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IoT low-power WAN to improve quality of life in India's cities
Smart city initiatives are exploiting open, wide-area networking technologies to make urban life richer in services, safer, and far more responsive to residents' needs. This Q&A, also available as a podcast, examines how such pervasively connected and data-driven IoT architectures are helping cities in India vastly improve the quality of life there.
Dana Gardner: This discussion examines the potential impact and improvement of low-power edge computing benefits on rapidly modernizing cities. These so-called smart city initiatives are exploiting open, wide-area networking technologies to make urban life richer in services, safer, and far more responsive to residents’ needs.
We will now hear about how such pervasively connected and data-driven IoT architectures are helping cities in India vastly improve the quality of life there.
Here to share how communication service providers are becoming agents of digital urban transformation is VS Shridhar, senior vice president and head of the Internet of Things (IoT) business unit at Tata Communications in Chennai area, India. Welcome, Shridhar.
VS Shridhar: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure being on this call.
Gardner: We are also joined by Nigel Upton, general manager of the Universal IoT Platform and global connectivity platform and communications solutions business at Hewlett Packard Enterprise). Welcome, Nigel.
Nigel Upton: Thanks, Dana. Good to be here.
Gardner: Shridhar, tell us about India’s Smart Cities mission. What are you up to, and how are these new technologies coming to bear on improving urban quality of life?
Live smarter, not harder
Shridhar: The government is clearly focusing on smart cities as part of their urbanization plan, as they believe Smart Cities will not only improve the quality of living, but also generate employment, and take the whole country forward in terms of technologically embracing and improving the quality of life.
So with that in mind, the government of India has launched 100 Smart Cities initiatives. It’s quite interesting because each of the cities that aspire to belong had to make a plan and their own strategy around how they are going to evolve and how they are going to execute it, present it, and get selected. There was a proper selection process.
Many of the cities made it, and of course some of them didn’t make it. Interestingly, some of the cities that didn’t make it are developing their own plans.
There is lot of excitement and curiosity as well as action in the Smart Cities project. Admittedly, it’s a slow process; it’s not something that you can do at the blink of the eye and Rome wasn’t built overnight, but I definitely see a lot of progress.
Gardner: Nigel, it seems that the timing for this is auspicious, given that there are some foundational technologies that are now available at very low cost compared to the past, and that have much more of a pervasive opportunity to gather information and make a two-way street, if you will, between the edge and central administration. How is the technology evolution synching up with these Smart Cities initiatives in India?
Upton: I am not sure whether it’s timing or luck, or whatever it happens to be, but adoption of the digitization of city infrastructure and services is to some extent driven by economics. While I like to tease my colleagues in India about their sensitivity to price, the truth of the matter is that the economics of digitization—and therefore IoT in smart cities—needs to be at the right price, depending on where it is in the world, and India has some very specific price points to hit. That will drive the rate of adoption.
And so, we're very encouraged that innovation is continuing to drive price points down to the point that mass adoption can then be taken up and the benefits realized to a much more broad spectrum of the population.
Working with Tata Communications has really helped HPE understand this and continue to evolve as technology and be part of the partner ecosystem because it does take a village to raise an IoT smart city. You need a lot of partners to make this happen, and that combination of partnership, willingness to work together and driving the economic price points to the point of adoption has been absolutely critical in getting us to where we are today.
Gardner: Shridhar, we have some very important optimization opportunities around things like street lighting, waste removal, public safety, water quality; of course, there's a pervasive need for traffic and parking, monitoring, and improvement.
How do things like a low-power specification Internet and network gateways and low-power WANs (LPWANs) create a new foundation technically to improve these services? How do we connect the services and the technology for an improved outcome?
Shridhar: If you look at human interaction to the Internet, we have a lot of technology coming our way. We used to have 2G, that has moved to 3G and to 4G, and that is a lot of bandwidth coming our way. We would like to have a tremendous amount of access and bandwidth speeds and so on, right?
In order to switch off a streetlight, how much bandwidth do you actually require? So the human interaction and experience is improving vastly, given the networks that are growing. On the machine-to-machine (M2M) side, it’s going to be different. They don’t need oodles of bandwidth. About 80 to 90 percent of all machine interactions are going to be very, very low bandwidth and, of course, low power. I will come to the low power in a moment, but it’s going to be very low bandwidth requirement.
In order to switch off a streetlight, how much bandwidth do you actually require? Or, in order to sense temperature or air quality or water and water quality, how much bandwidth do you actually require?
