View from India: New decade, new digital opportunities

Technology is moving at an exponential pace. Opportunities arising from new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) are already being pursued. They continue to evolve, redefining roles and giving a value-add to both existing and new services. In the midst of this transformation, India is preparing for the fifth generation of mobile broadband service, or 5G as we know it.

5G is already operational in some parts of the world. In India, we do have a couple of devices that have deployed 5G network connectivity. 

The Government of India (GoI) plans to auction a spectrum of millimetre bands of 24.75 to 27.25GHz. The millimetre bands, which are strong for 5G, are meant to be last-mile connectors. This is expected to happen by the end of 2020. The procedures will fall into place through coordination between the Department of Telecom (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Early proponents of 5G are expected to garner benefits of AI and IoT. For a commercial boost of 5G, GoI plans to start 5G trials in the last quarter of the current fiscal year and this is open to all telecom providers. There may be a clampdown on Chinese telecom company Huawei, but airwaves are expected to be allocated to Huawei to participate in the trials for 5G networks in India. For Huawei, India comes second to China in terms of revenue-generating markets.

This is much required because once 5G becomes operational it will open out channels for new technologies, many of which are unexplored. Hence, bandwidth and new airwaves need to be scaled up to accommodate the upcoming requirements. At a glance, 5G-led technologies are expected to redefine the interactions between the government and citizens as much as machine-to-human equations are slated to change.

Speed, both uploading and downloading over mobile networks, is one of 5G’s highlights. It offers a theoretical 20x faster peak data rate or maximum achievable data rate per user in comparison with 4G.

5G enables wireless monitoring and has a low latency communication capability. It can carry a huge quantum of data. All this put together means 5G can improve efficiencies and improve processes along the value chain across diverse verticals. For instance, in manufacturing it can enable precision manufacturing. In a similar manner, precision farming in agriculture will be made possible through 5G technology. Other applications include wider usage of drones as well as remote surgeries.

Challenges unfold along the 5G route. 5G base stations are power guzzlers. The onus is on mobile operators to figure out eco-friendly options for its infrastructure.

4G was an evolved version of 3G. This is not the case with 5G. This wave uses millimetre-wave frequency to achieve transfer speeds in the Gbps ballpark. The catch is that mid-band and low-band frequencies that are used in the 4G network need to be tapped for 5G to perform.

Software is another aspect that needs to be tackled. Software forms the core of 5G, due to which security issues crop up as devices connect.

As smartphone prices are falling and data is becoming affordable and accessible, the viewership for online content is growing. This has set the momentum for short video consumption over mobile apps, which is expected to get a further boost this decade. The user experience is amplified with video platforms adopting techniques such as flexible video resolutions and offline viewing capabilities to provide a seamless experience to the user, even when network speeds are fluctuating.

According to the KPMG Eros Now Report, ‘Unraveling the digital video consumer: Looking through the Viewer Lens,’ (September 2019) it is estimated that India will have more than 500 million online video subscribers by 2023. This would make it the world’s second biggest market, after China.

In India, internet video traffic is projected to reach 13.5 exabytes (Eb) per month by 2022; up from 1.5Eb per month in 2017, with video contributing 77 per cent of all internet traffic by 2022.

“The online video consumer in India has evolved in a significant way in the last couple of years. With consumption now going mass and viewers spending close to 8.5 hours a week on online video, we see a homogenous pattern of consumption emerging cutting across age groups, income levels and professions,” said Girish Menon, head of media and entertainment, KPMG in India.

Interactive video gets true meaning as now a viewer doesn’t only ‘watch the video’ but will also be able to ‘feel the video'. As India witnesses the change in the definition of mass general entertainment, movies and sport are likely to be ‘driver content’ and digital original series are likely be an important tool in defining this transition in culture.

After the smartphone, smart television is the next popular viewership platform. “India is one of the fastest-growing entertainment and media markets globally and is expected to keep that momentum. As data and digital infrastructure has become exceedingly accessible even in small cities of India, the market for over-the-top (OTT) has widened enormously,” highlighted Rishika Lulla Singh, chief executive officer, Eros Digital.

In December 2019, the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha or the lower house of the Indian Parliament.

“[The] Indian data protection bill is expected to put the user as the controller of how personal data is shared and stored. 'Compliance' and 'consent' are going to be the most important topics in the boardrooms for any consumer-focused business,” added Rakesh Soni, CEO, LoginRadius, a cloud-based customer identity management (CIM) platform.

Sectors to be most affected by this bill are hospitality, media, e-commerce and finance at large. With the bill, the adoption of scalable and cloud-based digital identity solutions centred round the user's personal data security and privacy should significantly surge. In addition to this, we can also foresee an increase in IT expenditure encompassing the hiring of an expanding cyber-security workforce.

“Post introduction, companies will proactively take certain measures such as electronic firewall and various other protection measures involving virus scanning; installation of security patches; vulnerability testing; backup; recovery planning; employee training; security audits and other steps designed to constantly improve the personal and sensitive data-protection procedures,” observed Soni.

They would also like to comply with and eventually get certified by the industry security standards such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which, if highlighted, would give them an edge and lead to customer acquisition along with higher credibility. ““A robust data protection law is critical for India’s success in the data economy and we are very happy that the Government is taking the necessary steps to pass the law at the earliest. I’m also happy that the voice of the industry has been heard and that this version has incorporated several of the recommendations made,” explained Debjani Ghosh, President, NASSCOM.

The notable positive changes in the draft of the bill include the removal of restrictions on cross-border transfer of personal data. The earlier draft of the bill required one copy of personal data to be stored within the territory of India, for transfers of personal data to take place. Further, such transfers could only take place on the basis of standard contractual clauses, intra-group transfer schemes or adequacy decisions.

These restrictions have now been removed, potentially opening out economic opportunities.

The bill allows the Data Protection Authority (DPA) to create a sandbox for encouraging the development of AI, machine learning or any emerging technology in public interest.

The key area of concern for the industry is the power to exempt certain data processors. “The Central Government has the power to exempt data processors that process personal data of data principals who are outside the territory of India. While this was included in the earlier draft of the bill as a miscellaneous provision, this has now been included under the chapter on exemptions under the bill,” reasoned Ghosh.

With this bill, user privacy becomes the core of the organisation’s framework, right from the planning stage of the development lifecycle. Another change is that users of social media platforms can now verify their accounts.

The number of digital footprint users is proliferating; data is thus on the web and mobile, apart from ambient data stored on IoT devices. Data Protection is essential, as it holds crucial information, critical for shaping many digital outcomes in this decade.

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