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World will wake to Africa

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The tech industry is constantly changing and EDWARD LAWRENCE, Director of Business Development at Workonline Communications, believes that there are huge changes in store for Africa, particularly related to the growth of the Internet.

The cutting edge nature of the tech industry means that constant change is a certainty. I do believe that the changes in store for Africa in the near future, particularly related to the development of the Internet in the region, are truly revolutionary. Here are some of the trends that I think will shape the future of the internet on the continent in the next little while.

The world is waking up to Africa

Having attended several industry related conferences across the world in recent months, in places such as Marrakech, New Zealand, California and even Hawaii, it is clear that global attitudes towards Africa as a prospective market are changing.

Generally, market entrants have been overwhelmed by the success of their expansions into Africa. Amongst these, international online giants such as Google, Microsoft, Netflix and Akamai who are peering in South Africa seem to have been very successful. This trend is set to assist in lowering the cost of Internet access for local ISPs. Instead of them having to pay to pick up content from these networks from other regions (usually Europe), they can now pick it up at internet exchanges in South Africa such NAP Africa, JINX, CINX or DINX at very low rates, or even free of charge.

South Africa’s healthy Internet exchange (IX) ecosystem is, as will hopefully be the trend with less developed markets in the region, encouraging deregulation and lowering the cost of services for end users.  With the establishment of IXs, ISPs can reduce their costs and hence invest more in expanding their networks and gaining market share. Once content networks realise that they can connect with many ISPs with many end users in a single location at reasonable costs, they are encouraged to develop in the region. As this process occurs, it usually attracts further investment in the industry, draws revenue away from the incumbents, and opens the market for innovative new entrants.

Demand will increase and must be met

As more and more people connect to the Internet across the continent, the domino effect picks up pace and demand for Internet services increases. This increase in demand is coupled with high expectations from a quality and speed perspective by newcomers to the Internet (often regardless of the actual benefit of the additional speed to the user). Interestingly, we found that people living in South African metropoles often have higher expectations than people living in Europe when it comes to the quality of an internet browsing experience through their mobile network operator.

This is because quality of Internet and connectivity is a frequent discussion point here, mainly due to the poor state this market was in not so long ago. It is used as a marketing tool, and therefore front of mind for the end consumer. Consumers have been conditioned to be unhappy if they do not have superfast Internet. The demand is not as high yet in some other African countries, or more rural areas, but it is definitely developing at a rapid and steady pace.

Women first

Another interesting trend I have noticed of late is that there are very few females in the industry in sub-Saharan Africa. In North Africa, for example, attending an IPv6 training session in Tunisia, the room was filled with women, and there were very few men present. If you go to an IPv6 training session in South Africa, however, it is a rare occurrence to see a woman in attendance. I foresee a mass entry of women into the technical side of the industry in the near future as the social barriers to entry are torn down.

We see this trend manifesting in Europe, where many organisations made up of women working together have sprung up and have now garnered a lot of strength in the European tech community. We support these movements in Europe wholeheartedly, and we are currently investigating ways to recreate this trend here and elevate women’s roles in the local market.

The full value of IPv6 to be unleashed

Everything that connects to the Internet needs an Internet protocol address, a string of numbers, to do so. Before, these addresses were in an Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) format, but this format didn’t allow for enough addresses and they are coming close to exhaustion.  IPv6 is the latest version of the Internet Protocol, and features a vastly expanded potential number of addresses to provide for the needs of the rapidly growing number of Internet-connected devices and services around the world. In technical terms, the existing IPv4 notation has been extended from 32 bits to 128 bits per IP address.

Workonline is in the process of setting up an advanced IPv6 workshop to be held as often as once a quarter in South Africa, to guide engineers with the deployment of IPv6 on their network, as this is a need that we have recognised within the local industry. At the moment, many engineers have had basic training or exposure to IPv6. They get their addresses assigned from their RIR, they know how it works conceptually, but then they stop. They do not actually deploy it across their access layer because they are frightened by the potential risks involved and often don’t know where to turn to get advice or share thoughts with other engineers who have successfully deployed IPv6 across various types of networks. Attending an advanced IPv6 workshop with globally recognised experts present would allow them to speak more freely and get stuck into the guts of deploying IPv6 on the whole of their networks, unleashing the benefits of this protocol.

As I write this, I’m on my way to Copenhagen to join the RIPE meeting. Workonline partnered with layer 2 Internet Exchange Point (IXP) NAPAfrica, to assist RIPE NCC to gather Internet data that will help network operators gain further visibility into the structure of the African Internet.

With 21 other RRCs at IXPs around the world, until now Africa has been the only continent without a RIPE NCC Route Collector, which means that it has largely been in the dark from the perspective of Internet measurements. The decision to host a route collector is extremely beneficial to operators in the region. The sponsorship of bandwidth for the RRC is in line with our commitment to continue developing the African Internet as a whole. Having access to this data will be beneficial to our clients and the industry, and we are excited to be part of the project.

It is important that the industry continues to look for ways to bring better Internet to the continent through strategic partnerships.

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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