The African continent is still being marked by a lack of pervasive connectivity due to outdated infrastructure as well as delayed decisions around the introduction of 3G and 4G technologies, says MOHAMED ABDELREHIM, Head of Solutions and Business Development for Nokia MEA.
Many African countries are also going through geopolitical changes, prioritising areas other than ICT for investment to mobilise their countries. According to Mohamed Abdelrehim, Head of Solutions and Business Development for Nokia in the Middle East and Africa market, there has, however, been a shift towards providing 4G licenses without expecting substantial license fees.
“Generating quick sales by overpricing the license fees has a short-term benefit for governments. Their mid to long term goals should be around driving connectivity and accelerating the telecommunications sector, as it drives job creation and has a much bigger impact,” he says. “Once you establish a new network, you trigger different market sectors. So, accelerating the telecommunications sector automatically generates more jobs and this, in turn, drives innovation and the potential of extending connectivity nationwide including the rural areas, as the cost of MB will be reduced with the 4G compared to 2G/3G.”
Abdelrehim says that if this is delayed, all the segments relating to telecommunications will be held back from growing and generating jobs and the continent will lag behind the rest of the world in introducing new solutions, as there will not be enough connectivity, bandwidth or the required handsets to introduce those services. “Accordingly, it delays GDP growth, especially in the SME segment. If you look at Europe and Asia Pacific right now, the biggest economy segments which are benefiting from telecommunications infrastructure are basically the SMEs,” he says.
Smart city solutions, including eHealth and eLearning, are also impacted. “These solutions are dependent on services that are provided via remote connectivity. So, if you don’t have the right telecommunications infrastructure you will not be able to introduce those services. This again has a direct impact on the SME segment, which ultimately will slow down GDP growth.”
Abdelrehim says despite the relatively gloomy outlook, they are seeing some positive events unfolding on the continent. “Nokia has been selected as the strategic infrastructure provider to roll out a smart city in partnership with the Government of Rwanda. As part of the project rollout, the Government of Rwanda will invest in network connectivity and sensor deployment in different applications, which will serve the local citizens in public safety, waste management, utility applications and healthcare to name a few. “It is projects of this nature, supported and driven by government, that will make a real difference in enhancing people’s lives, creating jobs and improving economies – in this case, the economy of Rwanda. The Ministry of Youth and ICT in Rwanda believes that through this project, they will not only improve people’s day to day lives with better services and security, but they also anticipate long-term positive socio-economic benefits for the people in Rwanda. Furthermore, they also plan to share their experience with other countries in Africa.”
He says this initiative clearly demonstrates that Rwanda has the political mandate to provide the latest and best services for citizens. “Once the political mandate is in place, the next step is to partner with the right entities such as the Smart African and key vendors that can implement innovative solutions that can ultimately be replicated in other African countries as well. This, in turn, will generate more jobs in different segments and accelerate the introduction of more services, especially when it comes to learning. The key here is to address those pain points that are specific to each country.”
Abdelrehim says this lies at the heart of connecting the unconnected in Africa. “In many of the African countries, governments see it as their political mandate to connect all their citizens and a human right for every citizen on the continent to have access to broadband. Already there are several discussions underway with key entities such as UNESCO and vendors, such as Nokia to investigate the right solutions to connect the unconnected. That said, we do need the political blessing for us to bring our business models, solutions and success stories to make pervasive broadband a reality.”
He adds that while organisations have a mandate to generate revenue, they also have a social responsibility to address the social needs of people on the continent. Nokia recently sponsored and participated in CodeBus Africa, a 100-day tour connecting Finnish and African innovators as part of Finland’s official 100th anniversary celebrations. The CodeBus Africa journey spanned ten countries in total – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The aim of the project was to boost grassroots level teaching of computer programming, particularly among girls, and to contribute to long-term efforts to promote quality education, youth empowerment and employment. “The project consisted of creative coding workshops, most of which were run in township communities. Learners paired up to produce their own song with the open-source programming platform Sonic Pi – a tried-and-true curriculum developed by a Finnish technology education company and project partner Mehackit,” says Abdelrehim.
Nokia is also currently focusing on the non-carrier segment to drive acceleration of the ecosystem. “We are engaging with governments and universities and focusing very strongly on innovation and smart cities, to enable us to bring the latest use cases to Africa. At the same time, we would like to stimulate local markets through key discussions and by executing hackathons across the continent as these result in innovative solutions to local pain points that can make a real difference to people.” He says that while there are generic use cases around innovation taking place in Europe, these might not necessarily meet the needs of the continent. “That is why we are taking a bottom up approach in trying to help people bring their ideas so that we can assist them in turning those ideas into commercial products and solutions. That way we are not only solving real problems on the African continent, but we are also making a meaningful contribution to people’s lives and driving innovation to further stimulate economic growth.”
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.