India’s Tech Ecosystem Encompassing IoT Deployment is at Curious Crossroads: UNISOC

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Eric Zhou, EVP, UNISOC, in an exclusive conversation with Profit From IoT website (PiT) threw light on the ways India-based IoT firms can scale-up deployment and results. He is of the view that IoT has a major role to play in almost every dimension of life.

“When it comes to IoT deployment, India’s tech ecosystem is at curious-crossroads. On the one hand, we have telecommunication companies which exist in the IoT workflow across almost all solution development stages because of their advantages in network ownership. On the other hand, however, telecommunications players in the nascent IoT ecosystem still have to deal with several critical challenges such as standardisation, interoperability, and data security,” noted Eric Zhou (EZ).

As a core subsidiary of Tsinghua Unigroup, UNISOC is a fabless-semiconductor-company committed to R&D of core chipsets in mobile communications and IoT. Its products cover mobile chipset platforms supporting 2G/3G/4G/5G communication standards and various chipset solutions in the field of IoT, RFFE, wireless connection, security, TV etc.

Here are some more interesting excerpts from this conversation with Eric Zhou

PiT – In your opinion, which are the top three technologies that are shaping the future of IoT? How are they influencing the future of IoT?

EZ – The growth trajectory of the global IoT ecosystem is being shaped by several interconnected, interdependent technologies. That said, certain technologies do hold primacy when it comes to defining the future evolution of the IoT ecosystem.

Take, for instance, AI and related technologies such as machine learning and data analytics. Not only are these technologies providing the framework on which IoT solutions are built on but are also helping in ensuring better service delivery, higher personalisation, and more interconnectivity to the benefit of the end-consumer. IoT solutions powered by AI-assisted technologies are being deployed in many applications across multiple sectors, bringing to life futuristic concepts such as autonomous vehicles and smart homes/offices.

More importantly, they are driving a large-scale transformation in conventional processes used in domains such as healthcare and agriculture. Smart body monitors allow doctors to track the health and recovery of their patients through an app. These easy-to-use devices also raise proactive alerts in case of a possible medical issue for more accurate early intervention, thus minimising mortality rates.

Similarly, AI-powered IoT devices are being used in pilot projects in the agriculture domain. The aim is to leverage IoT to gauge soil health and optimise the use of fertilisers, pesticides, and water for better yields and minimising resource utilisation.

Another technology that will shape the evolution of the IoT landscape will be 5G. The mass deployment of many advanced IoT solutions is hindered by bandwidth-related challenges, at present; the current 4G wireless network capabilities cannot support the network bandwidth that more sophisticated architectures require. The introduction of 5G will address these issues and allow for high-speed connectivity needed to power the IoT ecosystem, leading to the development and deployment of the next wave of platform architectures and devices.

The biggest driver for IoT, however, will be NB-IoT. This technology, which leverages DSS modulation, is being hailed a faster and potentially less expensive IoT connectivity option despite its higher upfront costs. This is because, unlike other wireless connectivity options, NB-IoT allows sensor data to be directly communicated to the primary server. Doing so eliminates the need for a gateway to aggregate and communicate sensor data, thus enabling rapid IoT connectivity at a much higher scale. NB-IoT could well become the foundation upon which our smart, interconnected futures will be built.

PiT – Between the cellular and NB-IOT/LPWA families of wireless technologies–which one are you betting upon? Why?

EZ – At UNISOC, we have a broad range of good products in NB-IoT \ CAT1 \ GPRS. All of these directions have good conditions in industrial ecology, and UNISOC will be focussing on these. UNISOC is one of the few companies in the industry that can provide the most comprehensive LPWA technology portfolio.

PiT – How’s the development of standards (or lack of it) affecting the adoption of IoT?

EZ – It is true that the biggest hurdle to IoT adoption is the lack of definitive global standards. This has led to an explosion in the number of components, data layers, languages, and supporting hardware and software within the IoT system. To begin with, the lack of IoT standardisation is causing issues with interoperability between different solutions and vendors. This lack of compatibility places several constraints on the seamless exchange of information needed for a robust IoT infrastructure.

It also raises concerns about the security of the IoT ecosystem. Connected devices and solutions are finding application across multiple sectors and are becoming popular with both end-consumers and enterprises. However, in the absence of industry-wide regulations, a significant percentage of these devices is unsecured. This gives rise to wider security and privacy implications, as unsecured IoT devices can be easily hacked to compromise packet data and modify firmware.

PiT – How ready is India’s tech eco-system to develop and deploy IoT solutions?