When you ask these questions, you get an answer that the machines don’t require that much bandwidth. More importantly, when there are millions—or possibly billions—of devices to be deployed in the years to come, how are you going to service a piece of equipment that is telling a streetlight to switch on and switch off if the battery runs out?
Machines are different from humans in terms of interactions. When we deploy machines that require low bandwidth and low power consumption, a battery can enable such a machine to communicate for years.
Aside from heavy video streaming applications or constant security monitoring, where low-bandwidth, low-power technology doesn’t work, the majority of the cases are all about low bandwidth and low power. And these machines can communicate with the quality of service that is required.
When it communicates, the network has to be available. You then need to establish a network that is highly available, which consumes very little power and provides the right amount of bandwidth. So studies show that less than 50 Kbps connectivity should suffice for the majority of these requirements.
Now the machine interaction also means that you collect all of them into a platform and basically act on them. It's not about just sensing it; it's measuring it, analyzing it, and acting on it.
Low-power to the people
So the whole stack consists not just of connectivity alone. It’s LPWAN technology that is emerging now and becoming a de facto standard as more and more countries start embracing it.
At Tata Communications we have embraced the LPWAN technology from the LoRa Alliance, a consortium of more than 400 partners that have gotten together and are driving standards. We are creating this network over the next 18 to 24 months across India. We have made these networks available right now in four cities. By the end of the year, it will be many more cities—almost 60 cities across India by March 2018.
Gardner: Nigel, how do you see the opportunity, the market, for a standard architecture around this sort of low-power, low-bandwidth network? This is a proof of concept in India, but what's the potential here for taking this even further? Is this something that has global potential?
Upton: The global potential is undoubtedly there, and there is an additional element that we didn't talk about, which is that not all devices require the same amount of bandwidth. So we have talked about video surveillance requiring higher bandwidth, we have talked about devices that have low-power bandwidth and will essentially be created once and forgotten when expected to last five or 10 years.
We also need to add in the aspect of security, and that really gave HPE and Tata the common ground of understanding that the world is made up of a variety of network requirements, some of which will be met by LPWAN, some of which will require more bandwidth, maybe as high as 5G.
The common core standards
The real advantage of being able to use a common architecture to be able to take the data from these devices is the idea of having things like a common management, common security, and a common data model so that you really have the power of being able to take information, take data from all of these different types of devices, and pull it into a common platform that is based on a standard.
In our case, we selected the oneM2M standard; it’s the best standard available to be able to build that common data model, and that's the reason why we deployed the oneM2M model within the universal IoT platform to get that consistency no matter what type of device over no matter what type of network.
Gardner: It certainly sounds like this is an unprecedented opportunity to gather insight and analysis into areas that you just really couldn't have measured before. So going back to the economics of this, Shridhar, have you had any opportunity through these pilot projects in such cities as Jamshedpur to demonstrate a return on investment, perhaps on street lighting, perhaps on quality of utilization and efficiency? Is there a strong financial incentive to do this once the initial hurdle of upfront costs is met?
Data-driven cost reduction lights up India
Shridhar: Unless the customer sees that there is a scope for either reducing the cost or increasing the customer experience, they are not going to buy these kinds of solutions. So if you look at how things have been progressing, I will give you a few examples of how the costs have started constructing and playing out. One of course is to have devices, meeting at a certain price point, we talked about how in India—we talked that Nigel was remarking how constant still this Indian market is, but it’s important, once we delivered to a certain cost, we believe we can now deliver globally to scale. That’s very important, so if we build something in India it would deliver to the global market as well.
The streetlight example, let’s take that specifically and see what kind of benefits it would give. When a streetlight operates for about 12 hours a day, it costs about Rs.12, which is about 15 cents, but when you start optimizing it and say, OK, this is a streetlight that is supported currently on halogen and you move it to LED, it brings a little bit of cost saving, in some cases significant as well. India is going through an LED revolution as you may have read in the newspapers; those streetlights are being converted, and that’s one distinct cost advantage.
Now they are looking and driving, let’s say, the usage and the electricity bills even lower by optimizing it. Let’s say you sync it with the astronomical clock, that 6:30 in the evening it comes up and let’s say 6:30 in the morning it shuts down, linking to the astronomical clock because now you are connecting this controller to the Internet.
