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Continental shift is coming

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Over the past few years, Africa has been playing catchup with the world in terms of connectivity and even though it is now nearly on a pr, there are still many African countries being left behind, writes ANTÓNIO NUNES, CEO, Angola Cables.

In 1994, there were more telephone lines in New York City than there were in the entire continent of Africa. Over the next two decades, digital transformation in Africa dramatically picked up speed. Today, the continent is teeming with pioneers building ‘digital bridges’ within and between villages, countries and continents, as well as connecting Africa to the global economy and research communities. Inasmuch as this may be true, many parts of Africa continue to play catch-up with the rest of the world in terms of the control and directness of subsea fibre optic connectivity.

This challenge appears to be a colonial artefact of the global growth of the Internet as the continent has arguably faced more geographic, political and economic barriers to its development than other regions.  Fortunately, this is about to change; representing a symbolic ‘Africa first’ shift for the continent in terms of its self-determination and autonomy in the telecommunications arena. For countries in sub-Saharan Africa, it presents a massive opportunity to leapfrog other countries. For regions outside of the continent, it will also offer a more efficient, alternative route for burgeoning Internet traffic across the world’s largest continent.

Currently, the West Africa Cable System (WACS) is the most important conduit for data for the West Coast of the continent.  Managed by a 12-member consortium, it provides carrier-level services to operators in Sub-Saharan Africa across a dozen countries, including 12 landing points in Africa and three in Europe (Canary Islands, Portugal and England). Running more than 14,000 km – starting in Yzerfontein (South Africa) to London (UK) – WACS is an essential artery for the digital connectivity and economic development of countries connecting to the cable.

But in order for Internet traffic to travel between Africa and the Americas (the largest centre for the production and aggregation of digital content and services), it must first go through Europe, a rather inefficient route, and one might even say unnecessary if needing to cross the Atlantic ocean.

Three continents interconnected

With the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS) – expected to be completed in 2018 – the first direct link between Africa and South America will be created.  A subsea cable extending more than 6,500 km between Brazil and Angola, SACS will be 100% owned and managed by an African company, Angola Cables.  Combined with Monet*, a cable system to be completed this year and operated by  Angola Cables, Algar Telecom, ANTEL and Google, SACS represents a paradigm shift  for Africa and the Americas in terms of connectivity and collaboration.

Currently, the latency, or the time lag between a data packet being sent and received, on subsea fibre optic cables systems between Angola and Brazil is 350 milliseconds, due to the trafficking of Internet via Europe.  With SACS, this will be reduced fivefold to approximately 63 milliseconds. In effect, this will create a ‘continental shift’ in terms of Internet access to and from Africa, bypassing Europe. Once operational, an African company will be fully responsible for the digital exchange between Africa and the Americas.

Together with growing terrestrial fibre optic systems, mobile technologies and satellite services, such a direct connection between will also improve other countries’ (in the Middle East and Asia, for example), access more parts of the world, either as sources of content or investment destinations for Africa-based data and communications services. Hubs for telecommunications innovation have blossomed on the continent, and with the completion of SACS and Monet, further expansion of data centres and Internet Exchanges Points (IXPs) in Africa is expected.

Beyond Connectivity

Telecommunications and digitalisation are some of the most powerful tools for empowering countries and economies.  If one looks at mobile telephony, it has spread further and faster in Africa than any other part of the world. According to GSMA, a global organisation representing nearly 800 mobile operators and hundreds of mobile technology companies, the doubling of mobile data usage increases annual growth in GDP per person by half a percentage point. Consider some of the following facts about the mobile market in Sub-Saharan Africa:

  • 420 million unique mobile subscribers exist in the region, with an average penetration rate of 43% as of the end of 2016.
  • By 2020, the number of mobile broadband connections will more than double to reach half a billion, nearly two-thirds of the region’s total connections.
  • Smartphone connections have doubled over the past two years to nearly 200 million, accounting for a quarter of mobile connections.
  • Mobile data traffic is forecast to grow twelvefold across Africa as a whole over the next five years.

Sub-Saharan Africa now accounts for nearly a tenth of the global mobile subscriber base and is expected to grow faster than any other region over the next five years. With an improved connection between the Americas and Africa, complemented by a strong mobile industry on the continent, the social and economic development of the regions is expected to improve in line with such growth. Today, mobile connectivity has become the main platform for innovation and the driving force for greater inclusion, with about 270 million people in the region accessing the Internet through mobile devices. Last year, mobile technologies and services generated $110 billion of economic value in Sub-Saharan Africa, equivalent to 7.7% of GDP. As local and global connectivity continue to improve, mobile’s contribution to GDP is expected to increase to $142 billion, equivalent to 8.6% of GDP, by 2020.

Research and Education

The telecoms / mobile ecosystem in the region is attracting talent and investment to African tech companies, as well as linking up academic institutions and research and education (R&E) organisations in other parts of the world. As trans-Atlantic connectivity improves with the completion of SACS and Monet, universities and other learning communities in African, North American and Latin American countries are increasingly collaborating to improve knowledge sharing and research.  Examples include the Florida International University’s Center for Internet Augmented Research and Assessment (CIARA) that recently expanded its development of a next-generation Internet network to include Africa.

