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The Futuristic Vision is Now Becoming a Reality

VS Shridhar, Senior Vice President & Head, Internet of Things, Tata Communications is building a foundation for the country's first IoT network which will be the world's largest network of its kind, spanning nearly 2,000 communities and touching over 400 million people. He highlights the top five connected technology trends and how IoT has paved way for ubiquitous, always-connected applications making waves across industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, transport, logistics and utilities.

In the year 2002, Vishnempet Sriraman Shridhar started the Enterprise Business in TCL when Tata group took over VSNL. Since then he has donned several executive roles in Tata Communications both in India and abroad including leading the merger of Teleglobe (a Canadian multi-national) into Tata Communications in a career span of more than 24 years. In a conversation with BW Businessworld, Shridhar highlights a few trends and the future of IoT. Excerpts:

Tell us about the future of IoT in India?

What the world predicted a while ago as a futuristic vision is now becoming a reality: intelligent cars that can park and even drive themselves, retail systems that monitor shoppers' buying habits in real-time, and smart thermostats that adjust the temperature when it detects that you're about to get home. According to NASSCOM, the IoT market in India is expected to reach $15 Bn by 2020, accounting for roughly 5% of the global market. The growth of this market can be attributed in part to the digital push by the government, and its plan to develop 100 smart cities around the country, enabled by technologies such as IoT. The IoT has paved the way for ubiquitous, always-connected applications, which are making waves across industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, transport, logistics and utilities.

Can you highlight top trends that Internet has changed and will change the way we work?

In this context, the top connected technology trends that I see changing the way we work are:

1. Technology will converge with humans: IoT enabled applications such as Amazon Echo and Google Home have shown us how the much-hyped connected home could look like thanks to advances in IoT-enabled sensor technologies and natural language processing. We are moving away from simply using technology to being surrounded by technology that enhances all aspects of our lives and the world around us. Next, the input and output of devices will disappear into the background altogether. You will no longer have to talk to a connected home terminal, computer or a smartphone, let alone type on one. The IoT will enable humans and machines to interact in a more seamless, converged way than ever.

2. IoT will give us more insights: IoT applications that are able to gather huge amounts of data from different sources, which is then analysed in real-time on high-performance cloud platforms and shared, will become indispensable for people and businesses. For example, in retail, these applications will enable customer targeting with a level of accuracy and precision never seen before. Retailers will be able to target shoppers in real-time based on their location inside a shopping mall, their previous purchases, and even the weather forecast for the week ahead. In the same vein, these intelligent, predictive systems will prompt retailers to stock up on certain items based on market and weather data to ensure that shelves won't be empty during high demand periods or stock will be left unsold.

3. We must focus more on security: The more connected applications there are, the more vulnerable we become. There have been different efforts throughout the technology industry to tackling massive attacks aimed at webcams and other IoT devices - but this piecemeal approach is woefully inadequate as tens of billions of things become connected. We will need a much more holistic, standardised and industry-wide strategy to securing the IoT so that cyber criminals won't be able to continue to exploit the vulnerabilities in the connected world.

4. Talent acquisition becomes a challenge: With IoT projects such as smart cities, organisations are struggling to recruit talent with the right digital skills. It's been reported that almost half (45%) of IoT companies are unable to find people with the right security skills, and even a third (30%) are unable to source good candidates for digital marketing roles. I hope that we will see greater investment in schools, universities and businesses to ensure that the workforce of the future has the skills needed for the IoT world.

Tell us about the new technological advancements introduced by Tata Communications under this domain? How are they helpful in big data analytics?

We are building the foundations for the IoT in India - the country’s first IoT network. It will end up being the world's largest network of its kind, spanning nearly 2,000 communities and touching over 400 million people in total. By the end of this year, it will be deployed in 60 cities, and the rest of India by December of 2018. This huge initiative will bring together devices, applications and other IoT solutions to create an India-wide mesh of smart buildings, campuses, utilities sites, fleet management systems, security and healthcare services. In order to build a single network for innumerable use cases touching hundreds of millions of people at a reasonable cost and energy efficiently, we are using LoRA technology. It is a Long-Range Low-Power wireless communication technology dedicated to the IoT, which overcomes the high-power consumption challenges with existing wireless solutions. The ultra-low power consumption of LoRa allows the battery in a device connected to our network to last for more than a decade without replacement. Our network also has unprecedented reach, enabling communications in deep water and up to 50 meters underground, making it suitable for use in metro stations and parking lots, for example. The signal of the network is also extremely strong, cutting through up to seven walls inside buildings. And, because of its more than 9-mile range, it can be used in rural communities too. Compared with other wireless technologies such as 4G, WiFi, ZigBee or Bluetooth, using LoRa on our network also makes it more cost-effective. Our IoT network will act as the foundation for applications which - when connected to powerful cloud computing platforms - will enable real-time big data analytics based on the huge volumes of data gathered by millions of IoT-enabled sensors. For example, Jamshedpur Utility Services Company (JUSCO) will use over 100,000 sensors and gateways to digitise 15 elements of its infrastructure - including street lights, utilities and parking meters, all connected to our IoT network. Through data analytics, JUSCO will be able to reduce the city's energy use, increase efficiency of waste management, and manage its precious water resources well.

Is there any new approach to such analysis since it is so critical?

