My biggest focus is India, says Akihiko Kumagai, senior executive VP, and president of the global business unit of NEC. NEC is a $28-billion Japanese IT and communications company, and Kumagai’s responsibility extends to all regions other than the home market.
“We have a project called India Go Big. We will invest a lot in India. India will be by far the biggest market for us, given the way the government is emphasising digital transformation, and the scale of the country,” Kumagai told TOI on a video call from Japan. He, however, declined to mention an investment figure.
Japan is the biggest market for NEC, followed by the US and Asean. India is becoming increasingly important both as a market and as an engineering and R&D location. “We are localising teams in India to understand the market better. We are doing local R&D,” Kumagai said.
NEC is already involved in key projects. Aadhaar’s biometrics runs on an NEC platform. NEC’s involved in several submarine cable projects. About three quarters of bus rapid transport systems in India, including in Ahmedabad and Hubballi-Dharwad, use NEC systems. Passengers get to know the buses coming to a stop, it allows transporters to better manage their assets, do driver scheduling, and maintenance.
All of the 10 million shipping containers in India use NEC’s track & trace solution. It helps visualise congestion at ports, idle inventory. AI/ML is then used on this data to provide insights on actions that can be taken.
The company set up an R&D centre in Bengaluru two years ago, and there is now renewed focus on that. NEC also has centres of excellence in Chennai and Noida with over 600 employees. The Chennai centre focuses on 5G, and the Noida one on transportation, public safety and surveillance.
The India centre is playing a central role in the implementation of a facial recognition based check-in and boarding system for Star Alliance. Star Alliance members Lufthansa and Swiss have just gone live with it. “India was also involved in a similar facial recognition based check-in at Hawaii’s airports,” Aalok Kumar, CEO of NEC India, said.
NEC is about to start a pilot project at Varanasi airport, and has also got the contract to do the same in the Pune, Kolkata and Vijayawada airports. “You’ll check-in based on face recognition, and get your flight information on your mobile. You’ll go through everything else via face cameras, don’t have to show boarding pass, passport. Everything except some CISF requirements. Paperless, touchless. It will increase airline productivity, improve customer experience,” Kumar said.
Kumagai said 5G is also a major tailwind for NEC. The company already works with major Indian telecom companies. The Chennai centre delivered a 5G O-RAN (open radio access network) project for Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten. “We are the first company to implement a working 5G O-RAN system,” Kumar said.
O-RAN has an open, multi-vendor architecture for deploying mobile networks, as opposed to the single-vendor proprietary architecture promoted by traditional vendors such as Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei. O-RAN uses software to make hardware manufactured by different companies work together. It’s expected to make 5G more flexible and cost efficient. ToI