Nokia advises enterprise customers to evaluate the scalability of the IoT platform they procure and number of interfaces they will require for successfully adopting IoT in their business. Samar Mittal, vice president – software for India market, Nokia talks to Baishakhi Dutta of ProfitfromIoT.com about their strategies to leverage the large variety of use cases found among Indian customers.
Q. Tell us about Nokia’s ventures in the B2B tech landscape.
A. We have leadership in high performance, end to end networks with the CSPs (Communication Service Providers). We have portfolio ranging from mobile networks, Nokia software, IP routing and optical networks, fixed network, and global services business groups, and are very strong in the 5G’s cycle of investment which covers almost all this portfolio. We have a strong Nokia software business group, which is really developing a lot of innovative solutions across technologies. We are growing business in vertical markets with high-performance enterprise networks and digital automation solutions as well, where we are setting our sights on growth, consistently and significantly outgrowing the market at a global level.
Q. How significant is the Indian market to your business?
A. 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 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, one way or the other, are touching the networks provided by Nokia. We are also bringing a lot of business in terms of IP optics & Software. Our presence goes beyond customer operations to manufacturing operations in Chennai, an R&D centre in Bangalore and a GDC (Global Delivery Centre) from where we provide services to global customers. In general, we have 6000 plus people who are developing software and IPR and an innovative solution within India.
Q. Any challenge that you are encountering while doing R&D in India?
A. There is no challenge per se in terms of the talent pool and the innovation that these individuals bring in as a team. A market where there are 1 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.
Q. How active are you in the IoT space currently?
A. We have started contributing to the IoT space globally as well as locally. Our IoT innovation enables enterprises to make sense of massive volumes of data produced by the connected IoT system. We support an end-to-end IoT value chain including connectivity, analytics, security and platforms for device management and data collection. Our portfolio consists of advanced analytics and IoT applications, IoT connectivity, IoT platform, IoT security and IoT services – a comprehensive suite of offering relevant in the market depending upon the use-cases and the technology that the IoT platform is required to serve, and overall scale and regulatory requirement. So that’s what we are doing within the suite of IoT, apart from the global experience and local presence.
Q. So, exactly where does Nokia’s Impact IoT platform fit into this portfolio?
A. In the 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.
Q. When we talk about the software business group, who are the main target audience?
A. Main targets are CSP’s & enterprises with various use cases such as deploying private LTE use cases in the country. The main target customers will be CSP’s & enterprises where the platforms can be installed, and they can provide open APIs to application developers for development and have data collected from various sensors which they can offer as a service to their consumers. In India, with Digital India coming into play, this can play a very important role in the development towards Smart Cities initiative and the overall Digital India initiative like 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 (depending upon their final aim) wants to develop out of it.
Q. So if I’m not wrong, Impact is a completely software-only solution and it does not involve any sort of hardware installation?
A. It is a complete software solution. Finally, it will be installed on some computing system like the cloud or existing hardware infrastructure. We are agnostic in terms of what we need to provide. 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 as well as private cloud, depending upon the requirements of the end consumer.
Q. Can you highlight what are the various areas that you provide certification on? Are these typically IoT specific applications only?
A. We call it 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. The IoT community programme brings innovative companies together to collaborate and unleash the potential of the Internet of Things. In India, IoT usage is still in the infancy in terms of scale when we look at the comparison between the mobile industry and mobile subscribers.
But what it means is that the opportunity is big. And that’s where this IoT community programme helps these individuals to define solution concepts, collaborate on prototypes, explore business model because their business models will evolve, depending upon the use cases, showcase concepts for feedback and even conduct market trials of the model validation. So, there are a lot of offerings in terms of learning out there. We have this open community where people come together from time-to-time and hold a certain amount of IoT community gatherings depending upon how many partners and people would have enrolled and try to bring them together so that the dots can be connected. So, our aim is to enable as much as possible for the future, which we all believe is around the corner.
