India’s critical communications market is relying on a mixture of standards and device types as it moves from analogue to digital and the country pursues its smart cities vision. Barry Mansfield takes a closer look at the evolving technologies
The critical communications market is expected to grow from $13.9bn in 2019 to $19.8bn by 2024. In India, the dominant driving factors behind this projected market growth are the availability of more advanced features, with higher demand from public safety agencies, transport (especially Indian airports), the energy sector and utilities, as well as increasing pressure to upgrade conventional analogue networks to digital.
However, stretched procurement budgets and interoperability issues are likely to stunt the growth of the critical communications market in the short and mid-term.
India is growing rapidly in terms of technology and urbanisation; installing critical communications networks is vital to serve a population of 1.3 billion and the four new megacities expected by 2030. Moreover, to combat the evergrowing incidents of terrorism and natural disasters, Indian officials are planning to ramp up their spending on the adoption of advanced security systems.
Meanwhile, public agencies are drawn to video and real-time data transmission capabilities and the appeal of high coverage levels, maximum availability, fault-tolerance, and low redundancies.
However, the evolution of critical communications systems in India follows a different trajectory from that seen in Europe and North America. Public safety agencies typically rely on voice specialised systems based on private narrowband radio such as Project 25 or TETRA.
By contrast, LTE for critical communications has suffered limited data transport capabilities, low spectral efficiency, high costs and a slow evolution owing to the lack of economies of scale. This is one of the main stumbling blocks to India’s adoption of LTE.
LMR here to stay
Analyst group IndustryARC suggests that the Asia-Pacific region is the fastest-growing industrial radio market, likely to expand at around 11% annually up to 2023. Despite the appeal of LTE and the tantalising prospect of 5G for India, LMR is likely to stay relevant to public safety agencies for a long time.
Cost is one of the main factors; after all, many LMR operators have only just completed the shift from analogue systems to digital (P25, TETRA and DMR). The most likely scenario involves augmentation of current LMR voice systems with LTE for data.
Meanwhile, India’s shift to 5G looks set to be frustrated by poor spectrum management. As of late 2019, close to half of the spectrum auctions held in India had ended in failure, with the government unable to identify any takers for the spectrum on offer.
While the 3G auction in 2010 proved a bonanza for the government, there were no bids in 2016 for the 700MHz spectrum. Bidders face multiple charges for the right to use the same spectrum; analysts reckon that current levies (calculated as a portion of operator revenue) are discouraging efficient use of spectrum.
India’s development of new Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) and similar infrastructure for the coming decades will require significant radio spectrum resources, suitable funding models, infrastructure sharing of towers and sites, rights of way and decisions on a governance model as PPDR users have historically operated in different agencies and multiple jurisdictions.
Bharat Bhatia, president, ITUAPT Foundation of India, has himself pointed out the limited data capabilities of narrowband networks. With the proliferation of smartphones equipped with highspeed internet access, video and real-time social media in the hands of the general public (and criminals), PPDR agencies recognise the importance of having access to broadband data, social media and mobile videos in real time. In particular, high-resolution videos captured in the field are vital for improving situational awareness and making accurate intelligence-driven decisions.
The latest PPDR applications use real-time mobile to help detect and prevent criminal activities and aid emergency response teams. A blend of artificial intelligence, big data technologies and mobile video is paving the way for video content analytics that support tracking, detecting, extracting or identifying members of the public, objects or attributes.
Mission-critical voice and video conversations integrated with information on the location of staff, real-time updates on public transport movements and even social media activities are helping first-responders.
Mobile broadband PPDR networks could ultimately enable fingerprint sensors to identify victims or criminals at the location of an incident, saving time and gaining crucial intelligence in the moments that count. These networks can also make possible live feeds from traffic cameras, or real-time numberplate recognition to follow and intercept suspects before anybody is endangered.
However, the bulk of upcoming projects are likely to be PMR-based solutions aimed at the transport sector, especially the railways, airports and underground systems.
