Will Africa take the lead in the Internet of Things? The emergence of connected hardware, from mobile phones to cars, could take off in African societies looking to make more efficient use of resources and money, but the technology will need to become more secure and more reliable before there is widespread adoption.

Author:Toesland, Finbarr
Position:Urban Africa

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become one of the most talked about technological trends in recent history. It can seem complex but is simply the concept of connecting many devices to the internet--from washing machines and lights to wearable devices and coffee makers--that previously operated as stand-alone units with no interconnectivity. These devices can then communicate with each other and share relevant data.

As a key feature is sharing of content to relevant platforms, concern has been raised over how secure this data will be and the risks of hacking. Major investment must be made in the security of cloud-based data, so that no private information can be compromised

Africa's most economically developed country, South Africa, has much of the infrastructure in place to lead the market. It recently installed smart meters to measure household utility usage in Johannesburg. Elsewhere, Rwanda is connecting SIM cards to POS terminals in isolated areas to allow for the acceptance of credit card payments. Market analysts Gartner forecast the global IoT market to total more than 26bn devices by 2020. Analysts believe the key driver is "the nexus of low-cost sensors, cloud computing, advanced data analytics and mobility," says Andrew Milroy, Vice President, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific.

Practical applications

The practical applications are virtually endless. One innovative IoT solution is connecting endangered black rhinoceroses in eastern and central Africa to this global network. Each is given an ankle collar that relays movement and exact geo-location data back to anti-poaching teams that can quickly act if poaching is suspected.

With an internet penetration rate of 16% and eight out of the 10 countries with the world's lowest internet access rates, there are major barriers to the adoption of the IoT. However, there is clear growth potential. Consulting firm McKinsey estimates that by 2025 Africa will have tripled internet penetration to over 50%, or around 600m people, and as it does not have the same extensive infrastructure as Western countries, it can adapt its cities for IoT solutions more easily.

African businesses and individuals are expected to be impacted heavily. Full-scale integration of IoT could, for example, revolutionise medical care. A small chip could be implanted into hospital...

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