Bharti Airtel is planning to soon launch its own narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network in the country, as it strives for a bigger push to its IoT play and take on Reliance Jio Infocomm, which already has a similar network.
“We have been doing a lot of proof of concepts, and are now getting ready for NB-IoT. The network's team has been focusing on this quite a lot, and are working together with us towards getting ready for our IoT play,” Airtel’s global chief information officer, Harmeen Mehta, told ET.
IoT will be a big focus area for the Sunil Mittal-led telco in the next 18-24 months and Airtel has already started in-house development of own platform and industry-specific solutions through its Xlabs, which largely focuses on IoT, along with artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics.
The company, which has hired a new head of engineering for IoT, is currently building plug-and-play platforms that can be used by its enterprise customers. It is looking for startups to develop devices and solutions using its platform.
“We would want developers to develop on my platform, and sell them in the market,” Mehta said.
Rival Jio has begun offering enterprise solutions along with fibre-to-the-home services on a trial basis in a few locations. It has launched a narrowband IoT network with commercial network available in Mumbai.
With its IoT solutions, Airtel is looking to provide vertical-specific services through its enterprise or B2B business. “We can’t play a deep role in every sector and with every single solution,” Mehta said, adding that the telco was focusing on certain sectors like energy and utility, automobile, logistics and asset tracking.
Airtel is in talks with US telecom major Verizon for a broad partnership around IoT, which is in line with its focus on the emerging sector, ET has previously reported.
Mehta said the company was looking to partner with global telcos and automotive companies to drive growth and development for its IoT business. “These partnerships and alliances are inevitable and will happen. We have an open ecosystem so we are leveraging on partnerships, concepts and collaboration, globally. It's going to be a big IoT world,” she said.
Airtel is also looking to tap the consumer market segment through its IoT solutions and products with the help of its 4G and fibre-to-the-home services. The executive said the device ecosystem needed to evolve in the country for IoT to reach the mass market.
Within the enterprise, IoT is expected to be the growth area going forward. India's IoT market size is expected to increase about seven times — from $1.3 billion in 2016 to $9 billion — by 2020, according to consultancy firm Deloitte.
The upcoming 5G technology will enable some advanced IoT use cases in India, especially in healthcare and agriculture.
Mehta said Airtel’s analytics play was going to take a very different shape once 5G arrives. “That's where AI will come into because a lot of decision making will happen by machines in real time,” she said.