Smart Cities: How IoT Is Putting Africa On The Map

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August 21, 2018 | 7 minute read


Smart Cities: How IoT Is Putting Africa On The Map

Africa, along with the rest of the world, is currently charging through the fourth industrial revolution. Society is beginning to be reshaped by the smart use of information and technology. One of the most apparent examples of this change is the acceleration of the implementation of the Internet of Things. Smart, connected devices are not only being deployed in industries but cities globally. This is to gather and glean contextual insights used to achieve higher levels of efficiency and productivity. As well as better use of scarce and natural resources.

In no place is the struggle to manage basic utilities and runoffs such as water, electricity and wastage more pressing than right here in Africa. Nico Steyn, co-founder and CEO of IoT.nxt, recently noted that ‘the reach of IoT is staggering. The implementation we’ve seen using our technology in the agricultural sector alone has showcased the possibilities for truly sustainable agriculture, Africa-wide. The future of industry in our country is bright.”

As the demand for food and the effects of climate change on production force agricultural operations to make more, better and faster smart agricultural practices are needed more than ever. Practices IoT can not only highlight, but help deliver.

If these are the possibilities in agriculture, imagine IoT being applied to the ecosystem of a city.

Much like each part of a farm needs to be connected to the whole to ensure it can be optimised without creating black holes in the overall picture, so do cities.

It’s crucial that the necessary infrastructure is built in order to allow businesses, residents and tourists to seamlessly and securely connect with what they need when they need it. And, although much of the current IoT infrastructure development is about preparing for the future and adapting to a digital world, some of it can have a more immediate effect.

So, what is a smart city, anyway?

Essentially, smart cities use data and technology to create efficiencies, improve sustainability, create economic development, and enhance quality of life factors for people living and working in the city. It also means that the city has a smart energy infrastructure. Smart cities are very people-centric in that they are all about improving people’s experiences in that city so it better meets their needs.

IoT is allowing for everyday processes such as traffic control, utilities and city infrastructure, to be connected to networks. Its capabilities reach every aspect of the way a city is run. This renders the opportunities for smart agriculture as endless.

Many countries in Africa are still in the early stages of the urbanisation process. However, they are very quickly catching up to the rest of the world. And, even though Africa was the least urbanised region in the world in 2015, it is now the second fastest urbanising region behind Asia, which it is expected to surpass by 2020.

Smart city challenges in Africa

Although Africa is still a developing continent, it has come a long way during the fourth industrial revolution. However, there are still many challenges and constraints that lie in the way of full digitalisation. These challenges include things like inadequate physical infrastructure, widespread populations, unemployment, a large density of rural and remote areas, poor quality social services and vulnerability to disasters and climate change.

With a population of 1.216 billion people, a landmass of 30.37 million km squared, and a population density of 113 people per mile squared, Africa is the second largest continent in the world. As African cities evolve, the challenges of electricity and water shortages, wastage and other resources will continue to grow. These issues have become significant drivers of conversations focusing on smart cities.

However, the development of smart cities in Africa is not without constraints. As well as the challenges mentioned above, the availability of certain resources, such as finance, skills, technology, and energy, has caused for Africa to slightly lag behind in the process of smartening their cities.

Despite the obvious constraints, the implementation of smart technology in African cities would offer huge opportunities. Especially in terms of increasing quality of life for residents, improving the efficiency of the city services by eliminating redundancies, finding ways to save money and streamlining workers’ responsibilities.

The state of Africa today

African cities continue to be hampered with underdevelopment and weak standards of living, partially due to rapid and massive urbanisation. These have brought about further issues of proper waste management, traffic congestion and flow, various health concerns due to overcrowding, air pollution, lack of regular and sufficient electricity generation and its distribution and billing, poor water resource management, water availability and its distribution, deteriorating state of infrastructure, insufficient housing and schooling, and the list goes on.

Steyn added that “anyone would think that the odds are completely stacked against Africa when it comes to developing and digitalising its cities. However, it just so happens that Africa is the perfect blank canvas for a smart city. The technological capabilities of IoT can help lead a new generation of thinking whilst demonstrating tangible benefits to Africa’s citizens and to the world.”

Why IoT is the answer

IoT infrastructure opens the door to technological innovation from the private sector. Whether it’s in the private sector with smart cabs and smart parking. Or in public infrastructure with traffic and waste management. There’s a big push to embrace smart city connectivity and the innovation it can enable.

A recent article on MyBroadband notes that “IoT is essential to the success of a smart city. It enables the bridging of the physical world with the digital one. This allows a metropolitan area to gather real-time data from millions of objects. For example, water meters, electricity meters, waste bins, traffic lights and street lights. This then forms the basis upon which contextual data can be collected, analysed and used to manage the city in a smarter, predictive and proactive way.”

IoT is playing a pivotal role in the development of critical infrastructure in smart cities in Africa. IoT can be used to manage multi-trillions of data points making smart cities a benefactor of connected solutions. The application of these new technologies with the urban context allows the implementation of an interconnected strategy for the whole city combining and using data from buildings, as well as from public and private transport.

Steyn added “It’s no secret that there are limitations to infrastructure rollouts in Africa. As the population grows denser, it becomes vital that more viable solutions be looked at.” From environmental monitoring to urban planning, energy management to events and festivals. IoT technology is what’s going to aid in bringing sustainability and interconnectivity to African cities. Propelling them to new heights.

The future of African agriculture

Africa continues to face dramatic demographic development. Therefore, it’s vital for its technological advances to meet the surging demands of new migrants. Africa has several constraints when it comes to digitalising its cities. However, this surging demand almost forces policymakers to adopt these technological breakthroughs with the growth of smart cities. Instead of moving into more curative processes that are very expensive, it’s necessary to change those resources into building better facilities to reduce the number of diseases, to improve sanitation, traffic, housing and other challenges the continent faces.

An example of this is the product use of sensor data in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The city is filled with thousands of sensors that capture data ranging from street water levels to developing traffic jams. That data is then streamed to a central nerve centre and city officials there use the same data captured to make real-time decisions on pending emergencies or events that occur.

Building smart cities is a viable way for Africa to cope with its booming urban populations. With smart cities already being implemented around Africa, many of the continent’s urban problems are turning into endless opportunities for technological development. From Vision City in Rwanda, which is the largest residential housing project in the country to date. This smart city is conceived as a fully self-sustaining neighbourhood with easy access to amenities like first-rate asphalt roads and pedestrian walkways, secure open parking, street lamps, a pre-installed fibre-optic network, and safe public spaces that are ideal for children and communal activities.

Vision City is just one of many smart city initiatives that are planned for Africa’s future. And with IoT technology constantly advancing beyond anything we’ve ever imagined, the possibilities for Africa’s smart future are endless.

Anyone would think that the odds are completely stacked against Africa when it comes to developing smart cities. However, with the help of IoT, Africa’s smart future is just a stone’s throw away. IoT technology is what’s going to aid in bringing sustainability and interconnectivity to African cities, propelling them to new heights.

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