India has bold dreams to create at least 14 smart cities and the government, led by the MoUD and a number of private and government companies and organisations has convened the Smart Cities Mission. A wise person said, ‘the bolder your dream, the bolder should your steps be’. Software, hardware, IoT, networks and systems, industrial automation, robotics, sensors and a whole lot more technology integration is required to make this dream come true.
Networked India spoke to Dr. Sumit Chowdhury of Gaia Smartcities which is closely involved in the Smart Cities Mission about what it takes to create smart cities. He tells us about how his co-founded startup is working on cutting-edge smart technologies and testing them via projects in the country as well as how IoT is the third wave of technology which will connect 10x things globally.
Networked India (NI): Let’s begin with your journey from being president and chief information officer at Reliance Jio to founding Gaia Smartcities. What inspired Gaia?
Sumit Chowdhury (SD): With experience of working in leading MNCs like KPMG, BearingPoint, Reliance Communications, IBM and Reliance Jio at senior positions for more than two decades, I worked my way into entrepreneurship in my favorite field of solving problems using technology.
After quitting my last job from India’s latest and leading telecom company, Reliance Jio, where I worked as the President of Enterprise Division and earlier as CIO (Chief Information Officer), I founded ‘Gaia Smart Cities’ along with my partner Bipin Kumar in 2015. The idea of setting up a new company came into my mind while I was working in Reliance Jio. I quit the job to pursue my idea of setting up a venture in the rapidly-emerging field of Internet of Things (IoT) marketplace in India. The whole objective was to work in the field of urban technology that improves the quality of lives of people. Gaia connects people, process and things across heterogeneous networks to create complex adaptive intelligent ecosystems. The idea is to create a public Network as a Service (NaaS) in India for low-cost/long-range IoT applications. We started by investing from our own savings into the venture. I, along with my co-founder Bipin, had come up with the idea of ‘Smart cities’ way before the present government announced smart cities projects in the country. The country almost endorsed the idea of our company.
We have realized that the technology is more useful to solve Industrial Automation problems as well and probably the first set of adopters will be companies with large plants and townships.
The journey of Gaia Smart Cities so far has been quite phenomenal. We have become a strong team of 22 from a mere 6 member team since our inception. Last quarter, we received two angel investments, one from Silicon Valley and another from Bangalore. We recently acquired the IoT division of netCORE Solutions, a leader in marketing technology and enterprise communication. We are now raising a Series A and we are really happy to see the positive response from the financial community to support this idea.
NI: What services and smart solutions does Gaia Smartcities offer?
SC: We bring together three concepts that are changing how we live, work and interact with our living environments – a) Internet of Things, b) Smart Cities and, c) Industrial Automation. As India and almost every country across the world is dealing with rapid urbanization, creating pressures on the infrastructure and environment, the cities are embarking on projects that improve their sustainability and improve the quality of life of their citizens.
Our products are GSM/GRPS based IoT Solutions for Industrial Automation for which there are hundreds of use cases. We are monitoring and tracking assets of different kinds. We also have a Low-Power WAN based Utility Metering Solution – the first example for that is Water Metering. We are also working on a End-To-End Software Platform for managing the City as an Enterprise. This will create a more responsive, event driven city with automation across platforms.
We are trying to solve the problem of common data, common network, and common and shared Information infrastructure across various Government and non-Government organizations so that we can achieve the goal of Smart Cities. We are building hardware, software and integration solutions for companies, cities and citizens, so that there is better sharing of information and improvement in the quality of our lives. We are applying our minds to solve large scale urban problems that go beyond technology innovation. It takes into account infrastructure, policy, deployment, behavior change, and building capacity of cities to adopt and adapt to the change.
We offer services to companies and governments to enable them to design and implement such solutions. We are also working on solutions for sustainability and a small team focuses on Design – making cities look better.
NI: Gaia is pioneering an integrated ‘Network of Networks’. What is the breadth of technology it will encompass?
SC: We are building a physical Low-Power-Wide-Area Sensor network across the country allowing different IoT applications to become scalable and sustainable. We are also building and integrating software to manage SIM based IoT solutions across several Telecom companies. This will allow us to provide Network services to many IoT companies where they don’t have to worry about the SIM and connectivity part. This is where we are able to offer true Network-as-a-Service. The software platform will allow other network technologies to be managed as well – other than LPWAN and GSM, that will evolve in the future.
NI: How do you plan to offer it as a NaaS – Network as a Service?