As the breakneck speed of technology evolution continues, with faster connectivity, more powerful cloud computing platforms, increasing volumes of storage capacity and artificial intelligence enabled super computers - data analysis is yielding more actionable insights for businesses. In tandem, thanks to the IoT, data analytics is permeating all industries. Take F1, for example: there are around 200 sensors on an F1 car which record over 500 parameters. During a race, this vast data set is transmitted live via telemetry to the pits, but also to team factories around the world. This information, which covers every conceivable aspect of the car, informs race strategy throughout the season as well as car and team development in the off-season. For example, Lewis Hamilton was quickly exonerated for an incident involving Sebastian Vettel when their cars came together at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with data showing Hamilton did not brake with Vettel close behind him. On race day, each F1 car produces 2.5Mbps of telemetry data and the 60 staff on site use a further 10Mbps for internet traffic and data, which shows how data analytics is key to the teams' competitiveness. This of course applies to businesses too.

IoT demands an extensive range of new technologies and skills that many organizations have yet to master. Is India ready for this?

The inherent drive for innovation that the people of India possess could enable the country to emerge as one of the frontrunners in the global IoT market. The government has recognised this too, whereby the Department of Electronics & Information Technology has released an Internet of Things Policy Draft. The vision is to "develop connected, secure and smart IoT based systems for our country' economy, society, environment and global needs". The ambition is to create an IoT industry worth USD 15 billion by 2020, or a share of 5-6% of the global IoT market. It's clear that this calls for new skills across the digital and IT spectrum.

Do you consider job sector a threat?

Actually the demand for IoT talent has surged by 300% over the last three years, so for now it's more of an opportunity than a threat. Further down the line, as the role of IoT-connected, autonomous, AI-enabled systems in sectors such as manufacturing and services continues to grow, we need to ensure that people have the right skills to complement a more automated society. Any job that involves processes which can be learnt by a robot will be at risk, as AI starts to pick up pace. But it's scaremongering to suggest that the world will be taken over by machines, resulting in mass unemployment and the collapse of the global economy. In order for businesses and society as a whole to be able to use AI to drive growth and prosperity the world over, we need to focus on how machines and humans can co-create instead of simply co-exist. So, what human skills and characteristics can best complement an AI? Despite rapid advances in supercomputing, we're decades away from seeing an AI as complex as the human brain. And, even the most sophisticated AI will always lack one skill - creativity. That's why creativity is the greatest skill we must instil in future generations to ensure that the workforce will be able to harness the full power of the IoT and AI and not become a casualty of automation.

Tell us about your expansion plans in this sector?

The first phase of the roll-out of our IoT network targets Tier 1, 2, 3 and 4 cities in India, touching over 400 million people. Alongside successful field trials in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, we have done 35 proof-of-concept application trials on the network. Ultimately, we look to have connected devices, applications and other IoT solutions in smart buildings, campus, utilities, fleet management, security and healthcare services in nearly 2,000 communities, covering over 400 million people. We are also looking at innovative IoT applications in the consumer market, such as women's safety and healthcare. Overall, we aim to have around 50 million different IoT devices in the market by 2022. In addition to our Indian IoT network, we have recently launched a global platform for the IoT called Tata Communications MOVE. It's all about enabling people and things to become seamlessly connected on a global scale, and lowering the barriers for businesses worldwide to launch their own IoT applications. Imagine a world where there could be embedded connectivity within everything - straight out of the box, with instant and seamless access to the Internet, anywhere in the world. That's our aim with Tata Communications MOVE. It is a platform that enables companies to embed global connectivity in anything, improving the user experience, creating completely new revenue streams, and fulfilling the promise of a truly digital world.

Like our Indian IoT network, Tata Communications MOVE is part of our long-term mobility strategy and vision of creating an access and usage agnostic, cross-border mobile experience. The platform is underpinned by our global network, partnerships with 900 mobile communications service providers globally, and recent investment in a company called Teleena. The IoT market is a priority for us, and we're confident that we have the right strategy in place to be able to grab our share of the global USD 4 billion mobile data connectivity and cross-border IoT market.

IoT introduces a wide range of new security risks and challenges to the IoT devices. Your comments.

Connecting billions of IoT devices represents major network security challenges as every device is a potential vulnerability which can be used by cyber criminals to stage an attack. This is particularly true of DDoS attacks, which are getting better at exposing vulnerabilities in a company's network and infecting IP-enabled devices to rapidly form botnet army of infected devices which grind the network to a standstill. Much-publicised ransomeware attacks pose their own risks in an always-connected IoT world too. Simply put, the more 'things' there are connected to a network, the bigger the risk. This does not mean businesses should scale down or delay IoT rollouts, but they must take a predictive and adaptive approach to security. Firstly, businesses need to build security within any IoT systems from the ground up, instead of retro-fitting piecemeal security products as new threats emerge. Secondly, they should work with specialist security services providers who are able to help them stay one step ahead of cyber-attackers and - through an adaptive security model - continuously monitor their IoT systems and the rest of their IT estate to spot threats before attacks happen. Adaptive security means shifting from an 'incident response' mind set to a 'continuous response' mind set. Typically, there are four stages in an adaptive security life cycle: preventative, detective, retrospective and predictive. For organisations to protect themselves, their IoT systems and their customers, they need to get this mix right.

Are there any challenges to standardise IoT applications across the industry?

The lack of standards in the IoT industry is undoubtedly the biggest challenge it faces. At present, the technologies involved are simply too broad. For policy makers and organisations driving towards establishing IoT standardisation, regulations will have to be limited to certain categories and specific industry verticals. For example, while developing standards around smart grids is no easy feat, it is more manageable 'category' than 'all encompassing' for IoT, and this approach can positively impact IoT rollouts across cities and enterprises over the next five years. The industry needs to come together to standardise IoT systems which will help accelerate the growth of this market.

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