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The Internet Of Things: State of Maturity in India

21 Dec

Digital India Smart Cities

With all the hype about Digital India, and Prime Minister Modi’s Smart City initiative, one question that keeps getting asked is the state of maturity of the Internet of Things in India.

Well, first of all, let me give you my take on the state of maturity of the IoT in the world – like most revolutionary waves that arise because of supply and not demand, at this stage a lot of the work on the IoT is more conceptual/ background building than application oriented. As a corollary of this, the real benefits haven’t trickled down to the end consumer – mainly also as the last mile connectivity applications are still being built. Early devices that purported to be based on the IoT were more bought than used (it is said 70% of fitness trackers bought are not used now); Google Glass is currently resting in a graveyard; IoT revenues are growing at 20-25% for even the top players in the space/ the facebook’s internet.org is getting into all kinds of hot water.

The eco system of companies in the IoT is still hyper fragmented and interoperability is still an issue (standards and protocols are still being worked upon – in fact, that’s where a large body of work is being done).

One of the big roadblocks to progress is miniaturization – specially of batteries. For ultra small sensing devices, either fitted into large industrial buildings, or on small wearable devices, the level of miniaturization requiredd of batteries is not funny – our smallest batteries are still how big

Having said that, there are many heartening examples of work that has been done – after all, ever since 2008, there have been more connected “things” than people in this world! Not the least of this is evident in Smart Cities. Songdo in South Korea has been one of the oldest cities to get ‘smart” – they have a smart energy grid which matches power supply and demand. They have no garbage – their waste gets automatically sucked into Sewage Treatment Centres.

Glasgow has recently announced a budget of 37 mil $ for its project. Their street lights will automatically switch off; they will map routes for easing traffic congestion; footfalls can be monitored, noise and air pollution levels are monitored; Delivery services are prioritized per criticality; there is CCTV coverage of the whole city to ensure higher safety levels.

When it comes to India though, 100 smart cities at a Rs. 7060 crores investment plan notwithstanding, there are a few further hurdles to quick penetration of the Internet of Things.

First of all, we need indigineous/ low cost hardware. Even now, some 65% of hardware that India uses is imported. Then, our bandwidths need to improve significantly. With a $ 12 – 15 billion IoT market revenues expected by 2020, we cannot make it happen with the current pathetic internet speeds. We need low cost/ low power devices that are pluggable into wi-fi. We need the basic infrastructure required for any technology to work. And finally, we need a thriving eco system of vendors building off the Internet of Things.

But maybe the biggest issue facing IoT development in India is that of usability – essentially, the Big problem to be solved/ prioritized still needs to be defined!

I think the first few areas that need/ will see IoT solutions, much like the rest of the world, will be: Utilities/ Smart cities; Agriculture and Healthcare. On the business front, it could be logistics and supply chain – with a newly booming e-commerce industry driving usage.

The overall/ global perceived risks of security threats still exist – as much in India as anyplace else, but I think at an overall level, this fear is becoming slowly marginalized. A higher risk is a more social one – on the one hand, tha of “de-humanization” – machines talking to machines/ robots and AI devices will slowly delimit human contact even more than the current whatsap culture is doing. On the other hand, there is a real “social apartheid” risk – these technologies, atleast till the time they focus high end customer acquisition, may just polarize the haves and have nots even more.

All in all, though, the IoT is coming – earlier in some places than in others, but the advance is real! One statistic said that by 2017, 50% of IoT solutions will come from companies that are less than 3 years old. So, get ready all, action stations!

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