By Staff Writer
When the internet was first invented over 25 years ago, no one could have predicted that it would have such enormous social, economic, and technological significance, attracting over 3.5 billion users globally.
Certainly, nobody envisioned it ever being used to connect toasters, egg trays and toothbrushes.
With a current market valuation of over $900 billion, both manufacturers and those looking to adopt Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are aware of the potential of IoT.
Be it a connected home, connected car or even a connected dustbin, the journey towards IoT always begins with the simple question: what problem are we trying to solve by embedding connectivity?
Africa’s challenges are different to other regions and so are the solutions presented by IoT, a new IoT report shows.
The report titled African IoT 2017 and sponsored by Liquid Telecom stated that IoT can be used to help deliver clean water to thousands of people, or it can be used to better protect endangered species. It can also be used to make roads and streets safer for citizens, or it can be used to better inform farmers and increase crop production.
“The application of IoT can take on greater significance in Africa, but the barriers to adoption are also fiercer. The investment required to make IoT a success is significant, particularly with a limited existing infrastructure to support its growth,” according to the report.
Nevertheless, the study shows that many African countries have already embarked on their IoT journey, such as:
- intelligent traffic lights in Nairobi are helping to ease traffic congestion,
- load-limiting smart meters are helping to combat outages in South Africa,
- while unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used as part of conservation efforts in national parks.
Furthermore, Liquid Telecom is building Africa’s digital future by supporting African businesses with their IoT journey through the rollout of high-speed networks across the region. Other companies such as SqwidNet are also keen to build Africa’s IoT infrastructure. For more read: IoT In Africa: SqwidNet Keen to Build Africa’s IoT Network
“It might be early days, but an IoT ecosystem is emerging across the region that has high hopes of transforming African businesses,” according to the report.
Here are the industries and technologies that are leading the way in adopting IoT in Africa
The drivers across Africa, however, can be very different as compared to other continents.
In Africa, IoT can radically improve agricultural outputs, increase efficiencies at understaffed and over-worked hospitals, and help reduce the enormous number of people dying on African roads in traffic accidents, the report shows.
“A big part of IoT’s role in Africa will be to contribute to sustainability – energy and resource development and usage, agriculture, and conservation efforts can all really benefit from the efficiency, precision and actionable data that the IoT can deliver,” says Alexandra Rehak, Practice Head of IoT at Ovum.
An IoT ecosystem is rapidly appearing across Africa.
Internet of Things to take a Central Role in Energy, Water Provision across Africa
Over 630 million people in Africa live without access to electricity, while an estimated 40 billion hours a year are spent fetching water in the sub-Saharan region.
IoT can be a huge help in addressing the challenges facing Africa’s utility providers.
The report stated that smart meters are gaining popularity and traction globally, and the technology has a compelling business case across the continent.
It cited few examples:
- Asset financing company PEGAfrica, which works with companies that supply sophisticated IoT enabled solar systems and has deployed tens of thousands of these systems in remote areas of Ghana and Ivory Coast.
- Start-up SweetSense installed about 200 sensors in rural water pumps in Rwanda in 2014. The sensors helped dramatically reduce the number of pumps broken in an area at any given time, as well reduce the repair interval at pumps.
- In South Africa, IoT is being used for an entirely different purpose: load limiting smart meters are helping to warn residents of imminent outages.
- In 2015, Johannesburg-based electricity utility City Power began a pilot of load limiting smart meters which limited electricity to households in a bid to avoid load-shedding. Such smart meters monitor household power usage in real-time and if residents are using too much electricity, they receive an SMS asking them to reduce power usage.
The Liquid Telecom’s report concluded that such compelling use cases suggest that IoT is well positioned to take a central role in energy and water provision across Africa in the years ahead.
It also estimated that one million hand pumps that supply water to over 200 million rural water users across Africa, IoT can also play a crucial role in improving maintenance of this equipment and help supply communities with clean water.
IoT can play a vital role in the future of Africa’s agricultural sector
There are 1 billion farmers across Africa – and so agriculture plays an enormous role in both African society and its economy.
But it is a vital yet struggling industry.
The report stated that wireless sensors can track crop growth, soil moisture and water tank levels. The potential for these and more advanced solutions to revolutionise the farming sector is immense – namely because the valuable data sets they produce can help farmers make more informed farming decisions.
It cited Zimbabwean startup Hurukuro, which is working on projects that deploy IoT in various parts of the agricultural value chain, from livestock tracking and logistics, through to cutting edge solutions such as agricultural drones.
Hurukuro has built a B2B2C cloud-powered mobile platform focused on enhancing farmer productivity and creating agro-industry linkages. The platform includes production content for various crops, as well as a specially designed wallet to facilitate mobile payments.
IoT in Africa’s healthcare remains in an early stage of adoption
Healthcare systems across Africa are consistently ranked among the lowest in the world.
The potential for IoT to maximise efficiencies in the healthcare setting – where resources are typically thinly stretched – is particularly pertinent to Africa.
According to the African IoT 2017 report, from strengthening application and end-user management at hospitals and clinics to enhancing home monitoring and remote care, IoT has the potential to transform patient engagement.
It added that however, at the same time, it has the potential to be the most sensitive when it comes to data collection.
“While the next-generation of healthcare providers across Africa will likely experience major benefits from a more digitised environment,” it shows.
South African start-up Vitls, for example, stated the report, is building Healthcare a platform that enables healthcare providers to continuously and remotely monitor a patient’s vital signs, reliably and undisturbed.
The company’s wearable device monitors pulse, respiration rate, body temperature, sleep, and movement. It sends the data to the cloud where algorithms create actionable insights for medical staff.
Cost remains a potential roadblock for IoT adoption in Africa’s transport sector
Uber is perhaps one of the most famous examples of technology’s ability to seriously disrupt traditional business models.
The research found that IoT can also be used to improve road safety on a continent with the highest rate of road traffic fatalities in the world.
However, the report stated that cost remains a potential roadblock for IoT adoption in the transport sector, despite hardware prices continuously falling.
“Many of the sensors, on-board computers and traffic solutions seem affordable by Western standards, but a US$20 sensor is ten days’ profit for a motorcycle taxi driver,” says Barrett Nash, co-founder of Rwandan transport tech start-up SafeMotos, which provides a safer Uber-style service for Africa’s popular motorbike taxis.
The solution equips motorbike drivers with smartphone based sensors, from which data is pulled to gauge acceleration, braking and speed.
The data is then inputted into a risk model, ensuring customers are only paired to drivers above a certain threshold on this risk model.
Preparing for the IoT of tomorrow
The report concluded that the success of IoT in Africa hinges on close collaboration between enterprises, telecoms providers, vendors, system integrators, tech innovators and developers.
To gain more insight read the full report here.