What Industrial Internet can do for India

Right signals For an internet-enabled future bigyuthana/shutterstock.com

Banking on satellite technology, it can revolutionise the Internet of Things ecosystem, expanding it to rural regions

According to Marc Benioff, the larger-than-life CEO of Salesforce.com, “the Internet of Things is ground zero for a new phase of global transformation powered by technology innovation, generating significant economic opportunities and reshaping industries.” It is a fact that it was, like ‘smart-cities’ before it, a much-hyped technological phenomenon as recently as 2014. Much of this hype centred around consumer applications, such as smart homes, connected cars and consumer wearables such as wristband activity trackers.

But for all the hype and basis current technology constraints, consumer IoT promises to be a technology that will largely benefit urban consumers and entities, as over 3 billion of the world’s citizens still do not have access to the internet.

In India, a billion people still do not have access to the internet, most of them in rural India. Given the issues of both broadband and power unavailability in rural India, in all likelihood consumer IoT will continue to be an urban phenomenon for the foreseeable future.

Future tech

According to tech gurus, the game-changer, however, will be the less known and understood enterprise variant due to the massive disruption it can entail. This is the technology to watch out for.

Despite being rather low-key in comparison, it is IoT’s industrial applications, or the ‘Industrial Internet’, which may well and ultimately eclipse its more-in-your-face consumer counterpart, both in terms of business relevance as well as socio-economic impact.

The Industrial Internet closely linked to enterprise IoT is likely to radically transform and overhaul business segments including manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture, defence, mining, transportation and healthcare, to name a few. Collectively, these sectors account for over two-thirds of the global economy.

The Industrial Internet is still at an early stage, similar to where the Internet was in the late 1990s. A recent Accenture study highlighted respondents from the enterprise segment admitting that the full range of implications of the industrial internet on their industries is still emerging and not crystal clear.

But proponents agree with one thing — that industrial internet applications in the sectors mentioned above will grow by leaps and bounds, requiring not just huge amounts of bandwidth but more importantly, absolutely reliable and real-time responses.

Consumer internet, i.e. terrestrial internet (through fibre, cable or WiFi) is not quite the solution. With its 99.999 per cent reliability, it will be satellite broadband to the rescue. Next generation satellite technologies are becoming available providing high speeds, much lower latency, smaller form-factor satellite devices and satellite mobility.

The other issue is of cost. For the purpose of IoT, satellite broadband especially with high-throughput satellites would also be available at a fraction of the cost of terrestrial broadband (no setting up of expensive towers and powering them day and night or digging up the ground to lay expensive fibre or cable).

Machines all the way

The next internet revolution will have humans as bystanders. Machines will engage with each other, talk to each other and learn from each other while humans will observe, analyse and act upon the outcomes.

IoT is the glue that is shaping this new M2M world and it is here — very much upon us. In the past three years alone, the number of sensors shipped for enterprise use has increased more than five times from 4.2 billion in 2012 to 23.6 billion in 2014.

IoT, which excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones, will grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020, representing an almost 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion in 2009, according to Gartner.

Gartner also believes that IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion, mostly in services, in 2020. It will result in $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets.  

The verticals that are expected to lead its adoption are manufacturing, healthcare and insurance, among others. Companies such as Cisco, GE, Intel, Qualcomm and Huawei are among those leading the pack.

While manufacturing, transportation, oil and gas, defence, healthcare and BFSI will be benefiting from IoT, opportunities emerging in sectors as varied as, say, agriculture also portend huge change and possible impact.

Boosting farming

As climate change disrupts old cycles and patterns of farming, disrupting production, impacting livelihoods and threatening food security, the agri-sector is turning to mechanisation in a big way and both satellites and IoT will be there to make the change happen.

By connecting farm equipment to geo-location data, agricultural companies and farmers will coordinate and optimise farm production in ways never before possible. For instance, automated tillers can inject nitrogen fertiliser at precise depths and intervals, as seeders follow, placing corn seeds directly in the fertilised soil.

Ultimately, turning such data into actionable insights will improve crop yield to help feed the world’s growing population. Just imagine what this can do for an agri-intensive country such as India!

The enterprise segment is already the largest consumer of satellite broadband technologies — largely because of its ubiquitous availability and inherent reliability. From the middle of the ocean, to the top of a mountain, the middle of a desert or the centre of a forest, VSAT (very small aperture terminal, a satellite communication system) connectivity is always on. It stands to reason that enterprise IoT and VSAT broadband is a match literally made in heaven!

The writer is head of enterprise business at Hughes Communications India

Published on June 13, 2016


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