“The most important thing is the selection of the IoT platform; it needs to have as many interfaces as possible to enable the sensor technology”

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Samar Mittal, VP, software, India market, Nokia

Nokia advises enterprise customers on how to evaluate the scalability of the IoT platform they procure and calculate the number of interfaces they will require in order to successfully incorporate IoT into their business. Samar Mittal, VP, software, India market, Nokia, talks to Baishakhi Dutta about the company’s strategies to address the large variety of use cases found among Indian customers.

EB: Tell us about Nokia’s ventures in the B2B tech landscape.
We are leaders in high-performance, end-to-end networks with the CSPs (communication service providers). Our portfolio ranges from mobile networks, Nokia software, IP routing and optical networks, to fixed networks and the global services business groups. We are very strong in the 5G cycle of investment which covers almost all aspects of this portfolio. Nokia has a strong software business group, which is really developing a lot of innovative solutions across technologies. We are growing our business in verticals with high-performance enterprise networks and digital automation solutions as well, where we are consistently and significantly outpacing the market at a global level.

EB: How significant is the Indian market to your business?
India has been a very significant growth market for us for more than a couple of decades and we’ve contributed a lot to the market and to India, as a country. We’re providing the leading LTE technologies to most of the CSPs. We have a workforce of more than 16,000 within the country. One-third of India’s mobile subscribers, in one way or the other, are touched by the networks provided by Nokia. We are also bringing in a lot of business in terms of IP optics and software. Our presence goes beyond customer operations to manufacturing operations in Chennai, an R&D centre in Bengaluru and a GDC (global delivery centre) from where we provide services to global customers. In general, we have over 6000 people who are developing software, intellectual property and innovative solutions within India.

EB: Are there any challenges that you’ve encountered while doing R&D in India?
There is no challenge, per se, in terms of the talent pool and the innovation that these individuals bring in as a team. In a market of a billion consumers, the use cases and the challenges of scale are different. So we are learning and developing further, both in terms of quality and innovation.

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EB: How active are you in the IoT space currently?
We have started contributing to the IoT space globally as well as locally. Our IoT innovation enables enterprises to make sense of the massive volumes of data produced by the connected IoT system. We support an end-to-end IoT value chain that includes connectivity, analytics, security and platforms for device management and data collection. Our portfolio consists of advanced analytics and IoT applications, IoT connectivity, IoT platforms, IoT security and IoT services—a comprehensive suite of offerings relevant to the market. These are also tuned to the use cases and the technology that the IoT platform is required to serve, as well as the overall scale and regulatory requirements. So that’s what we are doing within our suite of IoT offerings, apart from what we bring to the table in terms of our expertise as a company with global experience and a local presence.

EB: So, exactly where does Nokia’s Impact IoT platform fit into this portfolio?
Within our portfolio, it’s part of the Nokia software business group. With Impact, service providers, enterprises and governments can capture more customers, develop new business models, and differentiate their competitive position in the market. Impact offers a secure, standards-based, simplified IoT platform on which to build and scale new IoT services.

EB: When we talk about the software business group, who is the main target audience?
The main target audience comprises CSPs and enterprises with diverse requirements such as deploying private LTE use cases in the country. Platforms can be installed for this main target group; these companies can then provide open APIs to application developers and have data collected from various sensors, which they can offer as a service to their consumers. This can play a very important role in the Smart Cities and Digital India initiatives, like in smart metering, surveillance, etc. There are various use cases that can be developed depending upon the scale and the investments that a particular consumer, industry or government wants to make.

EB: So, Impact is a only a software solution and does not involve any sort of hardware installation?
Impact is a complete software solution. Finally, it will be installed on some computing system like the cloud or a customer’s existing hardware infrastructure. Our software solution is agnostic in terms of what hardware is needed. So, we are pretty open if the end customer wants to procure the hardware directly. We are not bound by the hardware and it can be installed and hosted on the cloud, public or private, depending upon the requirements of the end consumer.

EB: What are the steps being taken to promote IoT in the country?
We have set up the Nokia Learning and Development Hub. So, for partners, innovators and vendors, who would like to contribute or join hands with Nokia, we have an IoT community programme. This brings innovative companies together to collaborate and unleash the potential of the Internet of Things. In India, IoT usage is still in its infancy in terms of scale when you compare it to the sheer size of the telecommunications industry and number of mobile subscribers. But this means that the opportunity is big. And that’s where this IoT community programme helps individual customers to define solution concepts, collaborate on prototypes, and explore the business models that will evolve, depending upon the use cases. The programme allows participants to showcase concepts for feedback and even conduct market trials to validate the model. So, there are a lot of opportunities for learning out there. We have built this open community where people come together from time-to-time to learn more about IoT.

