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Smart lighting gets cities going smart

While a discussion around implementing Smart City initiatives can often get city planners and managers excited about the opportunities that technology can enable, the budget available is often the biggest stumbling block to getting started, says DAVID WEBBER – Global Public Safety Expert, Huawei Enterprise Business Group.

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However, the desire to move a nation (or region or city) higher up the value chain cannot be carried out as a single project. Authorities have to apply a long-term vision, and then put in place the programmes and initiatives that are aimed at achieving their objectives. Beyond just looking at cost, cities need to look at what value these investments will bring. 

This makes the transition toward becoming a Smart City more of a journey with a travel guide, rather than a definite set of projects with fixed budgets and timeframes. 

There are low hanging fruit that cities can take advantage of. To see the possibilities, it is important to know where the typical cities of today are burning money in their daily operations; and tackling those challenges can improve operational efficiencies and provide dramatic cost savings. 

The easiest place where authorities can start is with street lighting, which can fall into one of two categories: either there is none, but the city would love to install it, or they have existing lighting, but it doesn’t cover all areas and the infrastructure is expensive to operate and maintain. 

Significant energy cost savings

The first change is fairly straightforward, the electricity utility can simply replace old fluorescent bulbs for new LED ones, which use less power and last longer with less maintenance required. 

However, the ability for streetlights to be part of an intelligent network, just like any other piece of network equipment is capable of – via the copper wire-based electricity network coupled with modern wide area narrow band NB-IoT control communications, is where the real advantages lie for city authorities or utility companies. 

Combining connectivity and sensors enable smart lights, which can measure ambient lighting and use motion sensors to turn lights on and off as needed, such as when people or vehicles pass by a particular area. This can help municipalities save up to 80% on lighting energy costs as compared to using traditional street lights, and allow them to free up resources for other improvements. 

Having connected street lights and a city-wide communications network means that city authorities also no longer have to worry about routine inspections to see which lights need replacing. As they are connected to a central control system, smart street lights can report when and why they fail, helping cities realise up to a 90% savings in maintenance and service costs.

Enabling new services, improving public safety

Connected street lights can do more than just save money for a municipality; it gives them the opportunity to use the same network to enable additional services, including WiFi connectivity for local businesses and residents.

Similarly, the infrastructure can be used for a wide variety of smart city services, such as using motion sensors to identify open parking spaces, using live location information at bus stops to improve the residents’ commute. When combined with other smart meters, city authorities can even shift to getting automatic usage reporting for electricity, gas and water being delivered along a particular street.

Utilities can even enter new markets, such as the provision of charging services for the growing number of electric vehicles. This can be as simple as installing a built in power socket on the street light pole at the same time as traditional lights are being replaced with LEDs and motion sensors are being installed. 

There are many intangible benefits beyond the cost savings or new revenue that a municipality might stand to benefit from. Improved communication capabilities help enhance emergency response and utility support, while research shows that good street lighting helps reduce crime by up to 20%. 

Access to smart infrastructure and city-wide WiFi not only improves the quality of life for residents, but also impacts positively on business prospects and property values

Doing nothing not an option

How much cities need to invest in getting a smart lighting project started depends on the types of existing street lights and the cost of the replacements. It is not a simple formula, and engineers will be required to produce a formal plan. 

Once the core communications network is installed and the smart street light poles deployed, additional smart infrastructure or services can be added in a phased approach. Upgrades can also be carried out suburb by suburb rather than the entire city at once.

Experience with such initiatives around the world have shown they typical return on investment to be between three and five years, with the shortest being two years, and the longest being seven years. 

However, cities cannot afford to not invest for the future. They can clearly see how much they are spending today on street lighting and project their future requirements accordingly. Certainly, if they do nothing, the existing street lighting will continue to burn money that they could have saved on.

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Small South African town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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10 more African countries join Facebook fact-checking

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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