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.
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.
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!
IoT’s answer for Africa
IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.
With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.
Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.
Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.
The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks
It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.
We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.
The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization
One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.
Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water. IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.
In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.
Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.
Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain
Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.
African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain frozen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s.
So its population uses Hawala; an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a central country clearing house, then onto a clearing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.
Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually become a replacement for Hawala and other existing forms of international remittances. Cryptocurrencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks.
International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, particularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.
At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging technologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and services. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s software developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.
Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infrastructure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.
We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Uplus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding platform. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.
A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of blockchain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for African communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.
Regulation can nurture or constrict the technology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Kenya, I’m proud to see how proactive the government has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself resonating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.