Danish Khan | ET Telecom (editd and corrected by Alan J Weissberger)
Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea Limited are now preparing to launch commercial narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT) service in India in the coming months having brought various partners on board to develop a complete device and sensor ecosystem. Both Indian telcos are in currently in various stages of pilot runs in different circles.
Airtel is now deploying around 20,000 sites in Karnataka and Chennai to conduct NB-IoT trials. “We’ll be going with a pilot in a denser way rather than just a few trial sites..in a couple of months, we will be commercially rolling out,” Ajay Chitkara, Director and CEO, Airtel Business, told ET.
Vodafone Idea Limited, on the other hand, has already conducted commercial pilots in eight cities in India, and is now hoping to win its first commercial NB-IoT deployment deal in the coming weeks.
“We’re looking at winning our first commercial deployments over the next six weeks. So commercially we’re also seeing customers now, wanting to buy that. Once we contract them will go and deploy,” Nick Gliddon, chief enterprise business officer separately told ET.
Gliddon said that all eight pilots were conducted in cities like Kochi, Jaipur, Bengaluru, and Chennai and involved smart meters. “We’ve run a long-term trial with those guys to understand how the network and services work.
Airtel’s Chitkara said that the telco’s IoT services are already growing in the country and NB-IoT technology will help it address the demand. “We have around five and a half million subscribers on our IoT side and the way growth is happening, we need to eventually get into NB-IoT.”
Chitkara added that NB-IoT will offer scale as compared to traditional IoT technologies. “130 million devices need to be connected on meter and that is the reason people say that you can’t run on the existing ecosystem.”
Vodafone is also aiming to expand its NB-IoT in India in the next 12 months to tap specific opportunities in the smart city space along with other applications.
NB-IoT is a new 3GPP spec which will likely be included in IMT 2020. It is designed to broaden the future of IoT connectivity, providing significantly improved and deeper network coverage for communication between machines while lowering power consumption by devices.
Both telcos are taking a partner-led approach building a complete ecosystem including sensors, devices and to bring the overall cost down for devices.
Chitkara said that building applications is a challenge, thereby Airtel is bringing partners on board. “…another issue is with all the sensors and other things there is a cost involved so it’s a chicken and egg story…the cost of those 2G sensors still is cheaper so we are making sure at least this whole ecosystem is build up so that we can bring from some more sites,” he added.
Vodafone Idea has already brought over 25 partners on-board and is working towards doubling this number soon to build new use cases around the new technology. These partners are mainly startups and small and medium enterprises that will bring in hardware and software capabilities to enable new NB-IoT use cases.
Rival Reliance Jio Infocomm had last year launched an NB-IoT network with a commercial network available in Mumbai. It is preparing to foray into enterprise services and may expand its IoT services accordingly.
Jio recently claimed that it is the only telco in India to have the capability and network footprint for a nationwide launch of NB-IoT services. Airtel, however, countered the claim by saying that the company’s pan-India 4G network is also ready to support the technology, along with LTE-M.
Within the enterprise business, IoT is expected to be the growth area going forward, given that the consumer retail business continues to face competitive headwinds. India’s IoT market size is expected to increase to $9 billion by 2020 from $1.3 billion in 2016, according to consultancy firm Deloitte.