For example, in September 2018, DAMM Cellular Systems won a contract to provide its TetraFlex Radio System at Kannur International Airport. In March 2019, the city of Nagpur launched its new metro line, which operates 100 Sepura mobile and hand-portable terminals on a TETRA communications network.
The Nagpur network will eventually cover 40km of track, with the devices either built into the vehicles or at control facilities. In total, 400 hand-portable TETRA radios have been provided to the metro for use across the whole network, including two depots and over 20 three-car trains. Later upgrades to handle additional data are possible.
TETRA is in use with some public safety agencies. The Tamil Nadu state police have patrol vehicles equipped with TETRA radios and an integrated GPS module. Data from these modules is transmitted to the control room via a short data service at preconfigured intervals.
By this method, the police are able to track any caller who hangs up on control room operators after ringing the emergency hotline. Patrol teams are then dispatched to the closest GPS-fitted vehicle, so they can move swiftly to the location and address the issue. A real-time monitor aids police in tracking the movement of all patrol vehicles.
After extensive field testing, Madhya Pradesh Police selected TETRA over DMR and P25 to manage large gatherings like the huge Simhastha festival in Ujjain (frequented by up to 50 million pilgrims). This is a multi-site outdoor system that uses gateways to enable interconnection with the existing telephone and analogue network. Elsewhere, Delhi uses TETRA to allow the different public safety agencies to communicate on an interoperable system. However, the technology initially faltered on the underground stretch of the Delhi metro, with repeaters later installed to boost the signals.
The energy sector and drone uptake
The Indian oil sector will need advanced voice and data service for exploration, production, pipeline, refinery and other related fields to ensure that frontline workers and the control centre are adequately connected.
LMR manufacturers offer a variety of devices aimed at achieving this, including TETRA and DMR intrinsically safe handheld terminals, multi-mode radios supporting DMR or TETRA and LTE, and PTT over Cellular (PoC) devices.
Communication needs are changing further in the sector as the use of drones transforms the way in which inspections and maintenance of well sites, pipelines, storage tanks and offshore platforms are carried out. Technology used at every stage of production – from rapid and precise surveys to inspection of hard-toaccess locations – can save time and money.
Drones can be operated at oil rigs, around flare stacks and along pipeline routes to detect leaks or gas emissions, spills, corrosion and heat spots. They remove the necessity of human intervention, enhancing safety.
The industry value of UAVs in India is expected to reach $886m by 2021, but the Ministry of Civil Aviation only recently made it legal to fly commercial drones. The government is now actively working towards legalising ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) missions and drone deliveries, as well as exploring solutions for improving airspace safety and management.
Drones can be used to survey and map a whole site, across hundreds of acres, within days (rather than the weeks or months required using the older methods) thanks to multisatellite linking GPS. IdeaForge drones now on sale across India feature built-in connection and process fail-safes that ensure a high level of GPS connectivity at all times. Visuals are beamed live to the Ground Control Station (GCS) for quick-fire analysis and corresponding adaptations as necessary.
In fact, the performance of the latest drone models is so impressive that it has attracted the attention of other sectors. From 2018, Indian Railways has used drone-mounted cameras to monitor rescue operations and carry out track inspection, traffic management and infrastructure projects – starting with the West Central Railways (WCR) headquarters in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.
Its IdeaForge Netra, a lightweight quad-copter that flies autonomously without direct user input, is also used by paramilitary agencies such as the Border Security Force and Central Reserve Police Force.
The city of Thane police use drones to control crowds, while Nagpur police have used drones via Wi-Fienabled surveillance vans near the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
Back in 2015, the Indian government made a commitment to invest in 100 ‘smart cities’ over five years. Although delays have led to the project missing its original deadline, which has now been extended to 2023, the government has launched more than 5,000 projects totalling 2,000 billion rupees (approximately $29bn) under the Smart Cities Mission.
Hardeep Singh Puri, the minister of state for housing and urban affairs, claims that 15 integrated command and control centres are already operational. More than 700 of the projects have now been completed.
