WHY? For connecting more things

This year’s AfricaCom tech conference was the place for some of South Africa’s leading telecoms companies to show off their new solutions that will drive the evolution of connectivity on the continent.

“This will push the boundaries of what is possible as well as bring services to the market that will genuinely transform lives and businesses in South Africa for the better.”

At the forefront was narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT). The Internet of Things is the internet working of everyday objects with connectivity and built-in sensors that gather and act on data across a network. The low-power wide-area (LPWA) radio technology will extend the use of the IoT by connecting objects requiring a long battery life and in remote or hard-to-reach locations, thanks to its stronger and more penetrative signal using telecoms bands. Devices can be placed underground or anywhere else over a period of 10 years without alterations or chargers so that they continue to function. 

MTN partnered with Huawei Technologies at AfricaCom to conduct live demonstrations of NB-IoT—focused on smart refrigeration for the commercial bottling market, smart water metering, and usage-based insurance solutions. Future applications will include smart parking, wildlife tracking, smart farms and smart homes. “IoT is an area of focus for MTN, not just in South Africa but the rest of Africa,” said Alpheus Mangale, chief enterprise business officer for MTN SA.

Already used in a township in Gauteng, the smart fridge detects activity via sensors on the door as well as ones for temperature and smoke. It also comes with a panic button and location-tracking device.

The smart water meter connects industrial devices to provide big data-, flow- and consumption analysis. A pilot device has been installed in Johannesburg.

Usage-based insurance will allow insurance companies to have access to a driver’s driving information—location, driving behaviour, vehicle-running status etc.—so that they can analyse and score the driver’s performance on the road using big data technology. The insurer can then adjust its offering to individual drivers, and benefit from a decreased loss rate.

MTN and Huawei plan to deploy the new technology in South Africa from 2017, before expanding to Nigeria and the rest of the markets in which MTN operates.

Vodacom also demonstrated its NB-IoT network build, which it plans to launch commercially in major metropolitan areas across South Africa in 2017. 

Business chief officer Vuyani Jarana said: “In investing in its network for NB-IoT, Vodacom will enable South Africans to participate in developing new solution sets for the Internet of Things . . . This will push the boundaries of what is possible, as well as bring services to the market that will genuinely transform lives and businesses in South Africa for the better. This is ultimately about taking the Internet of Things to the next level as a disruptor to further economic development and social empowerment through digital connectivity.”

The more affordable the combination of the NB-IoT network and ‘Things’ becomes, the more significant the transformation of value chains for goods and services. This, in turn, will support economic growth and social improvement initiatives in the local economy, said Jarana. 

The company’s NB-IoT network will leverage off its existing established network infrastructure, ensuring excellent coverage and reliable connectivity. A large portion of the network will only require a software upgrade to support the technology, which means that deploying NB-IoT across Vodacom’s existing base stations will be a relatively quick rollout, driven by geographic deployment and based on demand. 

“What NB-IoT means for economic growth in our country is incredibly exciting, and we are going to see the digitisation of brand-new ecosystems and value chains,” Jarana added.

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