The second thing that you would do is during busy hours keep it at the brightest, let’s say between 7:00 and 10:00 pm, you keep it at the brightest and after that you start minimizing it. You can control it down in 10 percent increments.
The point I am making is, you basically deliver intensity of light to the kind of requirement that you have. If it is busy, or if there is nobody on the street, or if there is a safety requirement, a sensor will trigger up a series of lights and so on.
So your ability to play around with just having streetlights being delivered to the requirement is so high that it brings down total cost. While I was telling you about the 15 cents that you would spend per streetlight, that could be brought down to 5 cents. So that’s the kind of advantage by better controlling the streetlights. The business case builds up, and a customer can save 60 to 70 percent just by doing this. Obviously, then the business case stands out.
The question that you are asking is an interesting one because each of the applications has its own way of returning the investment back, while the optimization of resources is being done. There is also a collateral positive benefit by saving the environment. So not only do I gain a business savings and business optimization, but I also pass on a general, bigger message of a green environment. Environment and safety are the two biggest benefits of implementing this, and it would really appeal to our customers.
Gardner: It’s always great to put hard economic metrics on these things, but Shridhar just mentioned safety. Even when you can't measure in direct economics, it's invaluable when you can bring a higher degree of safety to an urban environment.
It opens up for more foot traffic, which can lead to greater economic development, which can then provide more tax revenue. It seems to me that there is a multiplier effect when you have this sort of intelligent urban landscape that creates a cascading set of benefits: the more data, the more efficiency; the more efficiency, the more economic development; the more revenue, the more data and so on. So tell us a little bit about this ongoing multiplier and virtuous adoption benefit when you go to intelligent urban environments?
Quality of life, under control
Upton: Yes, also it’s important to note that it differs almost by country to country and almost within region to region within countries. The interesting challenge with smart cities is that often you're dealing with elected officials rather than hard-nosed businessman who are only interested in the financial return. And it's because you're dealing with politicians and they are therefore representing the citizens in their area, either their city or their town or their region, their priorities are not always the same.
There is quite a variation of one of the particular challenges, particular social challenges as well as the particular quality of life challenges in each of the areas that they work in. So things like personal safety are a very big deal in some regions. I am currently in Tokyo and here there is much more concern around quality of life and mobility with a rapidly aging population and their challenges are somewhat different.
But in India, the set of opportunities and challenges that are set out, they are in that combination of economic as well as social, and if you solve them and you essentially give citizens more peace of mind, more ability to be able to move freely, to be able to take part in the economic interaction within that area, then undoubtedly that leads to greater growth. But it is worth bearing in mind that it does vary almost city by city and region by region.
Gardner: Shridhar, do you have any other input into a cascading, ongoing set of benefits when you get more data, more network opportunity. I guess I am trying to understand for a longer term objective that being intelligent and data-driven has an ongoing set of benefits. What might those be? How can this be a long-term data and analytics treasure trove when you think about it in terms of how to provide better urban experiences?
Shridhar: From our perspective, when we looked at the customer benefits there is a huge amount of focus around the smart cities and how smart cities are benefiting from a network. If you look at the enterprise customers, they are also looking at safety, which is an overlapping application that a smart city would have.
So the enterprise wants to provide safety to its workers, for example, in mines or in difficult terrains, environments where they are focusing on helping them. Or women’s safety, which is as you know in India is a big thing as well—how do you provide a device which is not very obvious and it gives the women all the safety that is there.
So all this in some form is providing data. One of the things that comes to my mind when you ask about how data-driven resources can be and what kind of quality it would give is if you action your mind to some of the customer services devices, there could be applications or let’s say a housewife could have a multiple button kind of a device where she can order a service.
Depending on the service, she presses and sees an aggregate of households across India; you would know the trends and direction of a certain service. And mind you, it could be as simple as a three-button device which says Service A, Service B, Service C, and it could be a consumer service that gets extended to a particular household that we sell it as a service.
So you could get lots of trends and patterns that are emerging from that, and we believe that the customer experience is going to change, because no longer is a customer going to retain in his mind what kind of phone numbers or your, let's say, apps and all to order; you give them the convenience of just a button-press service. That immediately comes to my mind.
Feedback fosters change
The second one is in terms of feedback. You use the same three-button service to say how well have you used utility—or rather how—what kind of quality of service that you rate multiple utilities that you are using, and there is toilet revolution in India. For example, you put these buttons out there, they will tell you at any given point of time what’s the user satisfaction and so on.