Q. So this community for the Learning and Development Hub is an online exclusive service or is there any existing or future plan for the physical presence of this hub?
A. This IoT community is free for all and can be registered, so it’s an online thing. Specific training or learnings are beyond what we have on the web. If anyone within this community suggests if he wants to go through certain training, then he can contact the relevant Nokia administrative individual and depending upon the requirement, the training can be structured. Quite a few learnings are available on the web which is free for all. Anything customised has to be thought through and can be discussed on a case to case basis. It depends upon the need and the use cases and the mutual benefit that it can bring to us.
Q. Does somewhere academia fit in this training opportunity or is Nokia doing anything specific for academia?
A. Yes, we do quite a bit of stuff on various domains. For normal technology learnings, we do various lectures. Our leadership teams also go to universities and talk about certain things. So, we are very open to sharing knowledge.
Q. According to your opinion, which are the top three technologies that are shaping the future of IoT and how those technologies are influencing the future of IoT?
A. 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, there’ll be a lot of limitations and we will not be able to make real-time decisions because of the delay, latency etc. So, edge cloud will be the one that will be shaping up quite a bit, which basically means bringing compute 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 ~1-2 per cent of sensor data needs to travel all the way to the central cloud, for further interpretation and analytics. And this applies to most critical applications like remote surgery, autonomous cars, even factory automation in certain situations. And the falling costs of compute and IoT sensors, along with smarter devices will make the edge computing a viable reality.
The second is artificial intelligence and machine learning with all this information, analytics, use cases, data being generated such as in health industry that generates a lot of human data based on which actions can be taken, or manufacturing industries that generates a lot of field information such as how a particular chain is being run? What are the kinds of hands and feet on the ground?
So, AI and ML will play a significant role in many of the decisions and actions that will be executed in real-time on vast number of parameters. Generic artificial intelligence is a little bit far 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 wear and tear of its parts. Of course, Deep Learning will require a massive amount of computing and hence offloading part of the workloads to certain processes which will also help in the long run. Even today, AI is implemented in Nokia’s Reefshark design for radio and 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 will be the sensors, where it all starts and begins. IoT is as good as information being provided through sensors. Sensors 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 the sensors are low on power consumption or have long battery life, need to be quite secure, and have the right pricing model. And most importantly, the price model – use cases in IoT will not fly if the sensors’ prices are high. However, with the advent of nanomaterials, IoT sensors are more resilient than ever. Eventually, the average cost of sensors should also come down. As we move ahead, the sensors will also need to decrease in size for easier embedding into solution. The smaller they are, the easier they are to be embedded and the better it will be to develop the ecosystem. Because sensors are carrying live data, they are kind of a compute in a way, carrying some software as well, they will be vulnerable to hacks. So, security will be a big thing as we move ahead, and as these sensors will become less vulnerable to hacks will further ensure ecosystem development.
Q. Cellular and NB-IoT or the LPWAN families of wireless technologies – which one are you betting upon the highest?
A. Overall, IoT will have all technologies because solutions will vary from market to market depending upon the spectrum, CSP or enterprise requirement, use-cases relevant to that market. We provide full-suite solutions in all technologies and it helps us to learn and innovate faster and better. As things progress further, I think these global learnings and learnings across technologies and use cases, as these evolve, will help us to be in a driving space.
Q. Do you see open source technology playing an important role in IoT?
A. Open-source technologies from an application space or an API space, it will play a significant role. That’s where Impact platform becomes relevant. Given the fragmentation in the IoT market with multitude of device vendors, 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 are talking about application providers, therein open-source application will be very relevant. And our Impact platform provides ease which kind of absolves the developer to learn about all the protocols or the interfaces that sensors are using to communicate to provide data, use cases will be faster and at the same time, it can be scaled across various sensors.
