There is a rapid upsurge in the demand of emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud. Companies such as Reliance Jio and Vodafone are making significant inroads into the sector. Reliance Jio has already launched its narrowband IoT network in India and is gearing up to launch products and solutions for consumer (car manufacturers, consumer durables and appliances players) and industries IoT. Vodafone, which has launched narrowband IoT in select European markets, is evaluating the same for India. It is planning to bring a few use cases to the country to further grow its enterprise business.
Amidst all these developments is Tata Communications—the company that has built the foundation for IoT in India—building the world’s largest LoRa network, spanning nearly 2,000 communities and touching over 400 million people. Why will the LoRa network be a game-changer for the Indian economy? VS Shridhar, senior vice-president and head – Internet of Things, Tata Communications, dives deeper into the power of IoT in India and how the company is working towards having 200 million end-devices connected by 2019, in a recent interaction with Sudhir Chowdhary. Excerpts:
LoRa network seems to be the new buzzword in tech circles these days. Can you explain this?
LoRa is a highly secured wireless technology developed to create the low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs) required for IoT applications. Tata Communications is the only player deploying LoRa network at scale, across India. This network will be dedicated for IoT applications and operates seamlessly with low power and throughput requirements and in extreme environments – which is required for IoT applications to function flawlessly.
India has not seen too many large-scale IoT solutions, despite having a large ecosystem of solution providers and system integrators. The missing piece is a network that is suited for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications that drives IoT. Over the last few years, IoT solutions have been implemented on traditional networks such as 3G or 4G. Also, the devices themselves have had to rely on a local power supply and local relay such as a smartphone or an internet box. This has been a key hindrance to wide-scale success of IoT solutions in India from a technical as well as a commercial perspective. IoT devices have four characteristics: They operate in extreme environments; communicate over long ranges; have low power requirements and have low throughput requirements Therefore, IoT solutions require LPWANs that operate across long ranges.
How is the India market developing for such solutions?
India is seen as a high-growth potential market for IoT and it has recently taken the lead in global Smart Cities development. Tata Communications is building the foundation for IoT in India—starting with the world’s largest LoRa network, spanning nearly 2,000 communities and touching over 400 million people. In 2017, we had already deployed LoRa network in 38 cities in India, with the aim to cover most of India by 2019-end. The initiative will bring together devices, applications and other IoT solutions to create an India-wide end-to-end IoT ecosystem.
The LoRa network has an extraordinary reach and signal strength, enabling communications up to 50 metres underground. This makes it suitable for use in metro stations and car parks, and through half a dozen walls inside buildings. We have successfully tested IoT networks in some of the largest cities in India, in association with companies such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Semtech.
How is it being deployed?
Recently, Tata Communications has deployed 300 smart street lights for Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Co. Ltd. (JUSCO), India’s only comprehensive urban infrastructure service provider, using LoRaWAN technology. The system enables smart features such as switching the lights on and off or dimming them remotely from a central command centre. Not only does it create significant cost savings because of the low power consumption, but it will also help India reduce its carbon footprint.
What is it being used for?
Our LoRa network is dedicated for IoT applications. The goal is to have 200 million end-devices connected by 2019. With a LoRaWAN network, India will have the capability to better manage essential utilities such as water more effectively and affordably, which will help to solve issues around clean drinking water, irrigation and more. IoT network can also enable deployment of smart gas meters which can give households control over their gas usage, and enable gas distribution companies to enhance operational efficiencies.
What are the benefits LoRa is bringing to these markets?
Using a LoRaWAN network for IoT deployments delivers many benefits including coverage over long distances, consumption of less power, low deployment of costs and more. The signal of the network is also suitable for rural areas due to its 15km range. LPWAN is more cost-effective for organisations to deploy compared to other technologies. LoRa technology is easy to deploy as it is pre-configured with plug-and-play connectivity for different industries, including manufacturing and agriculture.