Connectivity is Key to Bridge the Digital Divide in India

In an exclusive conversation with Voice &Data, Sudarshan Bossupalli, Country Head India and SAARC, Ruckus Networks, talks about the impact of connectivity for India’s smart cities and how  WiFi and IoT improve citizen services. Excerpts:

Q. Can you elaborate on the impact of connectivity for India’s smart cities?

Today wireless is no longer about the way we connect

  • its enabling governments and citizens with information ( Smart cities)
  • its enabling businesses to take an intelligent decision
  • it is changing the way people work
  • Its transforming  healthcare
  • and its empowering– Citizens, students and many industries.  

Connectivity is key to bridge the digital divide in India. Statistics say that over 75% of the broadband connections in India are located in the top 30 cities.

Connectivity is an economy enabler. Studies by agencies like the World Bank and others have concluded that there is a strong correlation between broadband penetration and GDP growth — a 10% increase in penetration yields a 1.4% increase in GDP growth rate.

Government initiatives like Digital India, The Smart Cities’ initiative, the Bharatnet project are gradually inching India towards the much needed 80 lac hotspots.

There has been great investment and initiatives by the government, the telco has and partners here.  For instance, as little as five years ago, the total number of broadband subscribers in India stood at just under 15 million, roughly 1% of the population. As on June 2017, the number of broadband connections in the country has risen to a whopping 300 million, a 2,000% increase in a short span of five years.

Great Wi-Fi is a starting point for all of this-

  • Ruckus Networks is working on a number of initiatives here in India including smart cities, public transport and places of tourist interests.  
  • Tourists can enjoy Wi-Fi connectivity at the iconic Taj Mahal because of Ruckus and its partners.
  • Through our partner Google, Ruckus is also providing the connectivity infrastructure for a number of railway stations in India.
  • We are providing Wi-Fi in a number of smart cities and rural projects including Gandhinagar, Digital Gujarat rural and other key cities.
  • Through our partners, India’s leading campuses like the Bits Pilani, Thapar University, some of the Indian Institutes of Management(IIMs), Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are live on Ruckus connectivity.

India is poised with a great opportunity here. India has the best talent and a growing start-up ecosystem. Right backhaul infrastructure, can propel India ahead in many ways. Ruckus wants to be at the centre of connecting the next billion.

Q. How is connectivity the starting point for an IoT driven smart city eco-system. How would connectivity and IoT help India’s smart cities transit to being the future cities?

Internet of Things(IoT) represents an ecosystem of connected devices such as physical objects, appliances and machines to everyday things built with sensors to gather, process data and communicate with each other over the internet.  

India is on the cusp of a major IoT revolution. A 2017 Deloitte report, estimates the current number of such devices in the country to be around 60 millionThis is rapidly expected to grow about seven times from USD 1.3 billion last year to USD 9 billion by 2020.

In addition to the growing voice, video and data traffic the network of tomorrow will need to be built to cater for IoT connectivity and machine to machine data communication. The challenge will be managing an increasing set of connected devices in a highly dense environment.

Imagine a futuristic house where the door locks, air conditioning, heaters, lighting, water, air quality and refrigerator supplies are connected to the very same network that is processing this information.

IoT in smart cities or public services will see early adoption with the goal of improving citizen services.  For example, a city could use this effectively to manage a variety of things from public safety, traffic management, air and water quality, lighting, street furniture and disaster management. There is also a great potential in public healthcare both in cities and rural areas where IoT can help track and manage patients and devices.

The best part in all of this is the ability to connect seamlessly to the same wireless network infrastructure without having to run a separate IoT network like today. This not only saves cost but also improves connectivity and allows connectivity to be scaled beyond cities.  

The Government of India is one of the few governments that has clear IoT-related policies and regulatory frameworks in place.

India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeiTY) has already published a draft IoT policy document to ensure the country captures a 5-6% share of the potential $15 billion global bonanza by 2020. The paper covers IoT-specific training provisions, as well as research and development initiatives to support new IoT-enabled products and services.

Q. How can WiFi and IoT improve citizen services like traffic management and healthcare services.

Both the verticals – traffic management and healthcare have significant potential. Both these verticals either already have a Wi-Fi infrastructure or a WiFi infrastructure is being deployed. So Wi-Fi Infrastructure becomes the natural medium of extending connectivity to IoT devices.

In healthcare Wi-Fi today is enabling hospitals to offer digital services while aiding doctors in their jobs.  For patients, it could be simple surfing the internet while they are waiting for digital tokens, payments, appointments and lab reports. For doctors, it could be digitally accessing patient records, patient monitoring, public address systems, location tracking and more.

The IoT disruption brings in some sophisticated capabilities. For example, an in-patient can be tracked all the time with sensors feeding information to the doctor at any place on any device at any time of day. Patients can also use an emergency alarm button that can signal for an emergency to a doctor located anywhere in the hospital.  The same goes for devices and appliance at hospitals. Devices and appliances in hospitals can be tracked, managed and maintained effectively.

Coupled with traffic management; citizens can be appraised with up to date information about bus/train arrivals so they can diligently plan their day There are a number of use cases from safety to improving traffic and citizen conveniences that can be offered with WiFi enabled IoT eco-system.

Q. How is the India- smart city landscape in comparison to countries like Singapore and Malaysia?

India is large, complex and diverse. We are talking about not a billion devices but multibillion devices connected to a network. The scale at which India’s smart cities will operate in the future needs to be carefully planned. The infrastructure and the backhaul connectivity is critical.  Managing the density of devices will be key.

In 2015, the US telecommunications regulator (FCC) redefined broadband as an internet connection that delivers at least 25 Mbps downstream, up from the prevailing 4 Mbps and 3 Mbps upstream, up from 1 Mbps. That is 50x of India’s existing definition of broadband download speeds, and 6x for uploads. The Indian government is contemplating a change in the definition of ‘broadband’—from current 512 kbps to 2 Mbps.

The applications and the use cases are going to be far more diverse compared to anywhere in South East Asia. As a country, we need to cater to different segments and ends of the population. From cities to villages, farms and even forests, IoT can play a key role.

From different strata of the society, for example, the aam admi in the station or bus stop to busy airports. From rural healthcare to state of art hospitals Wi-Fi and IoT will bridge the growing digital divide by providing the convenience of services at scale.

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