EB: So this Learning and Development Hub is exclusively an online service or is there a plan to turn this into a brick and mortar setup?
This IoT community is free for everyone, and one can register to join, so it’s an online thing. Specific training or learnings are not what we offer on the Web. But people in the community who wish to go through certain training can contact the relevant Nokia administrative individual and, depending upon the requirement, the training can be structured. There are quite a few learning opportunities available on our Hub, which is free for everyone. Anything customised has to be thought through and can be discussed on a case-to-case basis. Things depend on the particular need, the use cases and the benefit that working on something can bring to all of us.

EB: Does academia fit into this training opportunity? Is Nokia doing anything specific for academia?
Yes, we do quite a bit on various domains. We do conduct lectures on various aspects of IoT technology to enhance learning. Our leadership teams also go to universities and talk on certain topics. So, we are very open to sharing knowledge.

EB: In your opinion, which are the top three technologies that are shaping the future of IoT and how are they doing so?
One is the edge cloud. If you bring all the data back to the central location, it’s going to become very bandwidth-intensive and, at the same time, the data will be exposed to security risks while in transit. So, we will not be able to make real-time decisions because of the delay, latency, etc. The edge cloud will basically bring computing closer to where the traffic is generated. And a good amount of data generated by the devices can then be processed right where it is generated. We believe only around 1 to 2 per cent of sensor data needs to travel all the way to the central cloud, for further interpretation and analytics. This applies to most critical applications like remote surgery, autonomous cars, and even factory automation in certain situations. And the falling costs of compute and IoT sensors, along with smarter devices, will make edge computing a viable reality.

The second technology is artificial intelligence and machine learning. There is all this information, analytics, use cases and data being generated in say, for instance, the health industry, based on which actions can be taken. Or in the manufacturing industries that generate a lot of field information, such as how a particular supply chain is being run.

So, AI and ML will play a significant role in many of the decisions and actions that will be executed in real-time on a vast number of parameters. Generic artificial intelligence is a little further in the future, but purpose-built artificial intelligence or machine learning engines will drive the future of IoT, making things more intelligent and autonomous for carrying out defined actions without human intervention. Machine learning is driven by initiatives such as predictive maintenance based on the wear and tear of a machine’s parts. Of course, deep learning will require a massive amount of computing and hence will offload part of the workload to certain processes, which will also help in the long run. Even today, AI is implemented in Nokia’s Reefshark design for radio and is embedded in the baseband to use augmented deep learning to trigger smart rapid actions. So, a lot of these chipsets we are introducing for the 5G network are built keeping the future use cases in mind.

And of course, the last technology is the sensors, where it all begins. IoT is as good as the information being provided through sensors, which need to be small and pretty good in terms of accuracy, depending upon where they’re being used. If they are being power-driven, then we need to ensure that they are low on power consumption or have a long battery life; they need to be quite secure, and most importantly, have the right pricing model, or else they will not be adopted at all. However, with the advent of nano-materials, IoT sensors have become more resilient than ever. Eventually, the average cost of sensors should also come down. As we move ahead, sensors will also need to decrease in size for easier embedding into solutions. The smaller they are, the easier it is to embed them, and the better it will be to develop the ecosystem. Because sensors carry live data and some software as well, they will be vulnerable to hacks. Hence, security will be a big thing as we move ahead.

EB: Cellular and NB-IoT or the LPWAN family of wireless technologies—which one are you betting on?
Overall, IoT will have all the technologies because solutions will vary from market to market, depending upon the spectrum, CSP or enterprise requirements, use cases relevant to that market, etc. We provide full-suite solutions in all technologies, and this helps us to learn and innovate faster and better. As things progress, I think these evolving global learnings across technologies and use cases will help us to drive the pace of change.

EB: Do you see open source technology playing an important role in IoT?
Open source technologies, from an application space or an API space, will play a significant role. That’s where the Impact platform becomes relevant. Given the fragmentation in the IoT market with a multitude of device vendors and the vast app ecosystem, interoperability between various solutions is not possible with proprietary platforms. This necessitates the need for a standards-driven open source platform because you will never have a single protocol sensor talking to a platform. Nokia’s Impact platform supports most of the protocols that various sensors will communicate data with. When we talk about application providers, open source apps become very relevant. And with the ease offered by our Impact platform, developers do not need to learn about all the protocols or the interfaces that sensors are using to provide data. So use cases will be implemented faster and, at the same time, the platform can be scaled across various sensors.

