Asia’s developing markets may be ready for the Internet of Things (IoT), but operators in those markets have different priorities and face different challenges than their counterparts in leading-edge developed markets like Japan, Korean and Singapore.
It’s an important distinction, says Amila Saputhanthri, value added services engineer at Dialog Axiata, because the breathless industry hype over connected cars, smart clothing and robot appliances plays a lot better in Japan than it does in, say, Sri Lanka.
“In Sri Lanka, connected cars won’t generate much interest, but smart cities will,” Saputhanthri said at the 5G Asia conference in Singapore Tuesday. “In South Asia, IoT connectivity will focus more on essential applications that more people will find useful.”
Potential examples include smart agriculture apps like irrigation canal monitoring and mini weather stations, smart health apps like patient monitors and medical record tracking, and smart disaster management apps such as flood estimation and early warning systems. Then there’s smart utility management, smart homes and of course smart cities.
The common thread is that such IoT apps are geared towards basic and practical aspects of daily life in countries where many people have little to no experience with the internet beyond 2.5G.
“In Sri Lanka, 2G-level service is everywhere, but only 20% of people have access to broadband, which is the basic requirement for IoT,” said Saputhanthri. “This is a problem.
Another reality for many people in developing markets is the issue of job displacement – a big deal in labor-intensive economic sectors, he added. “If you deploy smart utility grids with self-reporting meters, what happens to the jobs of people who go out and check the meters? The government will look at that kind of thing.”
And there’s also the affordability issue. In the smart agriculture scenario, for instance, the users are poor farmers who don’t have much experience with technology. “People look at the price first, then the technology. So it has to be affordable and cost-effective,” Saputhanthri said.
On the operator side, there are plenty of other challenges to overcome in delivering any IoT-related service or project in South Asia: cost of deployment, lack of proper standards, lack of government policies or investment (or incentives for them to invest), traditional mindsets, privacy issues, spectrum availability and low ARPUs.
Such barriers aren’t insurmountable, and it’s not as though IoT is non-existent in developing markets – Dialog Axiata is already offering IoT-related services such as digital health and smart homes.
Saputhanthri offered a readiness checklist for mobile operators that includes not just the latest technology platforms (i.e. 4.5G), but also promoting apps development via things like hackathons, and changes in business models that enable digital services and promotes smart concepts.
“It can be a challenge just ensuring people have adequate knowledge of what IoT actually is, as well as what it can enable,” he said.