It is still early days for the Internet of Things (IoT), both here in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) and globally. But, according to IDC, signs that it will soon be mainstream are already appearing.
For retail, this is literally true. All those digital signs popping up in shopping centers and airports in the MEA region are the most visible element of a market that is taking off.
According to a recent IDC study looking at four key markets (Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, and the UAE), spending on IoT solutions among retailers will grow by an average of around 19% annually for the foreseeable future, representing nearly $1.6 billion in spending from 2014 through 2018. While this growth is a bit slower than for IoT across all industries in MEA, it is in line with global trends, where IoT spending in retail and overall is soaring by an average of around 19% per year.
Despite the visibility of the signs, the great majority of IoT projects will relate to in-store promotions and personalized promotions as well as ad-hoc improvements to supply chains, in-store inventory systems, and transportation or delivery systems. This stems from a need for basic infrastructure and process optimization. Retailers are also seeking online and mobile sales channels and customer relationship initiatives, all steps on the path towards the creation of true omni-channel shopping.
For the three Middle East markets involved in the study (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE), IoT goes hand in hand with high-end retail. While digital signage tends to be employed more equitably in terms of location, and IT more generally is working its way into lower-end shops (even if just as a PC or a mobile phone), the bulk of IoT solutions are being installed in large, midrange, and upscale shopping areas, particularly in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Indeed, IoT products can undoubtedly help convey a ‘luxury feel’, a crucial element of the region’s high-end value proposition.
For all four markets, international brands will be the driving force. While high-end brands are already spreading throughout shopping centers and airports in the region, the markets remain underserved. The great majority of retail sales still happen in small, independent shops (in Sub-Saharan Africa, this proportion can be up to 90%). But where regional and global chains are present, competition is fierce, particularly in larger cities. Anything that enhances the customer experience – such as IoT – will be essential for long-term loyalty.
Despite IoT’s uptake in retail both regionally and globally, the term is not widely used in the region’s retail sector. While forward-thinking retailers in MEA readily embrace cutting-edge technology, they do so with an eye towards streamlining operations, reducing costs, and enhancing the customer experience. A point-of-sale system integrated with a customer-relationship-management system that connects web and mobile access points may be based on cloud technology or it may be located on client servers. For the retailer running it, the task it performs comes first.
Africa gets broadband boost
ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.
Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.
Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.
ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.
At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”
Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”
ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.
Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.
AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.
The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.
‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”
The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.
‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.
The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”