EZ – When it comes to IoT deployment, India’s tech ecosystem is at curious-crossroads. On the one hand, we have telecommunication companies which exist in the IoT workflow across almost all solution development stages because of their advantages in network ownership. On the other hand, however, telecommunications players in the nascent IoT ecosystem still have to deal with several critical challenges such as standardisation, interoperability, and data security.

This is further complicated by the fact that low-power, low-cost channels such as NB technology are yet to find traction in India. So, while the ecosystem shows promise, there are many measures that need to be taken to ensure that the proper rules, processes, procedures, audits, accountability, and coherence are in place to ensure that the IoT industry can fulfil the promise that it demonstrates.

Pit – Do you foresee India’s tech industry developing its own IP and branded products/solutions in the IoT arena?

EZ – There is definitely a huge scope for Indian companies to develop their own IPs and branded solutions/products in the IoT space. This is because of the scope of disruption that is available to them – primarily in the IoT products space, which currently is not as versatile as the consumer segment.

Many IoT solutions have been developed for the more developed markets in the West. It is all about localising IoT products and solutions to the specific requirements of the Indian market, its consumers and industries. Partnering with leading chipset manufacturers to localise these value propositions for the Indian market will help indigenous companies generate unique IPs and brand differentiation.

PiT – Do you see the Open Source phenomenon playing an important role in the IoT arena?

EZ – Any technology moves through four cycles of market acceptance, and open source development plays a vital role in helping it gain market traction. Why? Because opensource applications help in exploring new use-cases for technologies to make them more viable for end-consumers, business processes, and industries. The IoT space is no exception to this paradigm.

That said, it will be vital to introduce certain regulations that monitor the adoption of open-source IoT products and solutions in large-scale applications. IoT manufacturers also need to explore stronger linkages across the supply chain – especially with systems integrators, connectivity solutions providers, and chipset manufacturers – with a security-first perspective. These measures will help in addressing the various security vulnerabilities and challenges that currently restrict the domain.

PiT – How do you see the role, technologies like AI/ML will play in the evolution of IoT solutions?

EZ – To be fair, AI and machine learning are already playing a major role in defining the evolution of IoT solutions. AI-led analytics, for instance, is being used to extract deeper and more real-time insights from data processed by IoT devices. Machine learning, on the other hand, is helping IoT solutions providers to automate key operational processes that require the identification and detection of anomalies/patterns.

These technologies are making the insights required by the IoT ecosystem more accurate and contextual, whilst also improving the speed at which this information can be turned into actions.

This helps AI-led IoT solutions introduce greater efficiency across the value chain by avoiding unplanned downtime. It also improves the innovation quotient by paving the way for newer products, services, processes, and offerings – thus bolstering the revenue generation and operational capabilities for the organisation.

PiT – What’s your opinion on the state of security available for IoT solutions? How do you see the evolution from here on w.r.t threats and countermeasures?

EZ – Frankly speaking, a significant percentage of IoT solutions available in the market do not come equipped with robust hardware-level security. That is because most manufacturers do not consider the security layer as an integral part of the solution that they offer to their end-consumers.

However, with the recent public scrutiny on the safety and security of IoT devices, many device manufacturers are now beginning to take proactive measures to ensure better security for their solutions at both the hardware and the software levels. At UNISOC, our suite of IoT solutions are robust and secure and we are collaborating with various global partners to help in further addressing security challenges within the IoT ecosystem.

PiT – W.r.t. edge vs cloud–where do you think will we see faster development in the next year or two?

EZ –Both edge computing and cloud computing are high-growth domains which are poised to redefine how human users and systems interact within the larger digital ecosystem. That said, of the two technologies, I feel that edge computing might see faster development over the next couple of years.

While cloud computing is a more mature space with multiple applications, edge computing is only now beginning to be deployed in end-consumer applications such as automated cars. With advanced connectivity technologies such as 5G expected to come into play soon, the number of use-cases will increase exponentially. This will accelerate the development and growth of edge computing applications, leading it to outpace the growth rate of the cloud computing domain.

PiT – What are the key technologies missing, which when made available, will accelerate the adoption of IoT across the globe?

EZ – 5G’s big connection is now happening. 5G’s low-latency application may be a key technology in IoT. We predict that URLLC will be truly deployed in many places within three years; at the same time, various types of sensors are also IoT outbreaks.

PiT – Any thoughts on where to go edge versus where to go cloud?

EZ – Edge computing on cars may be applied relatively quickly. Vision-based edge computing on industrial endpoints may also burst out.

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