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IoT critical to smart cities

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South Africa is in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution as it becomes more and more connected. RESHAAD SHA, Chief Executive Officer, SqwidNet, believes the heart of a smart city is the Internet of Things.

Along with the rest of the world, South Africa is in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, in which the smart use of information and technology is reshaping societies. One of the most apparent ways in which this is happening can be seen is in the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), where smart, connected devices are being deployed in cities and industries globally, to gather data and glean contextual insights which are used to achieve higher levels of efficiency, productivity and utilization of scarce and natural resources.

The reach of IoT is staggering. In the near future, for example, the growing population of nations will be fed by crops that are smartly planted at the right time and in precisely the right place to produce maximum yield. Leveraging IoT, farmers will be informed via connected sensors, of the precise dosage of water, fertilizer and nutrients that the piece of cultivated land will require to produce an optimal yield in terms of volume and quality.

As the need to respond to the increasing demand for food as well as  and the effects of climate change on food security becomes a dominant concern, smart agriculture is just one of the ways in which IoT will, no doubt, prove its value.

Full steam ahead

More immediately, large metros in South Africa often face challenges with meeting citizen’s demand for electricity, dealing with water shortages and wastage, and managing other resources. Each of these challenges are only expected to grow in the years ahead due to increasing urbanisation, and in Africa this has become a significant driver behind conversations focusing on Smart Cities.

The good news is that exciting progress is already being made in South Africa, as we are seeing IoT projects underway and the development of smart cities being placed top of the agenda. Both, it should be noted, work hand in hand. In fact, IoT is essential to the success of a Smart City, as it enables the bridging of the physical world with the digital one.

Doing so enables a metro to gather real-time data from millions of objects, such as water meters, electricity meters, waste bins, traffic lights, and street lights. This forms the basis upon which contextual data can be collected, analysed, and used to manage the city in a smarter, predictive, and proactive way. A few practical examples of this include better traffic management by informing travellers of congestion; dealing with crime by leveraging sensors that detect gunshots in high crime zone areas; and smart waste management, in which metros are automatically informed by sensor-equipped bins when refuse needs to be collected.

The prime objective

Beyond the general benefits of living in a Smart City, with the greater quality of life brought about by a metro that is more efficiently managed, the burgeoning IoT industry presents some real opportunities for entrepreneurs in South Africa, particularly those businesses which enable big data to be efficiently gathered, processed, and analysed.

Job creation need not be limited to businesses in the big data space. Having smart cities in place will ensure that South Africa is ripe to attract global investment from the business sector. The most compelling advantage of smart cities is that they may very well offer an opportunity to boost South Africa’s economy, which would benefit all its citizens.

Rising to the challenge

However, before we can reap these benefits, there are some real challenges that must be addressed. The sheer volume of connected ‘things’ means the technologies make these objects smart must be available at a low device, connectivity, and implementation cost, so that substantial demands on cities’ budgets are avoided.

It is here in particular that SqwidNet, the result of a partnership between DFA and Sigfox, has an important role to play. Sigfox technology enables low-cost IoT connectivity for, among other things, water and electricity meters and city building and facilities management, which enables the deployment of smart city solutions at scale. The network now covers all the 8 metros in South Africa, and the rollout plan is currently focussed on covering all the national roads as well as moving to other cities and towns. Network coverage will exceed 85% of the South African population by  the end of the year.

Other considerations that will need to be taken into account include the power requirements for smart objects, as it is impractical for the bulk of these objects to be connected to a fixed power source. Rather, sensors will have to consume very low power, allowing them to run on a small battery for several years. The Sigfox network and device ecosystem is designed so that devices only become active when they need to send or receive a message to or from the network. As a result of this, devices can last up to 15 years or more on a battery, depending on the use case.

Finally, the network that these objects and sensors connect to also has to be cost efficient, and it is imperative that the data transmitted by smart, connected things can be delivered securely to mitigate any risks to the city and its citizens. Sigfox has security embedded at all layers of the solution. Data is encrypted from the chipset and device layer, the data in motion layer and the data storage and data at rest layers as well. In addition to this, long range base stations, cloud based operating and management systems,  and a broad range of device and chipset manufacturers and partners collectively contribute to low cost connectivity and end to end solutions and propositions to market.

International device roaming on the global Sigfox network is also addressed through roaming and clearing agreements between international Sigfox networks operators, with no additional costs to the end-user. This is a compelling proposition for asset tracking, supply chain, transport and logistics focussed IoT applications and services. Cities are also enabled to share this data across platforms, since the data protocols are non-proprietary, thus supporting the innovation and development of value-added applications and services for  analytical and contextual driven city management.

Final word

If South Africa wants to keep its position as the gateway to Africa, our cities, the services it provides and the lifestyle it creates for citizens must be nothing less than the global standard that is being set by leading cities around the world. Considering the predicted growth of the continent, it is easy to see why developing smart cities in South Africa now is not only a necessity but also a smart investment in the country’s future. For more information on SqwidNet, or IoT please visit http://www.sqwidnet.com

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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