Tata Communications Invests $100 Million on IoT in India


VS Shridhar has been starting up successful businesses inside one of India’s most respected companies for decades. But he’s never been more inspired by a startup than in Tata Communications. And now Tata Communications is making a massive commitment in India over the next few years.

Now senior vice president and IoT leader, Shridhar led Tata’s global enterprise expansion back in 2002. He added services based initially on the company’s fiber optic network. Now one of the largest fiber optic networks in the world, it continues to expand today.

Tata has done a series of acquisitions (including Teleglobe) and made ongoing investments in internal R&D. The company today serves more than 7,000 customers globally. These organizations are in banking, financial services and insurance, government, manufacturing, media and entertainment, oil and gas, and other sectors. Tata’s customers include multinational enterprises and service providers that represent 60 percent of the Fortune 500.

The company has committed $100 million to build IoT infrastructure via a smart city strategy. This “land and expand” effort will initially employ Long Range Wide Area Network, or LoRaWAN, technology. Tata already has rolled out a LoRa network in 38 cities. There are many more cities planned for implementation over the next two years.

By the end of 2018, that network will reach cities with populations greater than 1 million. By the end of 2019 it will reach all cities with a population greater than 500,000.

Tata has been working on the IoT project with HP Enterprise, Semtech, and local startups.

“The Internet of Things by its nature is local – and because it is so hardware dependent we understood early on that we needed to go beyond conceptual design and sophisticated applications and services and keep our IoT cloud down to earth,” Shridhar said. “We, as an industry, are still very early in connecting things and systems, and must work very hard to ensure that every element works, and that the economics work for our customers. Low cost sensors that hold up in extreme conditions – for example on trash bins in large cities – and rugged gateways that can also last five or 10 or more years are a requirement given the expected life of deployments.”

The IoT effort also addresses water resources and safety. That includes measuring water quantity and quality in reservoirs and dams, measuring the flow of water from public supplies to businesses and homes, all the way to leak detection in those locations. 

“Water is, as we all know, incredibly important to human beings, and the availability of clean water and the conservation of that water is at the heart of a healthy future,” Shridhar said. “We now have the capability to manage water all the way to the edge, and do so very affordably when we have the LoRaWAN network in place. If we can solve for clean drinking water, irrigation water, and manage our environment better – we will have solved for what could have otherwise been a crisis, not just in India but globally.”

Sewage control solutions, employing sensors within concrete sewer covers, are another important application. They can sense temperature, humidity, and other conditions. “It’s not just about solving for the infrastructure itself,” Shridhar said. “It’s about the opportunity to make India safer and healthier so our children can grow up, grow strong, go to school, go to university, and contribute their own innovations to the future – including new IoT solutions generations beyond mine will create.”

The $100 million IoT project was proposed to Tata Communications leadership team as part of the Shape the Future program. While LoRa network technology was the primary mode selected for the first $100 million investment, Shridhar said narrowband in general is the most efficient way to connect millions and eventually billions of devices requiring little compute at the edge. That said, Tata will continue to explore other narrowband alternatives when other standards mature and become less expensive to build and support. Cellular (3G/4G/5G) is expensive and not broadly available across India, but as that changes so will solutions and business models.

“Today, we have a need for real-time communications features in basic IoT deployments,” Shridhar said. “We are polling devices, which extends battery life, and reduces the requirement for heavy compute. We are extremely happy with the progress of our LoRa initiative, and will be growing rapidly for the next several years, solving real problems, relatively quickly, and making the connected world a practical reality and improvement for millions.” 

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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Contributing Writer

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