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Look into the future of the African city

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How do we identify the impact and trends resulting from urbanisation? What new regulation and governance models are needed? These are questions we need to answer in order to see what the future African city looks like, writes RIAAN GRAHAM, of Ruckus, sub-Saharan Africa.

What does the future African city look like? How do we identify the impact and trends resulting from urbanisation? What new regulation and governance models are needed? What about engagement models that embrace social inclusion and civic participation? These are all questions we need to answer and as 31 October marks World Cities Day – a day to promote successes and challenges resulting from urbanisation – the spotlight is on the future of cities.

The theme this year is ‘Innovative Governance, Open Cities’ which highlights the important role of urbanisation as a source of global development and social inclusion. What’s more, it is evident that innovative technologies and connectivity is critical during the planning, design, delivery and operation of smart infrastructure and services for urbanisation.

Around the world, cities are becoming more connected, collecting data everywhere to help planners make smarter decisions and deliver new services. The Internet of Things (IoT) is gaining traction, impacting every area of our lives and quickly turning “Smart Cities” from intangible visions of the future into a reality.

However, before Africa is able to start meeting those demands, we need to plan for capacity and speed to ensure a high-quality experience. What’s more, we need to take our unique challenges as a continent into account. A robust wireless network is a key part of this preparation – it is the “glue” that holds smart cities together, enabling effortless sharing of workloads with datacentres and bridging connectivity across wired and wireless.

So, what does the future African city look like?

Bridging the digital divide

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the vision of the future is still emerging and we have yet to see what a true smart city will look like. Smart City IoT is an evolving concept, with lots of ideas but only a few complete deployments. Wi-Fi is the platform that will provide the foundation for smart city success, as it has immediate applications and can effectively connect a vast range of wireless technologies that will be involved in creating smart cities.

Smart cities will help address the economic and social inequality that this divide creates, by providing Internet access to all citizens. With robust networks in place, bridging this divide will help bring communities closer together and encourage citizens to play a more active role to local councils. Flawless connectivity will improve city infrastructure and make it possible for citizens to engage with their community, such as removing the roadblocks that complicate access to local services.

Business 

Revenue-generating applications will transform the way African businesses in smart cities communicate with their customers. In addition to an increased use of digital signage, to communicate offers and promotions, we can expect to see an increased use of beacons, which send notifications to customers’ smartphones as they enter a store. It will also transform the way people work and tech-savvy commuters will benefit from smart city technology to work on-the-go.

Smart utilities

In a smart city, lighting will automatically be switched off when it isn’t needed. It will be able to detect when people are on the street and turn on and off accordingly, reducing energy waste which is critical in countries where power is scare or expensive. In the near future, we can expect to see more city planners equipping their streets with smart lighting that uses sensors to track when there is high or low public footfall which will go a long way to reducing usage. Future smart traffic management is also likely to be a core feature of smart cities. This includes centrally-controlled traffic sensors and signals automatically regulating the flow of traffic in response to real-time demand, with the aim of smoothing flows of traffic to reduce congestion. This can go a long way to reduce traffic in high-dense areas over peak times like Sandton for example. And just think about the possibilities it could offer cities such as Lagos or Nairobi.

New technologies will also play an important role to help cities of the future promote sustainable energy use. For example, “smart bins” that alert collectors when they need to be emptied are being used today and we can expect to see more of them crop up in cities across the world as they embrace smart technology.

However, before becoming truly “smart”, cities need to implement the networks that will enable them to deploy new technology and the opportunities that Wi-Fi presents are simply too significant to ignore. The likes of Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, and even Zimbabwe to name a few have embarked on wireless initiatives designed to bring better connectivity to more citizens. And other African countries are following suit. One key challenge lies in selecting the correct partner to work closely with them to identify and meet all their Wi-Fi needs. The right network will enable a city to save money through increased efficiency (for example, smart traffic and energy systems, as well as optimal budget allocation) and generate additional revenue, by encouraging visitors to return, businesses to invest and people to take up residency.

Africa has started using ICT investment to power its economy to gain more benefits. Government and the private sector are working together to fast track this process. Ultimately, when connectivity is improved, all stakeholders start drawing advantage from it. We are already seeing significant foreign direct investment into key ICT initiatives across the continent. So, even though mobility has sparked the flame around access, it will be wireless that fuels it into the digital future.

Here’s to the cities of the future!

Africa News

Africa phones go flat

Africa’s mobile phone market declined 2.1% quarter on quarter in Q3 2018 according to the latest figures from IDC.

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The global technology research and consulting firm newly released Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows overall shipments for the quarter totalled 52.6 million units, with feature phone shipments falling 2.7% QoQ and smartphone shipments declining 1.3% over the same period.

Transsion brands (Tecno, Infinix, and Itel) led the feature phone space in Q3 2018, with a combined unit share of 58.2%. Nokia was next in line with 11.7% share. Transsion, Samsung, and Huawei dominated the smartphone space with respective unit shares of 34.9%, 21.7%, and 10.2%. However, in value terms, Samsung led the smartphone market with 37.2% share, followed by Transsion (21.0%) and Huawei (13.0%).

