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Opening up of space sector shows regulatory framework is rapidly evolving, says Skylo CEO Parthsarathi Trivedi

Aug 03, 2020 02:43 PM IST

India will also need insurance companies and financial institutions to buy and sell risk in the space sector but most importantly, it will need brave entrepreneurs to come forward to take the country to new heights, says Trivedi.

India's growth potential hasn't dimmed and this can be gauged from the views of the companies that are looking to step up their operations in the country.

One such company is Skylo Technologies, an Internet of Things (IoT) solutions firm that wants to collaborate with the government and harness the power of technology to implement its various developmental programmes.

In an interview to Moneycontrol’s Gaurav Choudhury, Parthsarathi Trivedi, CEO and co-founder, Skylo Technologies, shares his company's vision and how he plans to use technology to bring about operational changes in various sectors. Edited excerpts:

Q: Why have you decided to launch from India? What is the market opportunity that India offers?

I was fortunate enough to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who encouraged us to launch in India first, solving for Digital India and building transformative IoT applications across industries. His vision, suggestions and encouragement coincided with our plans to bring an unprecedented solution to the largely untapped machine and sensor connectivity requirement of the country outside of cities.

We concentrated on bringing a ubiquitous connectivity solution to support and help accelerate India's social and economic goals. We focused on how we could support the 'Make in India' programme with engineering and manufacturing being sourced in-country.

Today, we are happy to state that Skylo connectivity is being integrated on to trucks, commercial vehicles, coaches of the Indian Railway and fishing vessels in India, and all these applications have been successfully tested end-to-end in India over the past several months. Skylo is also being used for helping trace goods in transit across the country, keeping passengers  and drivers safe, enabling remote alerts, and ensuring maritime safety. This will be the world's first 5G/NB-IoT (narrowband-Internet of Things) network over satellite, and we are proud to be launching it from India first.

Q: What is the regulatory environment for a company like Skylo in India?

A: India is at an inflection point in the growth of data-driven businesses and connected applications—whether its farming or space— connectivity, connected businesses and machine intelligence will be the key enablers of growth. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, many transformative development programmes such as Digital India, Make in India and Startup India have been launched and most recently, the space sector was opened. We are encouraged by the urgency of policymaking, open discussion and debate between key stakeholders in both private and public sector organisations, and finally the progress of many transformative developments on the ground.

The opening up of the space sector is yet another example of how the regulatory framework is rapidly evolving.

Q: What is Skylo’s core proposition for India?

A: Skylo is commercialising the most ubiquitously available and highly affordable network that's purpose-built for machine data. What has been unaddressed so far is the need for narrowband machine connectivity for unconnected areas and machines— the millions of yet-to-be-connected assets, sensors, machines and devices located outside of terrestrial network coverage, and for which existing satellite solutions are prohibitively costly. For example, freight trucks, train coaches, fishing vessels, utility infrastructure, farm equipment, mining equipment, etc, India's growth requires a unique network that is ubiquitous and purpose-built for machine data that enterprises and government applications rely on and have historically been unaddressed. This is where Skylo's 5G ready NB-IoT network provides India the world's first such network, which is available across 100 percent of India’s geography and which can digitise entire industries in India that were previously manual, unorganised and unconnected.

Q: How will the services be offered? Who are your partners?

A: We will be announcing our partnerships soon.

Q: From where will you launch the services in India? Who will be your primary users? What are the costs of the services and the product?

A: The Skylo service will be available pan-India, including the remotest parts of the country. We are commercialising first with key applications of the government of India and select private sector companies. We will open our breakthrough IoT network to the general public soon. The hardware will cost no more than a Wi-Fi router or basic smartphone and monthly service will be available at highly competitive rates—both of which we will announce shortly.

Q: What kind of testing has been done in the country?

A: We have already made our presence felt in the maritime, logistics and agriculture sectors. Skylo's technology has already saved lives in India's fisheries sector, enabling operators to stay connected with their vessels and fishermen at sea, helping set up alerts via geo-fences and offering emergency beacons for search and rescue. Skylo’s digital platform will link fishermen directly with markets while at sea, transforming the productivity and reach of the sector severalfold.

In the logistics sector, Skylo has been tested on multiple vehicles and fleets across the country—from trucks and buses to tractors and SUVs.

Reliable and accessible connectivity in agricultural regions has huge implications for India's agricultural sector. The ability to digitise the soil health programme and take action on crop health (moisture, pH, nitrogen) have been shown to lower the cost of farming and increase yields for farmers. Connectivity for farm equipment such as tractors, gensets and others, enables new business models in farm mechanisation, which will allow India's farmers with small holdings gain access to tools that would have previously been economically out of reach.

In a nutshell, the potential for NB-IoT products in India is vast. The capability that Skylo is unleashing is highly accretive to this potential since it is connecting unconnected devices and machines, which would have previously never been accounted for in such market forecasts.

Q: What is the role of satellite technology in your services and how will it be used for last-mile connectivity?

A: Almost all major countries have announced plans for their terrestrial mobile network operators launching NB-IoT services as part of the broader push towards 5G. However, the upgrade for terrestrial networks doesn’t increase coverage— the connectivity gap in unconnected areas, a large fraction of the landmass that is sparsely populated but where connected machines and sensors need to operate remains a huge unsolved problem. Skylo is unique in that it is the only company globally to have successfully operationalised NB-IoT over satellite in a highly affordable manner, enabling the cellular ecosystem to be extended finally from towers on the ground to towers in space.

Q: How can the device be purchased? Can it work on a community system or every individual will need a device to remain connected? 

A: The device can be purchased directly or as part of a larger enterprise operation in the same way you purchase a SIM card and handset. We have made the device affordable enough to be fitted on individual fishing vessels, smallholder farms and individual vehicles, allowing the entire country to benefit from this technology.

Q: What are your views on the government opening space research for the private sector? Is this a new frontier for you?

A: Space is not a new frontier for Indians and thanks to this government and the Prime Minister's visionary reform, many would now be able to apply their knowledge towards India’s faster development in the space sector, and allow our entrepreneurs to boldly go where few have gone before.

A predictable policy is a prerequisite to building a robust space sector. Now, we are going to need greater market awareness for new and emerging services, investor awareness, we will also need insurance companies and financial institutions to buy and sell risk in the space sector, but most importantly, we will need brave entrepreneurs to come forward and take India to new heights in space after this historic step.

Q: How much investment are you bringing into the country? Where is it being utilised?

A: Skylo has deployed a cumulative $116 million raised towards India, which is Skylo's launch market. Skylo is funded by SoftBank Group, Eric Schmidt's venture firm Innovation Endeavors, Boeing, DCM and others. Given the diversity of the Indian market, we are fully committed to India and this focus is complimented by our world-class leadership team, our top quality engineering talent sourced from India, Israel and the US and our international market presence.

Funds have so far been successfully used for enabling domestic end-to-end manufacturing of Skylo's breakthrough, under the 'Make in India' programme while we continue to hire and train top talent across the country, develop the platform for key industry sectors, and roll out commercial operations to scale the service. The majority of Skylo's employees are located in India, including most of our core operations and technical development activities.

Gaurav Choudhury
first published: Aug 3, 2020 02:42 pm
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