With a project called the AmLight Consortium – a multi-institutional project composed of NPOs, universities and regional R&E networks – CIARA promotes the development of advanced network applications, content, and services between the Americas and Africa. Over the next 10 years, the Amlight Consortium will dramatically increase the use of Americas-Africa cable systems for research and education applications, including establishment of a high-performance network link between the AMPATH IXP in Miami, and Angonix, an IXP in Luanda, Angola (owned by Angola Cables). This infrastructure will connect with the Atlantic Wave-Software Defined Exchange in Sao Paulo, Miami, Boca Raton, and Atlanta. The collaboration aims to provide efficient peering between national R&E Networks and communities of interest through a distributed open software define exchange model.

The ongoing development of Africa depends on the degree to which it can globally integrate with the digital economy. With a growing appetite for data and mobile devices requiring broadband connectivity (supported by next-generation international networks), the continent requires investment in its telecommunications capacity in order to support socio-economic advancement. With the imminent launch of a trans-Atlantic cable system between Angola and Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa is poised for a paradigm shift in connectivity. It will also be a profound and symbolic step toward the continent taking the driver’s seat in expanding the region’s economic opportunities and determining its digital destiny.

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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How machine learning can save your life

Over 11000 people died during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.The virus hopped between Guinea, Leone, Nigeria and Liberia, before making its way to the UK and US. But what would have happened if analysis and machine learning stepped in to help solve the problem, asks ANESHAN RAMALOO of SAS.

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Over 11000 people died during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.The virus hopped between Guinea, Leone, Nigeria and Liberia, before making its way to the UK and US. But what would have happened if analysis and machine learning stepped in to help solve the problem, asks ANESHAN RAMALOO of SAS.

But what if we could have predicted the outbreak months before it happened, buying us time to take proactive measures to contain it and curb its spread?

With access to overwhelming volumes of data, the computational power needed to store and analyse this data in real time, and sophisticated algorithms that can find patterns in the data and alert authorities to health problems before they become, well, problems, pandemics don’t have to be as devastating as they have been in the past.

In fact, with advanced data analytics, we can better manage any disease – long-term, short-term or pandemic – resulting in better patient treatment, more efficient use of resources and cost savings.

It’s been done before.

By analysing data from social media, blogs, online forums and keyword searches, we were able to predict the 2012-2013 US flu season three months before the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued its first official warning.

Imagine the impact if the same analytical power was applied across the entire healthcare spectrum – not only on a national and global level, but right down to the individual level.

Data evolution

In the past, health workers relied on manually intensive, paper-based systems to record infections and deaths during disease outbreaks. Not only was it easy for errors to slip through but because the data was anecdotal and historical, authorities did not get a complete understanding of the reach and impact of the outbreak.

During the Ebola outbreak, the CDC adopted a mobile data collection system that enabled health workers to instantly submit information to a database via text messages. This low-cost method of information gathering not only resulted in fewer errors but also allowed analysts to draw up detailed maps of population movements, which made it easier to understand how the disease was likely to spread, and where to set up treatment centres.

While this was certainly an improvement on the paper-based systems of old, the drawback was that mobile data was historic and did not provide researchers with the ability to track developments and population movements in real time.

Data-driven action

But mobile phones are just one source of data. Today, health authorities can overlay thousands of data sources – including social media, health and physician reports, keyword searches, media reports, transactional data from retailers and pharmacies, airline ticket sales, geospatial data and more – to not only better manage diseases and outbreaks when they do happen, but to see them coming months in advance – and what could happen if we don’t act on the information.

By mining structured and unstructured data, we can track the movements of infected populations and who they come into contact with; we can measure the success of containment policies, education campaigns and treatments – and what to do if they’re not working; we can determine the effect of weather and other environmental factors on the spread of diseases.

Never before have we been able to act on information to save lives, not just during pandemics but through better understanding and treatment of diseases.

Personalised treatment

Until now, standard treatments for diseases such as cancer and HIV have been applied to all patients, regardless of their unique profiles and with little understanding as to why some people respond well to certain treatments and others don’t.

But by analysing and creating ‘medical maps’ of individuals that take into account their anatomy, physiology, DNA, RNA and chemical composition, doctors can prescribe personalised treatments that have a greater chance of success.

There are many other benefits of data analysis in healthcare:

·        Personalised treatment can result in fewer hospital admissions and can produce faster results and better experiences for patients;

·        By better understanding the impact of lifestyle and diet on health, medical aid providers can educate their members with the aim of improving their health, which could result in cost savings for both the provider and the member;

·        Governments can use data to develop proactive approaches to protecting and promoting public health, to prioritise services and to find ways to cut costs so that they can provide healthcare to more citizens.

·        By sharing data and results from clinical trials and combining that data with academic, patient and industry data, medical researchers can better understand the genetics of viruses, why some strains are more deadly than others, and why some people are more resistant to viruses. This could spark innovation and generate new insights that ultimately improve treatment and outcomes.

AI and machine learning

As the use of intelligent algorithms, machine learning and natural language processing becomes more entrenched in advanced data analytics, technology will increasingly supplement the skills of humans to produce faster and more accurate medical diagnoses.

We’re already seeing successful applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in predicting relapse in leukaemia patients and in distinguishing between different types of cancer.

Machine learning can extract valuable insights from unstructured data like clinical notes and academic journals to provide even larger datasets that will transform the medical industry into a proactive front against diseases.

There are plenty of doomsday theories about how machines will supersede our intelligence and rise against us. But there aren’t enough stories about the potential of data analytics, AI and machine learning to supplement human skills and knowledge to drastically changes lives for the better – and even save them. Right now, it’s looking more likely that machines will actually help us to live longer – and I don’t know many people who would object to that.

 

  • ANESHAN RAMALOO, ‎Data Scientist and Senior Business Solutions Manager at SAS.
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