SC: Our customers will just pay us for the network and data that they are sending on our network as and when they use the network. This is a big problem for companies since they are ending up paying a lot more for SIM based IoT solutions and for unmanaged SIMs from Telco operators. We hope to reduce that inconvenience.
We intend to create a full-stack solutions company that will provide connectivity options of different types and quality, a management platform, devices, meters, sensors and actuators and payment and settlement engine for monetizing this platform by different public and private players. These platforms can be combined in innovative ways to create Smart City solutions.
NI: Tell us about two of the projects Gaia is working on – Smart Water Metering being piloted in Delhi and Smart City Development through the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor.
SC: We have developed a full end-to-end Water distribution management solution with Smart Water Meters and Software to reading any utility meter and provide a customer app to see your consumption. We integrate with different billing systems (or can provide our own version). This is being piloted in Delhi and also have similar requirements in several ongoing tenders. Our Smart Utility metering solution works over our Low-Power-WAN network and can be used for any power, water, gas utility meter reading. We have got enquiries from 10 more cities to do this across the world. We will embark on doing those after we perfect the product on our network here in India.
We are also designing the Smart City Solutions for a township for one of the large Industrial Houses in the country. This project will change the digital lifestyle of the residents and introduce new concepts in city living. We will also be the implementation partner of that project. The DMIC city of Ujjain is a consulting assignment where we are reviewing and designing some of the Smart City concepts of the upcoming city.
NI: In your opinion, what is the scope for Indian megacities like Mumbai and Delhi NCR to be developed as smart cities? What are three major factors they would need to have in place to be able to get there?
I believe in any city, what is required is citizens’ participation and awareness, collaboration between agencies of the government and integration of systems across different but related departments to ease the process of interacting with the city environment. Solutions are actually already available. The problem is to find collaborating departments that will make such ideas viable.
NI: How do these tie in with the Government’s Smart Cities Mission? Are you associated with it in any way?
SC: For the Smart Cities Mission, we have helped 14 cities in putting together their proposals for Smart Cities Challenge that the MoUD had done last year. For the ongoing Smart Cities initiative for the Government of India, we are also offering resources for a) Program Management b) ICT Common Architecture and Development, c) Common Data, network and integration platform, d) Low-power Wide-Area communication system for sensors and meters so that we can collect, transmit, store, analyse and act on small pieces of data across related infrastructure for cities. We are also working on smart traffic sensing technologies for allowing congestion taxing, odd-even policing, parking management etc. We are providing vehicle tracking and process management for all municipal bodies.
Gaia has also worked closely with the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) as an integral part of the National Project Management Unit (PMU) of the Swachh Bharat Mission. As a part of this Technical Assistance, along with KPMG, Gaia facilitates the designing and development of pilot solutions for monitoring & evaluation, training & development, community engagement (mobile, social, web), and capacity building of states and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).
NI: Gaia Smart Cities is also collaborating with other Indian startups on various projects and solutions. What is the experience like and how do our startups compare with global ones in areas like IoT, smart tech and automations?
SC: Gaia is working with several startups or enterprises that have less than 10 people. These companies are highly qualified specialists who are into hardware and software development and have decided to remain in their core area while Gaia is creating a marketplace for IoT Solutions. Since its inception, Gaia has been involved in more than 10 tie-ups with software, hardware, R&D and consulting organisations across the world. These organisations bring a lot of insight on specific areas where Gaia can leverage existing ideas and develop it further. We are learning from these alliances and we bring local insight and qualified expertise in related areas that help the partners to scale up in India. Moreover, having worked with several global academic institutions, governments and industries to design, develop and deploy smart solutions for a truly interconnected ecosystem; Gaia is looking forward at more industry partnerships to create a future with a connected ecosystem of networks.
NI: What does the future look like for Gaia Smart Cities?
SC: The Internet of Things (IoT) is emerging as the third wave in the development of the Internet. The 1990s’ fixed Internet wave connected 1 billion users while the 2000s’ mobile wave connected another 2 billion. The IoT has the potential to connect 10X as many (28 billion) ‘things’ to the Internet by 2020 according to Goldman Sachs, ranging from bracelets to cars. Connected homes, hospitals, transport, cities is now a reality. We want to be a telecom company for IoT and Smart cities. For that we are in the mode of fund raising, a typical Series A round. We are on an expansion spree across the country. We want to become a team of 100 in another year. We are adding around 15 people in the next few months. We are going to hire mostly hardware engineers, software engineers, product designers, telecom engineers (network). We are planning to visit engineering colleges for campus recruitment. We are a hi-tech company and intend to remain that way.