EB: Can you give us an example for this?
Let’s say I have developed a use case for the automobile industry, which needs a specifically manufactured sensor. This use case happens to also be relevant for another application to another user in the automobile industry. However, this user wants to work with the make and model of a different sensor. But the interface that both the sensors are providing is also different. Now if the application has to be compatible with each interface, it will not be easy to scale it. But once you have this platform in between, then the same application can be used across various sensors and interfaces, which helps in reducing the time-to-market, and at the same time, provides the flexibility to enterprise consumers and operators, to select the right device for their use case, both commercially and technically.

EB: What would be your suggestions to customers evaluating an IoT solution?
Within the IoT market, we are still in the initial stages of building the business models that will be relevant. But the most important thing is the selection of the platform. It needs to have as many interfaces as possible to enable the sensor technology. If you only have one or two interface-based platforms, then you’ll get limited by the sensors that you can select, not only for the current use cases but also for the use cases or devices that will emerge in the future. So, technology selection is important.

My second piece of advice will be to check how scalable the analytics engine in an IoT platform is, in order to support growing traffic and connectivity, apart from evaluating how secure the platform is. And of course, you should evaluate the various services that can be offered because once the platform is installed, it will not operate on a ‘one size fits all’ basis. Every use case will demand a separate way of being handled, with regard to the services and the implementation.

Nokia brings scale in terms of its global services arm, its global experience in various technologies, and its hands and feet on the ground. Once you have hundreds and thousands of devices getting data from across regions, for mission-critical solutions, failure can lead to various complications, so services play an important role.

EB: Any specific advice for shaping new business models with IoT?
In terms of business modelling, I think it’s too early to really guide operators. We are in discussions with operators to evolve business models. This can range from just selling the connectivity, selling end-to-end use cases with sensors, applications and the platform; or a complete MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) model where we sell the entire use case within a managed services concept. So the operator owns everything and sells it to an enterprise for the entire Indian market, and manages it for them with an annual retainership. There are various business models that will evolve. For example, the automobile industry will benefit from information about consumer driving behaviour. The database on how cars are being used can be built through connectivity with a specific operator, who can provide a lot of machine learning information, which can be used to reduce the maintenance and at the same time, help consumers manage their insurance. So, this becomes relevant in insurance use cases as well.

So, there are multiple facets to this segment. There is no single piece of advice that can be provided. We are engaged in discussions with all the CSPs and government agencies to explore possible business models jointly.

EB: What would be your advice to today’s IoT marketers or entrepreneurs?
We believe that what will help develop the ecosystem and benefit the industry is if entrepreneurs developing innovative sensor solutions focus on making them more resilient, smaller and capable of carrying as much information as possible within the smallest span of time. The latency and the accuracy of the sensor will be the starting point for the ecosystem, and innovation in this space can lead to a lot of benefits, apart from just lower costs. That’ll be one area that entrepreneurs can look into and contribute further to, because the scale will be very high compared to where we are right now.

The second piece of advice is with regard to APIs and their use cases. With this community programme, people are coming together through the evolution of technologies – NB-IoT, private LTE solutions, 5G, etc – so when developing applications, we need to ensure that we have the solutions for the current market as well as for the market that will evolve in the next five to ten years. A lot of applications can be developed efficiently. The time to market can be short, depending on how we develop these applications, with flexibility in use cases, supported by relevant business models.

Last, but equally important is that a lot of these will be mission-critical solutions involving a large volume of personal data, machine data and enterprise data. Therefore, security must be prioritised. The confidence level that we as an industry can instil in the solution will ensure the development or fast-tracking of the ecosystem’s development. Otherwise, it can slow down the evolution of this space.

EB: How has the development of standards or the lack of it affected the overall adoption of IoT in India?
Standards will evolve. The platforms that we have make the sensor interfaces, standards and protocols agnostic to the use cases. The rest of the standards are more on the connectivity side, and we support all technologies there. Once the overall ecosystem has been developed, standards will help to make it a little bit more consistent across various solutions.

Standardisation will happen and that’s where a lot of platforms and industry forums are being created to ensure that people come together. So, standards will get developed and evolve further. But, at the same time, whatever we have today is enough of a starting point from a market standpoint, and can provide a lot of flexible solutions.

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