According to Airtel website, the top two verticals where IoT used majorly are manufacturing and utilities with manufacturing taking a lead with almost 307 million installed units in 2015 compared to 299 million units for utilities.

According to Airtel, control systems using sensors have always been an integral part of manufacturing and automation processes. This translates into smart meter deployments by utilities, leading to energy efficiency improvements in operations like automatic billing, energy management and monitoring. Another area that poised for IoT application is retail with IoT activity in operations and in customer-facing situations, that involves innovative technology.

Another important news from Airtel camp is on the 5G front. Airtel has teamed up with Finnish gear maker Nokia to advance the 5G technology standard and enhance the management of connected devices on IoT. According to news reports, Airtel will leverage Nokia 5G First solution that enables operators to unveil advanced, faster 5G capabilities to homes, enterprise and even special event venues. Characterized by low latency and reliability, 5G will accelerate commercial deployments.

Vodafone – the consistent global leader in IoT services

Hailed as the consistent global leader in IoT services by analyst firm Machina Research for the fifth year in row, Vodafone provides seamless IoT services, with IoT connections growing by 38%. The report reveals Vodafone’s global M2M platform is an in-house developed system that allows for more integration and makes it more responsive to customer’s specific requirements.  That’s not the only accolade to come its way – last year, Gartner hoisted Vodafone as a leader in Managed M2M services in its magic quadrant.

Vodafone Internet of Things service platform is a ready to use, self-service web interface that enables businesses access vital information to reduce the costs of deploying and maintaining IoT solutions. Vodafone’s IoT solutions range from Smart Metering that enables monitoring domestic gas usage, large scale grid management to Wireless Payments that enable end-to-end transactions between end devices and payment gateways.

The promise of 5G connectivity and what it holds for IoT

According to experts, 5G was envisaged keeping the needs of IoT in mind. Pegged to be the next big thing with a roll-out around 2020, it is posited to be the next game changer for IoT and network connectivity. Interestingly, 5G is important not just for IoT but the evolution of mobile networks. 5G promises to deliver a variety of improvements over LTE including higher data rates, more simultaneous connections for wireless sensors, improved coverage and lower latency,  Wurster explains.

Wurster tell us how 5G benefits translate directly to IoT:  

  • Signaling overhead will be lower, which will reduce power consumption for battery powered devices
  • The 5G multi-hop mesh will make it less expensive to extend network coverage to accommodate more IoT devices at the edge
  • 5G is really the first standard where IoT is not an afterthought and is being designed in from the inception
  • There is also an effort to develop 5G NR (New Radio), that will be a flexible air interface that will be able to scale to devices like high bandwidth surveillance video cameras down to very inexpensive, low bandwidth sensors

5G in self-driving cars: Khan cited a use case of high bandwidth and low latency that could power autonomous vehicles: “Today we connect cars for in car entertainment, for diagnostics, WiFi and now we are moving in semi or real autonomous vehicle that would require low latency, a lot of data being collected in single places. You will need fast connectivity not just to vehicle but also infrastructure around you and that is the perfect use case for 5G roll out.

Interestingly, AT&T is running trials and recently announced dedicated testbed at the American Center for Mobility in Michigan. “Put 5G there, smart city builders and car manufacturers can come in there and  test in a real life environment,” he said.

 

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Richa Bhatia
Richa Bhatia

Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.