Digital India: the Draft Internet of Things Policy (and an aside on the NOFN)

(Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/8RU8QS)

In October this year, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) of the Ministry of Communications and IT quietly released a Draft Internet of Things (IoT) Policy, the feedback period for which closed on the 31st of October. The Policy is a part of the current government’s Digital India initiative, focusing on developing the academic, infrastructural and regulatory capacities of the country in the IoT sector. The draft policy is available here. This post is a short summary of the report, a sort of TL;DR. If you don’t want to read the details, just read the first section, Wrap-Up, which also has an interesting side note on the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN). (Anything which I found personally interesting has been marked bold).

Wrap-Up

From the Draft Policy detailed below, it would seem (emphasis explained shortly) that the Government now plans to take a serious step forward towards the Internet of Things, developing an infrastructure that encourages the, for the most part, the academic and industry sectors with the field. It includes a reference to ‘citizens’ as stakeholders, but it feels a tad lacking with its plans to engage with the citizens, especially with regards to the Privacy and Security Standards and the Governance structure. But then again, this is admittedly a very industry- and technology-oriented policy.

Coming to the ‘seem’, we’re all well aware of the government’s track record with regards to its development policies, especially ambitious ones like this. The NOFN which is also a part of the Digital India plan, which aimed to bring fast internet access to all Gram Panchayat’s in India, was actually originally started in 2011 (release archived at the TLF here), and was supposed to be finished by 2014 (release archived at the TLF here). It was then rebooted by the current Government, with a promise to finish it off by 2016. The progress it has seen till now seems quite limited, and its National Rollout had to be postponed to March 2017 (it was supposed to start in 2014), which has then been advanced to December 2016.

And therefore, the emphasis on ‘seem’. What effect this policy will have, and how close they’ll come to its stated objectives, remains to be seen.

TL;DR

The Draft Policy states to have the following set objectives:

  1. The creation of an IoT industry USD 15 billion in India by 2020, with the number of connected devices increasing from around 200 million to over 2.7 billion by 2020, making the assumption that India would have a share of 5-6% of global IoT industry
  2. Capacity development on both Human and Technological fronts for IoT specific skill-sets, aiming for both domestic and international markets.
  3. Research & development of assisting technologies.
  4. The development of IoT products specific to Indian needs in multiple domains.

And it defines the ‘Internet of Things’ as:

“IoT is a seamless connected network of embedded objects/ devices, with identifiers, in which M2M communication without any human intervention is possible using standard and interoperable communication protocols.” – Phones, Tablets and PCs are not included as part of IoT.

The Draft Policy proposes a multi-pillar approach for IoT, with five ‘Vertical Pillars’ which focus on the areas in which the Policy aims to promote engagement and awareness with IoT in India, and two ‘Horizontal Supports’, which are essentially the regulatory functions, Standards and Governance Structure.

The ‘Standards’ pillar is aimed at promoting standardisation among IoT technologies, which is currently quite a troublesome issue with multiple companies and consortiums eyeing different standards, and to appoint a relevant nodal organisation for formalising the same. The examples listed by the Policy for areas that need standardisation include, among others, spectrum energy communication standards, standards for cloud communication, for data creation and traceablility, and safety, privacy and security standards.

The Governance Structure section of the Policy proposes three separate bodies:

  1. A ‘High Level Advisory Committee’ (AC), aimed at providing ongoing guidance, which would include representatives from the government, the industry, and the academia.
  2. A High Powered Governance Committee (GC), driven by the Secretary, DeitY, tasked with governing all IoT initiatives, projects, and with keeping their progress up with the planned timelines.
  3. A Program Management Unit (PMU), to be led by a Director (IoT Operations & Smart City support), the PMU is supposed to be tasked with, non-exclusively, ongoing support in identifications of initiatives to put the IoT Policy in action, tracking and making suggestions with regards to the progress of IoT initiatives and providing periodic reviews of policies with respect to changes proposed by the AC and GC.

There would seem to be quite a lot of overlap between these three bodies, especially with the rather broad ambit given to the PMU.

Through the vertical standards, the Draft Policy appears to be focusing on incentivising IoT projects in the Indian industry and academia, both, along with attempts to spread awareness about it in the same.

The Demonstration Centres part of the policy aims to create models of the various uses of IoT, along with setting aside Rs. 125 Crores on PPP mode as 50% funding for at least 5 projects from the given categories.

The Capacity Building and Incubation section names ERNET as the nodal agency, with 15 academic and institutional partners, with Rs. 3 Crore being allocated to ERNET and Rs. 1 Crore to each partner agency, and final purpose being the creation of Resource Centres and Test-beds for IoT experimentation. This section also includes plans for a an ‘Incubation Centre’ under a Public-Private Partnership scheme (PPP) with NASSCOM.

The R&D section contains the usual suspects, but interestingly contains plans for initiating a cloud based “open source” project for “incessant and collaborative R&D”, and an ‘International IoT Research Collaboration Scheme’ (IIRC) to increase investments from the private sectors, which also includes collaborations with other countries to initiate joint projects for R&D on a 50% contribution basis. How this ‘open source’ project works out will be interesting to see.

The Investments and Engagements sections contains the predictable (and predictably dry) points, with a focus on increasing the exposure of IoT in the existing Indian Industry, and promotion of the IoT industry as it is at the international level. Interestingly, it makes specific mention of ensuring India’s participation on the “Steering Committee of the IEEE World Forum on IoT or similar forums”.

And finally, the Human Resource Development section comes up with a series of initiatives to promote the participation of the academia in the IoT sectors, ranging from new undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate courses, diploma courses, national and international institutional collaborations, and so on so forth.


Related Readings:

Telecommunication Industry Association’s Comments on the draft Policy.

Cisco’s big bet on Internet of Things – managing its Bangalore campus as a microcosm of a real smart city, Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, YourStory.

SparkLabs To Launch Its Internet Of Things Accelerator In South Korean “Smart City” Songdo, Catherine Shu, TechCrunch.

India’s smart city craze: big, green and doomed from the start?, Ayona Datta, The Guardian.

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