Tata’s LoRa IoT network is way more than just another LPWAN

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Keeping up with the latest IoT technologies, solutions, vendors and use cases can be overwhelming. Every week we’re inundated with new announcements about how some widget is going to solve a problem we didn’t even know existed. The challenge is trying to weed through the marketing messages to find the technologies and solutions that can deliver tangible business value today – and which are over-hyped and nowhere near ready for commercial deployment.

I was discussing this challenge with an industry contact recently and I told them I read hundreds of technology and solution announcements every year, but I think only a handful have a chance to be game changers (e.g. create new business models, disrupt an industry). My contact then said, “Why not write a blog series about the handful of IoT initiatives you think can be game changers?”

After getting over the “How am I going to find the time to do that?” excuse, I agreed. Hence, the “IoT Watch List” was born.

To kick off this series, I will examine Tata Communications’ launch of a nationwide, low power WAN (LPWAN) in India based on LoRa technology.

The basics

In November 2015, Tata Comms announced that it was going to partner with Semtech to build an dedicated IoT network in India, and has since announced it will partner with HPE to leverage its Universal IoT Platform and support the deployment and support of connected “things”.

The target for Phase I of the deployment was to cover 400 million people across India’s Tier 1, 2, 3 and 4 cities. To date, it has already covered seven Tier 1 cities, including Mumbai and New Delhi, and targets providing coverage to 60 cities by the end of 2017 and reaching nationwide urban coverage during 2018.

Why you should care

On paper, it is just another LPWAN, but when you start looking at it in more detail, you realize it has the potential to impact the wider IoT industry.

1. The Demand-side: show me the solutions!

News Flash! India is HUGE in terms of size and population (1.34 billion people). Ok, we all knew that, but think about what Tata Comms is doing. This initiative will provide a dedicated IoT network that will provide coverage to over 400 million people in Phase I. The scale is impressive, but when you take into account the Top 5 industries that drive the Indian economy – and the LPWAN IoT solutions that can support them – it becomes even more interesting:

  • Retail & Wholesale Trade (think Logistics, Asset Tracking)
  • Agriculture (think Smart Farming to improve crop yields and minimise pest infestation)
  • Real Estate (think Smart Building and Employee Safety)
  • Banking & Insurance (think Asset Tracking)
  • IT (think the IoT ecosystem to support the design, deployment and management of IoT solutions)

Oh, and even though it doesn’t rank in the Top 5, India also has a massive Manufacturing industry (think predictive maintenance, energy management) – and let’s not forget about the massive push from the Modi government to drive the “100 Smart Cities” plan. The demand-side of the market equation exists – now it’s up to the supply-side to create the solutions to meet that demand.

2. The Supply-side: India’s IoT solution ecosystem

India has thousands of vendors across the IoT solution ecosystem, including device/module manufacturers, security and platform vendors, application developers and systems integrators. Many of these vendors already work regionally/globally to support enterprise, industrial IoT and smart city initiatives. With the launch of this network, they now have a low cost, IoT-dedicated network to leverage in their local market. This will provide them with the opportunity to test low cost, low power solutions locally, and if they work, deploy them regionally and/or globally.

3. Use Cases: New IoT solutions

The Tata Comms solution portfolio includes many tried and tested LPWAN use cases, including smart meters, smart buttons, environmental sensors, and motion detectors. However, it will also launch two solutions I believe will reach a much wider audience:

  • LoRa-based smartwatch for factory workers: Tata Comms has launched a wearable that will help reduce accidents on the factory floor and can track heart rate, temperature, movement, fall detection and ambient gases. Initial deployments have been in factories, but they are also targeting the Mining and Freight companies. I believe this has the potential to gain significant traction not only in the industries mentioned, but also in commercial real estate, construction and shipping.
  • Employee safety device: A more cost effective solution than the smartwatch, this button tracks the user’s location and allows them to send a push notification (think “SOS”) in the event of a dangerous situation.

Why it could be a game changer

Tata Comms’ LoRa network deployment will help bring the supply- and demand-side of the Indian IoT market together and will have wide-ranging impact on Asia’s IoT solution ecosystem based on:

1. The “developing market first” approach

Customers in developed countries have led the adoption of IoT solutions, meaning vendors have designed solutions to be financially viable for customers in those markets. But what about customers in Asia’s developing markets? Unfortunately, many of those same solutions do not meet the financial limitations and expectations of those customers.

We now have a situation where India’s IoT vendor ecosystem can work together to develop low-cost, low-power IoT solutions that meet the financial constraints of customers in developing markets. This “developing market first” approach is necessary to drive IoT adoption in India, but it also bodes well for the region’s other developing countries that can “watch and learn” from India to see what solutions are adopted – and how much they cost.

2. India: The local market opportunity

Every country has industries that will generate IoT solution demand. What differentiates India is sheer scale of the number of IoT vendors on the supply side that can service that demand. And yes, that scenario has already existed, but now they will have a nationwide, low cost network to help bring the total cost of ownership down and (hopefully) drive IoT solution adoption.

To put the opportunity in perspective, China, which has a similar population to India but is well ahead in LPWAN adoption, is forecast to have 192 million low power wide area connections by 2022 (source: Machina Research). While I don’t expect India to get anywhere near that amount, even a small fraction of that number could be transformational to many industries and the country as a whole.

3. India: The regional/global market opportunity

Once vendors can prove the business case in India, they can take the use cases to customers in the other developing markets across Asia (e.g. Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam). The Indian systems integrators are well placed to benefit from this as they have already been successful in deploying large-scale IoT solutions across both developed and developing markets across the region. This will give them more solutions in their kit bag that will be applicable to a wider range of customers.

Will this be the kickstart that we need to drive IoT in developing countries? Only time will tell. But, it won’t be easy. The IoT industry struggles to identify use cases outside the proven ones (e.g. predictive maintenance, asset tracking, smart buildings) and globally we find it difficult to collaborate internally and across the IoT vendor ecosystem to deliver solutions.

What I will say is the combination of the factors I have discussed above makes this one initiative that I will keep tracking … and hoping for the best.

charles reed andersonWritten by Charles Reed Anderson, founder of CRA & Associates | Originally published at charlesreedanderson.com 

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