India will have 30-40 smart cities in the next five years

Written by Anand J | Updated: Sep 26 2014, 19:30pm hrs
The $48-billion networking giant Cisco sees the global smart city business to be worth $3 trillion and close to $6 billion of that is possible from India in the next five years itself, according to the companys calculations. While the underlying internet of everything (IoE) network is estimated to be about $19 trillion in value, about $600 billion of that is expected to be generated from India. The chief globalisation officer of Cisco, Wim Elfrink, tells FEs Anand J that, in todays world, information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure is as essential as other infrastructure services such as roads, power and water. He says that smart cities help us save energy consumption by 30% and water consumption by 50%. Cisco has made India its centre of innovation with regard to its smart city project with the verticals head working out of Bangalore. Edited excerpts:

Why has Cisco chosen India as a hub for its smart city plan From a business perspective, does it make sense and, if yes, how

When we started this concept seven years ago, we were building a new campus in India. So we made the decision to invest $1.1 billion in India to attract new talent. That building is made on the smart city concept and we have employed all the technological resources we have. In fact, we have deployments in 82 cities of the world. India now has a Prime Minister who says that the country is going to establish 100 smart cities. We have a lot of experience doing this and we want to share all of that. We want to see whether we can build an ecosystem in India to accommodate the vision of the government.

Which are the projects you are working on currently

The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) is the only such project in the world where we have produced a master ICT plan for a city that still has to be built. Dholera, a port city in Gujarat, is the first such city in the world. That shows we can deliver. We have worked with Narendra Modi in Gujarat when he was the chief minister of the state, having opened an innovation centre in the state back in 2011. We had also worked with Amitabh Kant earlier when he was the CEO of DMIC and now as secretary, DIPP.

What are your experiences in working in those 82 cities you talked about and what best practices are you bringing to India

Every city is a work in progress, always. What we can do is add and create more services to the ICT network. Technology evolves all the time. But the question is, why now Because now three elements have come together. First, sensors have become a lot cheaper and affordable. Second, we now live in the world of appssmartphones didnt exist 5-6 years agoand consumerisation of technology is possible and hence monetisation is easier. Third, with the Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPV6), we have enough IP addresses for next 100 billion devices, helping in the enormous acceleration of the industry. Now, 138 billion apps have been downloaded and there are 1.3 million different apps in the world. Citizens are asking for services to be delivered through apps. We are moving into a sharing economy; look at taxi services such as Uberwho would have predicted this kind of business model. The momentum is there and governments are daring to come up with the concept of new smart cities. The case study of Barcelona is apt and we have been working on this since the 1992 Olympics. The event gave the much needed economic injection and a new governance model evolved as a result. Therefore, the 100 smart cities planned in India are essential for the economy as urbanisation happens at a rapid pace. We are now looking at how we can share knowledge and become a centre of expertise in the industry, government and public-private partnerships, all of which have to accelerate ICT deployment in India.

But most of the utilities are heavily subsidised in India. How will you monetise and find partners to invest in subsidised services

We have to look at it through a different lens. We spend money in real systems in India and now we will have to redirect some of that money. You have to view it in a horizontal way and embrace the concept of ICT as an essential infrastructure. Look at the way people have adopted smartphones in India; nobody expected that. They are not subsidised, and something has to appeal to the users which must fulfil their needs. The telephone infrastructure was built as people saw value. You need a visionary to say that we need 100 smart cities. We need compelling services to monetise and make them aspirational. There is enough money available and this is a good start. We are already working on the Electronics City project in Bangalore. People will start thinking and prioritising. Further, we have lots of start-ups emerging in the Internet of Things space. For delivery of cheaper and quality services in education and healthcare, we need ICT, and things have to be approached differently.

What is the most challenging aspect while trying to build a smart city in India

The issue is not technology or money, but of governance. A new leadership is emerging and that is why our global office for smart cities is based out of Bangalore. We need to ease regulations to get things going, especially for brownfield projects. This has to be done at a local level. You need to see how to create ecosystems and start working at a local level. It is hard to find ownership in an Indian city. Or who is the spokesperson for the city It is a prerequisite to get started and also how the project is set up.

Where do you think is India going to be in the next five years as far as smart cities are concerned

We are encouraged by the DMIC. It is a greenfield project and Dholera has a great chance of success. In fact, over the next five years, at least 30-40 cities will be on the way. We will have the testimonials to share. The level of smartness will be based on priorities of each city. It also depends on ecosystem partners and development of apps, etc. Most cities will be different. It will be based on what services people want to have in these cities. We are committed to get this industry going. In India, this industry will be $6 billion in value.