India is on its way to implementing its government’s mission of enabling 100 smart cities in the country and is reported to be considering the second phase of its program, Smart City Mission 2.0, to enable 4,000 smart villages, towns and cities.

This requires plenty of investment in both networks and the ecosystem, from chips and devices all the way to applications and services. We got a snapshot of this at the LoRaWAN Live conference in New Delhi last week, where we heard about implementations of everything from smart water metering and smart agriculture to smart parking. Under the theme, ‘smart tech for a smart sustainable planet’, players in the ecosystem highlighted some of their projects and challenges.

While the focus was on the LoRaWAN ecosystem, there is feverish activity from cellular network operators in the country to launch their own internet of things (IoT) networks and platforms across the country. For example, Reliance Industries’ chairman and managing director, Mukesh Ambani, recently announced plans to commercially launch in January 2020 its narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) platform across India. Reliance expects to connect at least one billion IoT devices to its network within two years. Other operators, including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are also planning to roll out NB-IoT networks.

Speaking at the conference in Delhi, the Indian Department of Telecommunications deputy director general and IoT head, Sushil Kumar, said there would be at least eight billion connected devices in India by 2026, and highlighted the many different low power wide area networks (LPWAN) available in India to implement smart city projects. He said 2 MHz of spectrum was already available (865-867 MHz) and another 6 MHz has been approved (920-925 MHz). Talking of the different standards, ranging from LoRaWAN to NB-IoT and 5G, he emphasized that no standard can exist in silos.

LPWAN technologies

Overview of current LPWAN technologies (source: IoT Analytics)]

This was also emphasized by Donna Moore, CEO and chairwoman of the LoRa Alliance. In her opening address she said no single technology would necessarily fit the needs of billions of connected IoT devices. She said collaborations were necessary, highlighting the example of that between the LoRa Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance to show how LoRa and Wi-Fi networks are complementary in many IoT use cases. For example, Wi-Fi covers short- and medium-range use cases at high data rates and may require more power, which suits people-centric mains-powered applications like real-time video and internet browsing. Meanwhile, LoRaWAN covers long-range use cases at low data rates, useful for low bandwidth applications, including in hard to reach locations, such as temperature sensors in a manufacturing setting or vibration sensors in concrete.

We caught up with Moore before the conference to understand a little more about the LoRaWAN ecosystem globally. We also sat down with Ali Hosseini, CEO of SenRa, one of the two public LoRaWAN network operators in India (the other being Tata Communications), to learn about some of the latest developments in India, including his company’s news during the week of plans to deploy 200,000 smart water meters, about device certification, and their work with Bosch and PNI Sensor for devices in India.

LoRaWAN ecosystem and its place in mass IoT deployments
Moore told EE Times, “Over the last year, we’ve had a 60% growth rate in the number of network operators, so we’re over 120 network operators around the globe in around 140 countries.” She emphasizes the need for a well-developed ecosystem — from chips to gateways, to applications servers to security. “That ecosystem is what makes LoRaWAN successful and a de-facto standard today.”

Smart cities is one of the biggest application areas, though Moore said LoRaWAN is being used in many other verticals including smart buildings, agriculture and industrial IoT. She commented, “With the smart city it usually starts with an anchor case — maybe smart water reading, which tends to be one of the key anchor cases. Once the network is in and the anchor case is out there, they are seeing a return on investment and managing the resource, and then you can continue to add and add on that same network multiple use cases — anything from parking to water quality to air quality to traffic. It’s a never-ending list of use cases that help reduce the cost of the network because you are adding and adding more resources and more things to monitor for the city.”

IoT projects

Smart city implementation is one of the biggest areas of IoT projects (Source: IoT Analytics)]

She said the big challenge with IoT is that it’s complicated. “The LoRa Alliance is so successful because we have a huge ecosystem of over 500 companies deploying or supporting the rollouts of LoRaWAN implementations. It is that ecosystem that creates and makes deployment simpler. Our members partner and they collaborate and share information. They work together so that for the end customer, the actual deployments are not as complicated as they’ve historically been.”

She added that collaborations with other networks and technologies, including 5G and Wi-Fi, are essential for capturing mass IoT markets. “We [LoRaWAN], have our space, for long-life batteries of 10 plus years, distances of miles and miles, rural areas where satellite can’t penetrate. We have gateways in satellites to capture over the seas. It’s a network that’s cost-effective to deploy. Because of those very specific attributes to LoRaWAN, we play in the mass IoT space.”

She said the alliance would be working with Wi-Fi, 5G and others. “Because 5G is low latency, videos and emergency services, that is not our space. Going forward, it will take a village of all these technologies to capture all these use cases. We all have our space and we will be working together to capture this massive market.”

This approach was emphasized by Vipin Tyagi, executive director and chairman of the board at the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), and a member of the 5G steering committee for the Indian government. He said while 5G would bring a huge explosion of sensors and devices connected to the network technologies would need to work in tandem. He added, “Wi-Fi is a surprisingly unsung hero. While we are waiting for 5G, we already have a technology that provides 3Gbps today. So Wi-Fi working with LoRaWAN is a solution available today, and we have created a hybrid which from one gateway provides connectivity to both.” He commented, “The age of the single solution and single app from a single provider is gone.”