There were differing fortunes in the region’s three major markets, with Nigeria suffering a heavy 11.6% QoQ decline in mobile phone shipments, while South Africa and Kenya saw respective QoQ growth of 8.5% and 7.9% in Q3 2018.

“The decline in Nigeria stemmed from a slowdown in government spending, ongoing warfare in the country’s northern states, and market uncertainty in the lead up to elections,” says George Mbuthia, a research analyst at IDC. “In South Africa, the market’s growth was spurred by the penetration of low-end devices from brands such as Mobicel, Mint, and Nokia, while the launch of entry-level smartphones helped drive growth in Kenya despite increases in taxes and fuel prices placing a significant burden on disposable income in the country.”

While feature phones remain steadfastly popular across Africa, particularly in more rural areas, consumers are increasingly being attracted by smartphone offerings from Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo, and Huawei, which are actively targeting feature-oriented customers at more economical price points.

“There is a new wave of Chinese brands aggressively pursuing growth opportunities in the region, while the more-established Huawei is also accelerating its marketing efforts and expanding its distribution budget,” says Ramazan Yavuz, a research manager at IDC. “These brands have quickly progressed along the learning curve and evolved their offerings to perfectly reflect the realities of the region by addressing the diverse pricing and feature needs of the consumer base.”

Looking ahead, IDC expects Africa’s overall mobile phone market to reach 58 million units in Q4 2018, spurred by the festive season and online consumer events such as Black Friday. The introduction of more affordable smartphones in the African market will help drive progress in this space over the coming quarters, while the share of feature phones will decline steadily as the transition to smartphones gathers momentum.

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Africa News

Mobile money to cross borders

Orange and MTN launch pan-African mobile money interoperability to scale up mobile financial services across Africa.

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Two of Africa’s largest mobile operators and mobile money providers, Orange Group and MTN Group, today announced a joint venture, Mowali (mobile wallet interoperability), to enable interoperable payments across the continent. Mowali makes it possible to send money between mobile money accounts issued by any mobile money provider, in real time and at low cost.

Mowali will immediately benefit from the reach of MTN Mobile Money and Orange Money, bringing together over 100 million mobile money accounts and mobile money operations in 22 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 46 markets. Mowali is ready to enable interoperability between digital financial service providers beyond MTN and Orange operations and markets, to support the existing 338 million mobile money accounts in Africa.

Mowali is a digital payment infrastructure that connects financial service providers and customers in one inclusive network. It functions as an industry utility, open to any mobile money provider in Africa, including banks, money transfer operators and other financial service providers.

The objective of Mowali is to increase the usage of mobile money by consumers and merchants.  Mowali enables money to circulate freely between mobile money accounts from any operators in all countries.  From the customer’s point of view, this means “I can pay or receive money anywhere from my mobile account regardless of my operator”. The system will unlock further innovation in the digital financial space within the continent. 

For Stéphane Richard, Chairman & CEO of Orange, “by providing full interoperability between platforms, Mowali will provide an important step forward that will allow mobile money to become a universal means of payment in Africa. Increasing financial inclusion through the use of digital technology is an essential element in furthering the economic development of Africa, particularly for more isolated communities. This solution embodies Orange’s ambition to be a leading player in the digital transformation of the continent. By joining forces with another of Africa’s market leaders, MTN, we aim to accelerate the pace of this transformation in a way that will change the lives of our customers by providing them with simpler, safer and more advantageous services. “

“One of MTN’s goals is to accelerate the penetration of mobile financial services in Africa, Mowali is one such vehicle that will help us achieve that objective. Furthermore, co-operation and partnerships that help us accelerate the pace of development and overcome some of the scale, scope and complexity of challenges that society faces are key. This partnership with Orange is therefore an important step in helping us play a meaningful role in supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals related to eliminating extreme poverty and enhancing socio-economic development in the markets we operate in and beyond. Thus giving our customers access to a bright, digital future.” said Rob Shuter, Group President and CEO of MTN.

The GSMA supports the Mowali initiative as interoperability at this scale is a key accelerator for both financial inclusion and Mobile Money usability across Africa.  “Today, there are over 690 million mobile money accounts around the world. Mobile money services have become an essential, life-changing tool across Africa, providing access to safe and secure financial services but also to energy, health, education and employment opportunities. The creation of Mowali will help to further transform mobile financial services throughout the African region. It demonstrates the mobile industry’s continued leadership and commitment to driving financial inclusion and economic empowerment through industry collaboration. The GSMA is proud to support its development,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA.

“Interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome, in support of financial inclusion. With Mowali, Orange and MTN deliver a solution that will enable them, and other companies, to scale digital financial services across Africa, faster, to everyone—including the poor,” said Kosta Peric, deputy director of Financial Services for the Poor, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “This is a signal that a new wave of innovation, which can help alleviate poverty and drive economic opportunity, is coming. We’re pleased to see an implementation of Mojaloop—an open source payment platform available to operators across the sector—help achieve that.”

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