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Interview – Chris Johnston, Vice President, Product Management at Unlimit [A Reliance Group Company]

Interview – Chris Johnston, Vice President, Product Management at Unlimit [A Reliance Group Company]

Analytics India Magazine

Just last month, Reliance group collaborated with Cisco Jasper to launch its independent IoT unit UNLIMIT. The move is aimed to unlock the potential of IoT in India, since it is a critical enabler of growth and will also play a key role in furthering the Digital India project.

In October, we caught up with Juergen Hase, CEO at UNLIMIT, to talk about IoT industry in India. We now spoke exclusively with Chris Johnston, VP Product Management at Unlimit to understand more about the new company and the plan ahead. Here’s the complete interview.

[dropcap letter=”IIM”]IoT India Magazine: Can you provide a high-level overview of Unlimit to our readers? What exactly is Unlimit, is it an IoT platform or a product?

[dropcap letter=”CJ”]Chris Johnston: Unlimit is a newly-launched, independent business unit of the Reliance Group that offers a comprehensive IoT platform and vertical solutions. We are strictly focused on IoT and the enterprise (B2B). Unlimit leverages Reliance Communications’ best-in-class 4G LTE coverage along with 2G, a growing list of roaming partners plus licensed and unlicensed low power. The Unlimit launch in November 2016 was the culmination of two year’s work.

In India, we have an exclusive relationship with Cisco Jasper to provide our connectivity service that we call Unlimit CONTROL. Unlimit CONTROL is a cloud-based platform that enables our customers to launch, manage and monetize IoT/M2M services for connected devices around the world. More than four thousand companies across dozens of industries in more than 100 countries already use this platform. When these multinational companies come to India, they can seamlessly use our service without incurring additional integration costs.

Unlimit CONTROL provides real-time network connectivity feeds, service diagnostics and unique automation options to enable unparalleled visibility and control. Our customers can quickly troubleshoot issues and monitor for specific behavior. They can increase service reliability and lower support costs by setting rules to immediately address undesirable behavior by proactively preventing problems.

Our vertical solutions are offered in conjunction with a myriad of partners that have specific domain expertise. We launched our first vertical solution in November called Unlimit TRACK. It is for the transportation & logistics vertical and includes fleet management and asset tracking.


IIM: How do you see the competitive landscape for Unlimit especially in India?

CJ: Because we are the first to offer a true, comprehensive IoT platform in India, we do not have any direct competition. The SIM-based IoT market in India is still rather nascent. Previous carriers and MSPs (managed service providers) have essentially been distributing smartphone SIM cards in bulk and calling them IoT without having an IoT-specific platform to support them. To some extent, this can work for small deployments, but it makes it nearly impossible to scale beyond a 100 or certainly a thousand devices.


IIM: Who are your customers for Unlimit which are you trying to reach with your services in India?

CJ: Our customers are primarily businesses and utilities with assets that they want to track or monitor to improve efficiency and profitability. There are countless commercial IoT use cases and more being conceived by developers every day. For established use cases, we will offer vertical solutions. Beyond these, our platform is designed to make it very easy for developers to utilize.


IIM: There are already a lot of players providing IoT platforms. Recently, GE came out with Predix, their IoT platform for GE business and customers. How do you see Unlimit different from these other platforms?

CJ: The simplest explanation of our offering is that it consists of a self-directed connectivity layer, an application layer and analytics packages. The connectivity layer (Cisco Jasper) interacts with devices’ SIM cards where the application layer interacts with devices. Many existing IoT platforms like Predix will plug into our service and work in concert with us. As we build out, we will grow a wide ecosystem of application platforms including application development environments.

Analytics, run on the resulting IoT data sets, is one of the most exciting aspects of IoT and one of the main things that distinguishes IoT from M2M. Within the realm of analytics, there are domain-specific analytics and general packages. For some industries like automotive insurance’s UBI (OBD2 usage based insurance) or industrial automation, there are domain-specific analytics packages. Predix is an example of an industrial automation analytics package. Where domain-specific analytics packages do not exist, general analytics packages can be used on a case-by-case basis.


IIM: How do you see the future of Unlimit and IoT in general in India shaping up?

CJ: We often hear people in the business community talk about “green fields” and untapped markets. The reality is that these are very rare. With respect to IoT, India is truly an untapped market. For example, my team has done some high-level analysis and we estimate that there are fewer than three million SIM-based IoT devices in India. By comparison, there is one carrier in the United States that has over thirty million devices on their network alone. The upside potential of IoT in India is enormous.

Another reason to be optimistic about IoT in India is the favorable position of the Indian government. They have been instituting a number of smart, common sense policies such as smart cities, support for agriculture and the “Clean India” initiative. All have significant IoT components. One of the great things about working in IoT is that there are many opportunities to make a direct positive impact on people’s lives.

Also, in general, due to a confluence of evolving technologies, we can now fully implement the IoT vision. We can do things today that were not possible as little as five years ago. We have recently seen a drastic reduction in hardware costs and form factor. Computing power has become cheaper and denser. Remarkably low storage costs have enabled cloud computing. Battery life has been greatly extended. In 2016, we saw two standards ratified (i.e. Cat-M1 and NB-IoT) that will enable certain cellular modules to operate for about ten years on two AA batteries. Airtime has become cheaper and IoT rate plans are now readily available which was not the case even a few years ago.


IIM: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in making the future a reality for Unlimit?

CJ: The Indian market is different than North America or Europe. The economics on the ground are different and the average opportunity size is different. Because of downward price pressure, devices from other parts of the world are often not cost effective in India. To solve this, we have recruited a number of Indian partners who manufacture their IoT devices in-country.

In North America and Europe, IoT businesses can thrive by only going after large fleets. This is not possible in India, as there are a limited number of large opportunities and many smaller ones. To be successful in the Indian market, you have to be effective at going after “the long tail”. This is only possible by having a vibrant partner ecosystem.


IIM: Anything else you would like to add here?

CJ: We look forward to meeting your readers as we travel around India to develop IoT. Please visit our website to learn more about IoT or to order a free starter kit.

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Chris Johnston has over 18 years of product marketing experience in mobile computing and wireless communications including AT&T, Honeywell and Trimble. He has a B.S. in electrical engineering from Purdue University and an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago.

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