Deploying 200,000 smart water meters on LoRaWAN

As we saw in the smart city deployment in Drammen in Norway earlier this year, smart water meters seem to be a key part of many smart city deployments around the world. In India, water wastage figures in New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai stand at 26%, 20%, and 18% respectively. Some of the key factors to this crisis are related to increased water consumption and wastage in urban areas, industrial growth, water cycle imbalances, and lack of technology.

To address this, SenRa, one of the two pan-India commercial grade LoRaWAN network service providers, announced a strategic partnership with water industry equipment and monitoring supplier McWane India to deploy 200,000 smart water meters across India over the next three years, initially with 25,000 meters in the city of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, starting in November 2019. Both companies will bring their respective strengths in IoT, LoRaWAN and the water industry to accelerate the use of IoT-enabled solutions to solve critical water issues faced by cities across India.

India smart city projects

Smart city projects being considered as part of India's smart cities mission
(Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Indian government)

"India's IoT movement has now shifted from proof-of-concepts and trials to large-scale commercial deployments," said SenRa’s Ali Hosseini. The project is the largest LoRaWAN smart water metering deployment in India to date. Hosseini said, “We are excited about the positive impact smart technologies such as LoRaWAN will have on the overall state of India's water crisis."

McWane will use SenRa’s LoRaWAN solutions for water metering as well as smart control valves and other water management solutions that require remote monitoring. McWane CEO Prakash Jonnalagadda said, "McWane India has plans to take the IoT-enabled smart water management solutions to other Asian markets in the next five years.”

SenRa also announced during the conference it had partnered with Kerlink to use its IoT products in the rollout. These include the company’s new industrial-grade Wirnet iStation with fully integrated internal antennas and 4G backhaul connectivity, and Wirnet iFemtoCell gateway, designed for deep indoor applications. 

Hosseini said the company started deploying the first Kerlink gateway in its Delhi headquarters in May 2017. “Then we decided to look at the 100 smart cities mission at the time and said ‘OK, let’s progressively proactively deploy our infrastructure at certain milestones to have presence in 100 cities. By the end of 2018, we had 30 cities covered, this year we are currently in about 52 cities, with a target of 60 cities by the end of this year and aiming for end of 2020 to have presence in all 100 cities. What’s interesting is that the smart cities mission is now coming up with a version 2.0, which will be in about 4,000 villages, towns and cities.”

He said SenRa and the other main public operator in India, Tata Communications, are both aggressively rolling out LoRaWAN networks across the country. Other applications that SenRa is working on include smart parking, for which the company has been working with PNI Sensor and Bosch.

“We’ve been working with PNI for over a year and a half. We actually helped fund some of the R&D for the India frequency bands for their devices. They took the original European version and converted it on to the ISM band (865-867 MHz).” This was followed by around eight months of rigorous testing. “It actually went through a monsoon season, so the sensors were flooded at one point and were still sending signals. Once we had that we then developed an analytics platform and an app called uPark and integrated everything.”

The solution was used in the city of Amritsar to improve traffic congestion. “This was a solution for police to get an alert when someone had illegally parked and then they would go issue the tickets. From that they were seeing a 30+ percent return on investment. The solution was paying for itself. From there it’s now snowballing into a full-blown smart city smart parking application where people can download the app from Google, pay for parking, find their parking, reserve their parking.”

Hosseini also announced a strategic partnership with Bosch in India to deploy LoRaWAN solutions across many IoT segments including smart cities, industrial IoT, smart buildings, and initially Bosch’s wireless parking sensors. “Our association with SenRa for advanced parking sensors will enable rapid and smooth adoption of parking solutions in India and help both companies to revolutionize parking for Indian customers,” said Guruprasad Mudlapur, managing director, Bosch Automotive Electronics India.

Device ecosystem limitations and certification
One of the challenges in India is still the device ecosystem, according to Hosseini. He said while it is growing, it’s not as fast as he’d like. “The quality of some of the products we are seeing right now are not meeting the LoRaWAN standards and specifications. Or there’s antenna issues, radio transmit power issues. When we get a device from local industry into our labs, it’s taking 6-8 months to work out the kinks before we can help them go to market.”

India LoRaWAN ecosystem

India's LoRaWAN ecosystem (Source: LoRa Alliance)

To address this, the LoRa Alliance announced that authorized test house TÜV Rheinland has opened a LoRaWAN Certification testing site in India, and that DEKRA will also offer local certification testing by the end of the year. Both company’s sites in India will provide local testing of LoRaWAN devices seeking to become LoRaWAN Certified.

Hosseini said, “We’re trying to promote certifications so it can reduce the go-to-market strategy and improve the quality of the India devices. Currently a lot of devices are being imported in, which has a 30-40% increase on the cost of the hardware, and India is a price-sensitive market. So if we can help enable the local makers, I think we’d be in a really good place.”