by Lux Maharaj, director – Africa Sales, Parallel Wireless
The Internet of Things (IoT) revolution is round the corner and promises to bring immense opportunities to African countries and is a chance for the continent to solve many problems it faces.
The IoT is essentially a network of devices and sensors connecting devices, vehicles, buildings and other things. These sensors can collect and exchange data, which can be used by the enterprises and the Government to gain insights and improve their services.
Some of the IoT use cases, including automated vehicles and intelligent household gadgets like refrigerators, have justifiably captured our imagination. But beyond these glamorous use cases, the technology can be used to address a number of development issues, such as health and education. To begin with, the IoT technology can allow people in difficult to reach areas also to access healthcare and education initiatives of the Government.
Smart devices can monitor water quality and regulate water consumption. Government services can be better distributed and managed with IoT.
There are innumerable use cases in waste management. Use of digital platforms also promises to break silos in which the Government departments usually operate, thus providing better infrastructure to the people. Essentially, it promises to deliver new infrastructure for sustainable economic development across the Africa continent.
The IoT also offers a number of use cases for the enterprise segment. The African businesses can be operationally more efficient and bring down the cost of doing business by leveraging IoT solutions and applications. It opens up a host of opportunities for them. More than anything else, it is a huge opportunity for the African firms to be a part of the global value chain and to explore new market opportunities.
On the other hand, the service providers can add new revenue streams by offering new and innovative IoT services. African companies have already started planning for the IoT era.
A case in point is Vox, integrated Information and Communications Technology firm, recently launched a number of plug-and-play IoT products.
Another instance is that of Tata Communications collaborating with South Africa-based IT services firm, Dreamtime Technologies to roll out an IoT-supporting network throughout the continent. The two companies are planning to build and distribute a cloud-based virtual mobile network for telecommunications and connected technology companies operating in Africa.
Slowly, the service providers are warming up to the business potential of IoT. A robust, agile and flexible network forms the foundation of IoT network. The present hardware dominated and monolithic networks are incapable of meeting the requirements of IoT network. Some IoT use cases demand real-time transmission of data, and that is hardly possible with the current network infrastructure.
Moreover, the networks were initially designed to carry voice and not data and are not intended to connect millions and millions of “things”.
How can service providers transform their infrastructure to meet the requirements of IoT era?
The telcos and IoT service providers need to explore new technology concepts to prepare the networks for the upcoming technologies. It is not just about installing a few more base stations and cell sites. IoT infrastructure demands a fundamental shift in network strategy.
An IoT-centric network needs to be agile, flexible and most importantly reliable to carry out various tasks. It also has to be capable of storing and analyzing the vast amount of data to gain priceless insights into the usage patterns of the users. This data analysis is crucial for the firms to come up with targeted products and solutions for the customers.
Adoption of Virtualization is going to be crucial for the service providers to develop networks of tomorrow. Service providers are adopting it across the globe to bring down the hardware component of the networks. This, in turn, helps them to add the much-needed agility and flexibility to the networks and thus empowering them to provide easily scalable and cost-effective IoT solutions.
The principles of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) will need to adopted by the service providers to be in a position to cost effectively provide IoT services. A case in point is a software-defined radio, which can be easily upgraded to 3G or 4G will allow the service providers to reduce the deployment time and to rollout services faster in keeping with the market demand.
Incorporating automation in the network operations is also essential to manage IoT network efficiently. As can be imagined, IoT will generate a massive amount of data, which demands real-time network orchestration.
The tsunami of connected things is not too far. The service providers who act now to prepare their infrastructure will reap the benefits (and revenue)!!