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Why Airtel and Vi have announced IoT verticals for businesses

As Vodafone Idea (Vi) and Airtel keep up their years-long battle for relevance following the telecom market’s disruption, the companies have turned to the Internet of Things (IoT). Both Vi and Airtel announced business-oriented IoT solutions in quick succession — shortly after Vi announced a virtual press event for the vertical, Airtel (which usually holds press events for launching such enterprise offerings) put out a press release before its legacy competitor’s event. Vi made its announcement on Thursday.

Both companies are targeting manufacturing automation as a key focus area. Airtel has signed on MG, the British automobile brand with a small presence in India, to enable what it calls “real-time infotainment and telematics.”

Airtel and Vi are positioning their IoT solutions as enterprise products; Vi is saying it will support “connectivity, hardware, network, application, analytics, security and support,” and Airtel says its offering is an “end-to-end platform with the capability to connect and manage billions of devices and applications in a highly secure and seamless fashion.”

How big is IoT going to be?

IoT devices to outnumber others: Airtel said in its press release that cellular-based IoT is estimated to be a ₹10,000 crore market by next year. That makes it a fairly attractive proposition in the long term, and an interesting experiment in the medium term — for a sense of scale, Airtel had revenues of around ₹87,500 crores in FY 2020–21. Consider that IoT devices are expected to widely outnumber non-IoT devices in the next few years, and you have a bit of an idea on just how tempting the vertical is for telcos — who now mainly make money from the monotonous and unremarkable activity of selling data access to end consumers.

Personal users and business users: And then there’s the next generation of telecommunications around the corner — 5G. While IoT devices can generally run on low bandwidth, the expanded possibilities afforded by more bandwidth on wireless networks, hopefully coupled with more consumer data being accessed on fixed line broadband networks, should make telcos a little more confident in experimenting with more IoT applications to run alongside commercial networks. Think everything from telemedicine, drone operations, remote agriculture, and of course, the classic manufacturing

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More industries will adopt IoT: It’s not just in the backend of manufacturing and distribution (think GPS trackers on lorries) that are going to be using the technology. Arjun Sinha Roy, an IoT industry veteran, wrote, “Increasingly we are also witnessing marketing and sales coming under the ambit of IoT. Sales staff are increasingly moving with hand-held terminals which can enable the organization to track the movement of feet on street, get real time data on secondary sales and drive efficiency in sales forecasting. Mobile network or GPS is increasingly being used to track the efficiency of feet on street.”

At the end of the day, in a cutthroat market like India, telcos cannot afford to wait. As IoT devices and use-cases proliferate in a variety of industries, telcos are best placed to net connectivity and analytics revenue from the technology. A Rs 10,000 crore market in 2022 may not sound like much, but if the exponential growth of other communications technology is any indicator, a first-mover advantage may pay off handsome rewards — and there may be an exacting price for acting late.

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