So these are all data that is getting gathered and I believe that it is early days for us to go on and put out analytics and give you distinct kind of benefits that are there, but some of the things that customers are already looking at is which geographies, which segment, who are my biggest—the profile of the customers using this and so on. That kind of information is going to come out very, very distinctly.
The Smart Cities is all about experience. The enterprises are now looking at the data that is coming out and seeing how they can use it to better segment and provide better customer experience, which would obviously mean both adding to their top line as well as helping them manage their bottom line. So it's beyond safety; it's getting into the customer experience—the realm of managing customer experience.
Gardner: From a go-to-market perspective or a go-to-city’s perspective, these are very complex undertakings, lots of moving parts, lots of different technologies and standards. How are Tata and HPE coming together, along with other service providers—Pointnext, for example? How do you put this into a package that can then actually be managed and put in place? How do we make this appealing not only in terms of its potential but being actionable as well when it comes to different cities and regions?
Upton: The concept of Smart Cities has been around for a while, and various governments around the world have pumped money into their cities over an extended period of time. We now have the infrastructure in place, we have the price points, and we have IoT becoming mainstream.
As usual, these things always take more time than you think, and I do not believe today that we have a technology challenge on our hands. We have much more of a business model challenge. Being able to deploy technology to be able to bring benefits to citizens, I think that is finally getting to the point where it is much better understood where innovation of the device level, whether it's streetlights, whether it's the ability to measure water quality, sound quality, humidity, all of these metrics that we have available to us now. There has been very rapid innovation at that device level and at the economics of how to produce them, at a price that will enable widespread deployment.
All that has been happening rapidly over the last few years, getting us to the point where we now have the infrastructure in place, we have the price points in place, and we have IoT becoming mainstream enough that it is entering into the manufacturing process of all sorts of different devices, as I said, ranging from streetlights to personal security devices through to track and trace devices that are built into the manufacturing process of goods. That is now reaching mainstream and we are now able to take advantage of this massive data that’s now being produced to be able to produce even more efficient and smarter cities, and make them safer places for our citizens.
Gardner: Last word to you, Shridhar. If people wanted to learn more about the pilot proof of concept (PoC) that you are doing there at Jamshedpur and other cities, through the Smart Cities Mission, where might they go? Are there any resources? How would you provide more information to those interested in pursuing more of these technologies?
Pilot projects take flight
Shridhar: I would be very happy to help them look at the PoCs that we are doing. I would classify the PoCs that we are doing is as far as safety is concerned, we talked of energy management in one big bucket that is there, then the customer service I spoke about, and the fourth one I would say is more on the utility side. Gas and water are two big applications where customers are looking at these PoCs very seriously.
And there is one interesting application in that one customer wanted for pest control, where he wanted his mouse traps to have sensors so that they will at any point of time know if there is a rat trap at all, which I thought was a very interesting thing.
There are multiple streams that we have; we have done multiple PoCs. We will be very happy for Tata Communications team [to provide more information], and the HPE folks are in touch with us.
You could write to us, to me in particular, for some period of time. We are also putting information on our website. We have marketing collateral, which describes this. We will do some of the joint workshops with HPE as well.
So there are multiple ways to reach us, and one of the best ways obviously is through our website. We are always there to provide more important help, and we believe that we can’t do it all alone; it’s about the ecosystem getting to know and getting to work on it.
While we have partners like HPE on the platform level, we also have partners such as Semtech, which established the Center of Excellence in Mumbai along with us. So the access to the ecosystem from HPE side as well as our other partners is available, and we are happy to work and co-create the solutions going forward.
Gardner: I’m afraid we will have to leave it there. We have been discussing how smart city initiatives are exploiting wide-open area networks and wide-area low-cost and low-energy network technologies to make urban life richer in services, safer and then far more responsive to residents’ needs.
And we have learned how pervasively connected the data-driven IoT architectures from a consortium and the ecosystem to providers like HPE and Tata are helping cities in India and elsewhere vastly improve their quality of life.
So please join me in thanking our guests, VS Shridhar, senior vice president and head of the Internet of Things business unit at Tata Communications, and Nigel Upton, general manager of the Universal IoT Platform and global connectivity platform and communications solutions business at HPE. Thank you, Nigel.
And a big thank you, too, to thank our audience as well for joining us for this BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer IoT Transformation Discussion.
I'm Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for this ongoing series of HPE-sponsored discussions. Thanks again for listening, and do come back next time.
This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.