Q. Can you give an example for the same?
A. For instance, let’s say I have developed a use case for the automobile industry. And now, the automobile industry is using a specifically manufactured sensor. This use-case is relevant for another automobile industry as well. However, they do not want to use the make and model of a particular sensor but someone else’s. However, the interface that both the sensors are providing back is different. Now if the application provider has to develop such things for each interface, then it will become a big problem and it will not be easy to scale. But once you have this platform in between, then the same application can be used across various sensors and interfaces, this helps in reducing the time-to-market, and at the same time, it provides flexibility to enterprise consumers, operators, to select the right device for their use case, both commercially and technically.
Q. What would be your suggestions to customers for evaluating an IoT solution for any sort of investment?
A. We as a market are still in the initial stages of building the business models which will be relevant. But the first thing which is important is the selection of the platform. It needs to have as many interfaces to enable the sensor technology, as possible. If you only have one or two interface-based platforms, then you’ll get limited to the sensors that you can select, not only for the current use cases but also for the use cases or devices coming in future. So, technology selection is important.
The second advice will be how scalable is the analytics engine in an IoT platform to support growing traffic, connectivity and how secure the platform is. And of course, the various services that can be offered because once the platform is installed, it’s not a standstill platform. Every use case will demand a separate way of handling the use-case, the services and the implementation.
Nokia brings scale in terms of global services arm, global experience in various technology, and hands and feet on the ground. Once you have hundreds and thousands of devices getting data from across, for mission-critical solutions, failure can lead to various complications, so services will play an important role.
Q. Any specific advice for shaping new business models with IoT?
A. In terms of business modelling, I think it’s too early to really guide the operators. We are in discussions in various forms and shape with operators to evolve business models. It can range from just selling the connectivity, selling end-to-end use-case with sensors, applications, platform, or a complete MVNO model where you are selling the entire use-case within a managed services concept. So, the operator, owns everything and sells it to an enterprise for entire India and manages it for them with an annual revenue for themselves. So, there are various business models that will evolve. For example, the automobile industry will benefit from information about entire consumer driving behaviour. All the data on how the car is being used…they can build this use case through connectivity with a specific operator and the operator 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, that becomes relevant in the insurance use cases as well.
So, the point is there are multiple facets to it. There is no single advice that can be provided, and we are engaged in discussions with all the CSPs and the government agencies to explore the business models jointly.
Q. What would be your advice or tips to IoT marketers or IoT entrepreneurs of today?
A. We believe what will help develop the ecosystem and benefit the industry is if the industry entrepreneurs developing innovative sensor solutions focus on making these sensors more resilient, smaller in nature and carry 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 can bring a lot of benefit apart from the cost. So, that’ll be one area that entrepreneurs can look into and contribute further because the scale will be very high compared to where we are right now.
Second is APIs and the use cases. With this community program, people coming together through technological evolutions – NB-IoT, Private LTE solutions, 5G – so when developing applications, we need to ensure that we have the solutions for the current market and for the market that will evolve in next five to ten years. A lot of applications can be developed efficiently. Time to market can be small depending on how we develop it, flexibility in use cases, supported by relevant business model – these are the other aspects which will help to grow the industry
Last, but very important is that a lot of these will be mission-critical solutions with large volume of personal data, machine data and enterprise data that will be flowing through these devices. 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 eco-system development. Otherwise, it can slow down the evolution of this space.
Q. How has the development of standards or the lack of it affecting the overall adoption of IoT in India?
A. Standards will evolve. The platforms that we have, make the sensor interfaces, standards, protocols, agnostic to the use cases. Rest of the standards are more on the connectivity side, and we support all technologies there. Once the ecosystem overall is developed, standards will help to make it a little bit more consistent across various solutions. Standardizations will happen and that’s where a lot of platforms, a lot of industry forums are being created to ensure that people come together. So, standards will get developed and evolved further. But at the same time, whatever we have today, I think it’s enough to start from a market standpoint and at the same time provide a lot of flexible solutions.