With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3 billion in 2018 to 1.7 billion by 2030, there can be little doubt that the challenges the continent already faces in respect of managing issues like food production and food supply security, not to mention access to clean drinking water, are only going to be exacerbated as we move forward.
We need to look at smarter ways to leverage technology in order to address these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive, and data-driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.
There are several factors that hint at the fact that massive IoT deployment in Africa will amount to success. Most of them refer to the cost of devices and the introduction of new technology that will handle the communication and information processing aspects of IoT.
1. Cheaper cost of sensors and bandwidth – Sensor prices have dropped to an average of 60 cents from $1.30 in the past 10 years. The cost of bandwidth has also declined steeply, by a factor of nearly 40X over the past 10 years.
2. Cheap processing – The cost of processing has seen a sharp decrease of nearly 60 times for the past 10 years, thereby allowing more devices to smartly handle all the new data they are generating or receiving.
3. Introduction of Big Data Analytics – With the introduction of big data analytics, the millions of data that are turned out daily by the various connected “things” in the IoT network can be processed faster and better.
4. Widespread use of smartphones – Smartphones have become a remote control or interface for most applications ranging from healthcare to automobiles. Also, the number of smartphone users has increased in the past years. According to a report, the Smartphone penetration per capita in the Middle East, and Africa will have experienced an increase of 13.6% from 2.6% in 2011. The affordability of the smartphone has also aided its spread in Africa.
5. Ubiquitous Wireless network – Wireless networks such as Wi-Fi have become cheaper and more accessible.
6. Alternative energy and ultralow-power technologies: Availability of power to supply most devices that require automation has been a challenge in Africa but new technologies for energy harvesting, ultralow-power devices have been a key enabler to IoT. Some devices today can power themselves as they tap energy from the immediate environment. For example is wearable devices for body monitoring (temperature and heart rate) can power themselves with energy from vibration, pulse, and heat.
The Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics, workflow automation platforms, and applications lie at the heart of a new way of thinking that offers enormous promise to the continent in terms of addressing such challenges.
And there are many other areas where the IoT – and the high-speed connectivity that is its foundation – can play a role in African development. The possibilities for healthcare, education, and many other fields are only beginning to be discussed but are seemingly endless. And of course, there is one other factor in play here: successful IoT initiatives rely on specialized application development, and Africa is rife with young and ambitious entrepreneurs.
So, while the IoT is being used to solve many of the challenges the continent faces, there is also enormous potential for entrepreneurs to develop relevant applications that will not only play a role here but more significantly, will enable them to build new businesses – thereby boosting Africa’s economy at the same time.