Progress in some areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT) has been aided by the development of low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) IoT technologies including the partially proprietary Sigfox and LoRaWAN standards and the more recent 3GPP 4G NB-IoT and LTE-M cellular standards.
These LPWAN protocols allow low-powered devices to communicate over long-range wireless, involving long-life batteries for 10 or more years, distances of many miles and rural locations. Some offer satellite gateways for coverage over the ocean or for terrestrial areas not covered by mobile network operators.
Vipin Tyagi, executive director and chairman at the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), and a member of the government’s 5G steering committee, has praised Wi-Fi as an “unsung hero” and pointed out that despite the fanfare around upcoming technologies, Indian agencies already have access to a technology that provides 3Gbps. He lauds the use of Wi-Fi with LoRaWAN and favours a hybrid approach that provides connectivity to both via a single gateway.
Operators are rolling out LPWAN-based networks to meet IoT connectivity demand for the second phase, dubbed Smart City Mission 2.0, which aims to cover 4,000 smart villages and towns with services such as smart water metering, smart agriculture and smart parking.
Reliance Industries has revealed plans for a commercial launch of its LTE-based narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) platform across India this year, with expectations of connecting one billion IoT devices within two years. Other operators, including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, are also aiming to launch NB-IoT networks.
The Indian Department of Telecommunications deputy director general and Internet of Things head, Sushil Kumar, predicts there will be eight billion connected devices in India by 2026 and has cited the many different LPWANs available in the country to implement smart city projects.
He says 2MHz of spectrum is already available (865-867MHz) and another 6MHz has been approved (920-925MHz). He says that no one standard, whether it is LoRaWAN, NB-IoT or 5G, represents a standalone solution for the smart cities vision.
Meanwhile, water wastage is a major problem in India. In Mumbai, Chennai and New Delhi it is estimated at 18%, 20% and 26% respectively. In Kolkata, a staggering 50% of the water supplied is wasted, and statistics suggest that every Indian wastes roughly 45 litres of water daily. The main drivers behind this trend are increased water consumption and wastage in urban areas, industrial growth, water cycle disturbances and inadequate use of technology.
However, 2020 is the year that India’s IoT adventure shifts from proof-of-concepts and trials to large-scale commercial deployment. McWane India has turned to SenRa, one of the two public LoRaWAN network operators in India (the other being Tata Communications), to help with its plans of deploying 200,000 smart water meters in the next three years.
Work on installing the first 25,000 devices has been under way in Indore, Madhya Pradesh since last November. The SenRa solutions extend beyond metering to smart control valves and other remote monitoring features.
Kerlink’s IoT equipment is used for 4G backhaul and a femtocell gateway for deep indoor applications. SenRa is also working with Bosch and PNI Sensor on a smart parking system, converting an existing solution to its 865-867MHz band.
Eight months of testing saw a punishing monsoon season, but the flooded sensors continued to send data. Later came analytics and an app called uPark to create a fully integrated service, first used in Amritsar to ease traffic congestion and by the police to tackle illegal parking with the help of alerts. They quickly saw a 30% return on investment.
Despite these promising case studies, India’s dalliance with LoRaWAN faces some limitations – mostly due to the present device ecosystem. While this is constantly evolving and expanding, SenRa’s Ali Hosseini warns that progress is not taking place as fast as he would like; many products available on the market today are struggling to satisfactorily meet LoRaWAN standards and specifications. There are often antenna problems or radio transmission power issues. Lab testing typically requires six to eight months of careful work to iron out flaws before going to market.
In an attempt to address this sluggishness, the LoRa Alliance has authorised testing specialist TÜV Rheinland to launch a certification testing site in India; DEKRA was also offering local certification testing by the close of last year.
The idea is to reduce the length of the overall go-to-market strategy and improve device quality. Most devices are imported into the country, which has the effect of raising hardware costs by around 30% to 40%. India is a highly price-sensitive market, so local manufacturers should benefit from the move.
Author: Barry Mansfield