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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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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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