Both solution providers and customers of the Internet of Things (IoT) are in a phase of constant evaluation of strategies to overcome the challenges that exist in the ecosystem. Karen Ravindranath, director – IoT, WebNMS, shares her thoughts with Paromik Chakraborty about the current hardware capacity, security and implementation ecosystem around the IoT in India.
Q. What are the major challenges in the IoT ecosystem at present?
A. Standardisation is a big issue. Because of that, transitioning from one vendor to another will obviously be a challenge in terms of investment. To avoid this, WebNMS has a heterogeneous system and therefore does not stay tied to a particular vendor.
In addition, in India, capex is a challenge since the IoT involves huge investments into hardware. We see our partners coming up with different business models such as pay-as-you-go. I believe, once this matures it will be much better.
Q. How is the shortfall of a proper hardware ecosystem affecting the IoT adoption rate?
A. For India to take the IoT forward in a liable and cost-effective manner, the hardware ecosystem needs to develop well in India as well. So, there is a huge need for a strong hardware ecosystem here. Some startups are doing their bit and coming up with new products, but a lot more still needs to be done to strengthen the ecosystem.
In terms of hardware, Europe has a very sophisticated setup. Some of our components come from China as well. But India can really push herself to that place.
Q. There are suggestions for creating low-cost fab facilities in India to address this challenge. Do you see that happening anytime soon?
A. There is some push from the government in this aspect with Make in India initiative, but expectations have to be turned into reality. There has to be a clear path forward or some incentivisation for focusing on bringing fabrication facilities in India. That needs to be done by the government along with bringing in more investments in the country.
Q. There are many technical jargons going around for the IoT security. How strong is security in reality?
A. In this aspect, some focus has come in terms of standard products. We know there is an encryption mechanism that needs to be in place to secure data. Predominantly, every solution focus has to be end-to-end. A lot of open ends are left where awareness is needed. Decision-makers of organisations have to look into the security aspect in depth.
Q. Is it better to have a third-party partner or an in-house team for security?
A. First, for any business, having an internal team for the IoT security is compulsory. To have that in place, there should be a recommended minimum. Going beyond that and having a third-party partner is undoubtedly a plus point since third-party vendors deal with the same kind of problems across organisations. This is especially helpful for those dealing with sensitive information. In those cases, having a third-party auditing or consultancy firm is truly beneficial.
Q. What is your main partner ecosystem at the moment?
A. This is how the chain works. First, sensors are installed and then comes gateway vendors. This enables data acquisitions. Starting from here till data analysis and visualisation, WebNMS comes in.
The other partnership model comes with system integrators. People who have customers that need IoT solutions can partner with us to deploy the complete solution. So, the complete partner ecosystem includes IoT hardware, OEMs and system integration partners.
Q. Is there clarity on use cases of different communication techs in the IoT, like LPWAN and NB-IOT?
A. Whenever we talk about IoT-enabled devices, it can be GSM or LoRa-based or something else. Here, adoption is important. But right now, there is no major clarity in this space. We all are experimenting with a lot of things, and are not sure if Sigfox or LoRa will win the game.
GSM is already popular. Then there is NB-IOT coming into play. We need to look which infrastructure is going to be predominantly available for hardware vendors to latch onto. Adopting solutions is not a challenge. It is just a few modules coupled with some effort. Which technology is coming up and will stay is the main deciding factor.
Q. In which areas will IoT startups find better business opportunities?
A. There are two segments of IoT startups: B2C and B2B. In B2C segment, a lot is being experimented with, like home automation or wearables, healthcare and so on. In this segment, new products are always coming in and out and, hence, it is a very competitive market.
Newer startups can focus on B2B solutions or cases where there is a clear ROI. That is where it will be beneficial. Focus of IoT startups must be clear. You can also say that this is the major bottleneck in the startup ecosystem at present.