Promoting the African Internet Economy, an opportunity that cannot be missed

Some time ago, a European who visited my country and saw all the potential it possesses asked me “why is your country poor?”. It was a compelling question that made me think for years. It is true that there are external reasons such as the acts of colonial and other powers who have done everything to block economic progress. But, I have to admit, there is at least one major internal reason: we missed many opportunities for development.

We missed the industrial revolution of the 19th century that propelled Japan and many European countries to development. We missed the development opportunity that many South East Asian countries grabbed since the 1960s. We missed many other opportunities, simply because we didn’t realize they were there or we just could not agree on how to make the best out of them.

The African Union has a very clear vision to transform the socio-economic condition of the continent by 2063; by this year, the Union will be celebrating its hundredth anniversary (see Agenda 2063). This is a great vision. But, is Africa ready to use the opportunities that exist today and can enable it to arrive to its aspirations enshrined in its Agenda 2063?

In particular, I believe that the Internet is an opportunity to achieve many of the aspirations of Agenda 2063. For example:

  • Many studies have shown that an increase in Internet penetration has a positive impact on the economy of any country. In particular, the 2016 World Development Report of the World Bank found that an increase of 10% in broadband penetration would increase GDP per capita growth from 0.9 to 1.5.
  • The Internet already brings people closer together, breaking down the tyranny of distance and making the vision of an integrated Africa more and more realistic
  • The Internet has also helped improve good governance by forcing transparency and accountability to governments around the world.
  • By allowing virtually anybody to communicate with the rest of the world, the Internet has empowered communities enabling them to grow their cultures.

But are we ready to use these opportunities or are we going to let them pass as we have unfortunately done with the other others? I am personally split between being optimistic and concerned on this issue. On the one hand, I believe that the Internet will reach the majority of Africans very soon empowering them as they have never been in the past. On the other hand, there are many major challenges that we need to tackle if we want to use the opportunities brought about by the Internet. In particular, there are new divides that are being created and that will marginalize parts of the society; there is also a risk of fragmentation of the Internet as well as an increase in cybercrime which might affect negatively the trust that people have on the Internet.

For Africans to benefit from the opportunities, they have to know what these opportunities are and ensure that they remove the hurdles that stop countries and citizens from benefiting from them. It is with this purpose that the Internet Society prepared a report on “Promoting the African Internet Economy”.

In this report, the Internet Society highlights how greater usage of the Internet, and digitization of the traditional economy, amplifies economic growth. Some of the recommendations with regards to improving access are:

  • Ensuring that broadband is available, affordable, and that there is sufficient bandwidth for new services. This requires several steps such as:
    • Liberalization of the sector to promote competition. The conditions of liberalization are important, with licenses that offer flexibility, and that are reasonably priced, having transparent conditions.
    • Affordable taxation of mobile Internet devices and services, where they are not treated as luxury goods, and balance the need to increase usage, while promoting the Internet economy.
    • Spectrum policiesthat allow for sufficient allocations so that companies can use the spectrum in an efficient and flexible manner, at affordable costs.
  • Supporting content infrastructure such as Data Centers, which can benefit from a number of factors such as access to affordable and reliable sources of power, lower import taxes, and favorable investment policies.

I encourage everyone to read this new report available at: https://www.internetsociety.org/resources/doc/2017/africa-internet-economy/

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Kigali IoT network provides blueprint for African smart city initiatives

Kigali IoT network provides blueprint for African smart city initiatives

The Rwandan capital of Kigali is set to deploy a city-wide IoT network, courtesy of mobile satellite communications company, Inmarsat, and low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) provider, Actility.

The IoT opportunity in Africa is of an entirely different nature to that seen in Europe and the West. Whether the technology is used to give people access to clean and safe drinking water; to provide cheaper and more efficient means of growing crops; or for aid and nutrition in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters, IoT has the potential to change people’s lives for the better.

In the vast majority of Western countries, the situation is entirely different. Many businesses and governments are battling with legacy IT infrastructures and the fear of losing out to a younger, more agile upstart. By contrast, Africa has the chance to build much of this infrastructure from scratch.

Typically, African countries have been hindered technologically by a lack of infrastructure, which meant big money investors stayed away. Now, research firm IDC is predicting that IoT spending in Africa and the Middle East will reach $ 7.8B in 2017.

Inmarsat, Actility, and the organizers behind technology conference the Transform Africa Summit, which is taking place this week, believe that transforming Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, into a smart city will showcase the wider benefits of IoT to the rest of the continent.

The companies have deployed a LoRa-based wide-area network (LoRaWAN), designed to support millions of IoT devices in the city, home to more than 740,000 people. The network, which has been active since May 1, will run for a year initially. The hope is that it will provide the connectivity platform for a number of IoT applications in areas like health, education and utilities, and act as a blueprint for the rest of the continent.

Read more: Actility and Inmarsat deliver global LoRaWAN network

Kigali to set example

To demonstrate the benefits of IoT, Inmarsat has roped in Actility and telecoms provider Jersey Telecom to help out with some proof of concepts (PoCs) around the city.

These include: environmental monitoring that will include sensors being deployed in buildings to monitor air quality; a smart bus that will be equipped with satellite internet, providing ubiquitous connectivity for remote communities and LoRaWAN-enabled real-time data acquisition in communities that it services; and a precision farming initiative, intended to increase crop yield and better manage water resources.

Paul Gudonis, president at Inmarsat Enterprise, said that despite the hype surrounding the opportunity for IoT in Africa, the technology is still relatively untested.

“Kigali is taking the lead with its smart city project, creating an IoT ecosystem where both private and government organisations can experiment with this technology in a vibrant and lively city,” Gudonis said.

“The project will therefore begin to take the potential of this exciting technology beyond futurist visions and into a real-world scenario and we look forward to seeing the creativity of Kigali’s many entrepreneurs, students and businesses unleashed on the IoT network.”

Gudonis also referenced the importance of Actility’s LPWAN expertise in ensuring that a reliable network was in place.

“The ambitious scope of the Kigali smart city project has implications for the kind of infrastructure that needs to be in place, with a requirement for stability and speed when dealing with large and complex data volumes across an urban environment,” he said.

“We worked closely with Actility to bring their large-scale LPWAN expertise together with our satellite networks, building this vital framework all within a single network.”

The nitty gritty, building the network

Read more: Semtech and Comcast to trial LoRaWAN network in U.S.

Transforming lives

Beyond the technology, though, this project has the potential to transform people’s live, a point which was emphasized by Dr Hamadoun Touré, executive director at Smart Africa, organizers of the summit.

“The time is right. Africa is on the rise. African ingenuity has sometimes been restricted by the infrastructure available to us in the past, but now new possibilities are opening up as technology transforms how our cities operate,” Touré said.

“The Kigali project will expose a new generation of students, business leaders, and technologists to the potential of the IoT, and will create demand for innovative solutions to common urban issues in countries and cities all over Africa. Inmarsat and Actility have built the gateway to a smarter future for our cities.”

Read more: Pinacl outlines LoRaWAN plans for Welsh city of Newport

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