The smart city concept is growing more as connected technologies emerge. Among other ideas, the term allows municipalities to measure and manage services in real-time. But, is South Africa ready to become smart, asks PAUL DIVALL of the Jasco Group.
The concept of the ‘smart city’ is growing in popularity as more and more connected technologies emerge. The term has many definitions, however, at its most basic level, a smart city is one in which the municipal authority is able to properly measure and manage the various services they are delivering within their environment, in real time, and with a high level of accuracy. Utilising technology such as smart metering for electricity and water, for example, can help to facilitate this and enable the beginnings of a smart city. As municipalities all over the world examine how they can apply such solutions, the question remains, is South Africa ready for smart cities? While technology forms an integral component of the smart city concept, it is the integration of the various technology components and solutions that deliver real value and transforms a city into a smart city. The corporate sector can play an instrumental role in assisting local Government to fast track these initiatives with their integration skills and expertise.
Smart cities have the potential to deliver multiple benefits, not only to municipalities but to citizens as well. Enhancing the efficiency and management of utilities such as electricity and water could translate into improved service delivery, which means that more citizens will be able to access basic services. However, economic challenges such as the ability of citizens to afford basic services can prove to be a significant barrier to the implementation of smart cities. Prepaid meters, the precursor to smart metering solutions, are an essential technology component which is already available in many areas, but must be implemented and integrated correctly in order to be effective.
Further to smart meters or other smart devices, the additional technology components required are a communication system to connect all of these devices to various applications in the cloud – in other words broadband connectivity. While this has proven to be a challenge in the past, the reality is that broadband is more readily available today in many locations, either through fibre or mobile offerings. The technology and infrastructure already exist for the implementation of the basics of smart cities in South Africa. Integrating the technologies is crucial for the success of this. However, integration requires specialist skills and expertise. Corporates and local Government must collaborate in order to achieve the integration that unpins smart city initiatives.
Municipalities must also demonstrate to citizens the benefits of improved service delivery through smart solutions. For example, a smart metering solution will allow municipalities to offer basic services at different rates to different population segments, for example those subsisting on a government pension can be given electricity at a reduced rate compares to a citizen living in a large house in a wealthy suburb. Municipalities will be able to differentiate tariffs across different economic groups depending on their ability to afford the service. For consumers, this also provides a greater level of transparency, as they will be able to see exactly what they are paying for which level of service.
For municipalities, smart solutions offer a number of benefits. Prepaid meters can vastly improve revenue collection, as they ensure citizens pay for their services up front rather than in arrears. This also enables municipalities to detect revenue leakage throughout the system – local governments can easily see how much electricity they are purchasing, how much is being used, and how much is being paid for. The same can be done for water. In addition, smart technology can be extended to include things like flow meters, which will be able to detect physical leaks on the pipes.
Armed with the information provided by smart metering solutions, municipalities will also be able to conduct analytics to identify trends. Accurate data on service utilisation enables local governments to better plan for future demand and improve the delivery of basic services. Demand for electricity can be predicted ahead of time to minimise disruption, the need for water infrastructure upgrading can be proactively determined, transport services can be planned better and many more benefits can be accrued. This benefit is then passed down to the citizen in the form of more effective service delivery.
Smart cities are the future, and they offer numerous benefits for all parties concerned. However, ultimately it is a combination of integrating the many disparate solutions and creating a communication platform that will determine the success of any initiative. Corporates that have the necessary integration skills can assist greatly in successful smart city initiatives. In addition, without buy-in from the citizens, any venture will inevitably fail. The challenge in South Africa is not the technology, but finding the right way to implement it and integrate with the right partner and to ensure citizens realise and understand the benefits it provides.
* Paul Divall, Managing Director of Intelligent Technologies at the Jasco Group
Online retail gets real
After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.
Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.
The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.
This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping.
But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.
On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.
He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.
According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.
In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature.
Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.
A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand.
In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.
Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.
It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time.
It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.
Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.
The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.
Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.
Reliable satellite Internet?
MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.
Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company.
“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.
The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.
The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022.
The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data.
C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.
MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity. Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.
Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content.
The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.
Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online.
“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”