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Kigali IoT network provides blueprint for African smart city initiatives

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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.
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.”

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.”

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