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Connectivity the key to empowering service delivery potential in South Africa

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Reshaad Sha
Connectivity the key to empowering service delivery potential in Africa.

If the recent service delivery strikes have taught us anything, it is that smarter waste management is a growing need. Increased connectivity, however, can tackle this issue as cities aim to become smarter through the use of IoT solutions.

Driving through the streets of Johannesburg earlier this year, you likely encountered a growing problem – waste. The service delivery strikes highlighted not only the city’s, but also the country’s growing need for smarter solutions to waste management. Many point to the possible answers that smart cities can provide as the best way of tackling such problems. Key to creating such a city, however, is connectivity, with reliable, high-speed access (including extensive usage of fibre) and the effective use of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions lying at its core.

Getting connected
As such, conversations around the concept of ‘smart dustbins’ have become increasingly intriguing amid the desire for South Africa’s largest metropoles to become smarter. The benefits of implementing smart bins are numerous, since the advantage of knowing precisely how much refuse or recyclable material is lying in a receptacle at any given time, means service delivery companies can plan their collection routes ahead of time. Furthermore, the associated fuel costs could be lowered as time spent checking on bin levels lessens, which in turn opens up revenue to be allocated to other avenues.

While such systems are yet to hit the industry in earnest, there are case studies where these have been implemented to certain degrees. IoT company, Enevo for example, has developed proprietary technology that places M2M (Machine-to-Machine) sensors inside dustbin lids. These sensors send information to waste-collection companies about waste levels and whether a bin requires collection. Such a system, if used in South Africa, would certainly optimise service delivery, with Enevo claiming that the increased efficiencies its IoT solution delivers can cut costs by up to 50%. It is, however, important to note that these services depend on unwavering network infrastructure.

Multiple applications
It is not simply the collection of waste that can be enriched with the use of IoT systems; landfill management can also benefit from the use of this technology. In certain cities, IBM’s Intelligent Smart Waste Management Platform is enabling municipalities to better understand the state of their landfills and recycling sites as far as waste capacity goes. To that end, municipalities can plan the distribution of solid waste to various landfills across the city more effectively, ensuring one landfill does not become overloaded with waste material.

Furthermore, with M2M sensors communicating directly with a municipality, it enhances their ability to know how much recyclable material is, in fact, reaching the necessary plants and whether the systems they have in place are running optimally. As such, IoT-based solutions can serve as real-time indicators of how efficiently a smart city is operating.

Joining the movement
While the allure of an IoT future is too good to pass up, it does highlight one growing concern for municipalities: the need for an improved connectivity infrastructure. The increased use of M2M sensors and IoT based solutions will have an undoubted impact on mobile data traffic. The ability to handle this traffic, however, serves as an indication of a country’s level of connectivity and ultimately its state of development.

In specialist research agency ITU’s 2015 ICT Development Index for example, countries that rank higher not only have a greater degree of broadband connectivity penetration, but the percentage of the population with access to the Internet is higher as well. South Korea, which claims ITU’s top spot, has an Internet usage of 87.87% amongst a population of 49.5 million. By contrast South Africa, which ranks 88th, has an Internet usage of only 49% with a total population of 53 million.

Rising to the challenge
Compounding the need for increased levels of connectivity is the expected increase of M2M devices within the Internet of Things environment. Particularly, as research firm Gartner predicts, the number of connected devices across the globe will swell to 20.8 billion devices in total by 2020. Added to this, IDC states that all industries will have rolled out an IoT plan over the next five years. This necessitates the need for cities and municipalities to develop their own IoT-related smart city plans, if they don’t already have them in place.

With an estimated 13 billion M2M devices set to communicate with one another worldwide this year, it highlights the importance of companies such as Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), a provider of connectivity infrastructure and services, in bringing South Africa’s smart city plans to fruition. To date, DFA has invested over R6 billion towards the rollout of more than 9000 kilometres of fibre across the country, servicing enterprises and citizens alike. The private sector will have a significant role to play in ensuring the continued rollout of fibre networks over the coming years, especially with a pervasive IoT soon upon us.  As the data surge brought on by IoT and M2M communications becomes inevitable, it is key for South Africa to enhance its connectivity capabilities, supported by a solid, extensive fibre network backbone.

By Reshaad Sha, Chief Strategy Officer at DFA

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