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A business case for narrowBand IoT in Africa

Oct 24, 20176 mins
Internet of Things

NB-IoT has been praised to be an ideal system to jumpstart IoT services. But are there business opportunities with this technology?

The internet of things is slowly percolating into the African market. The deployment of LTE in various markets across the continent is raising the stakes for IoT and innovators are excited. Moreover, mobile network operators are likely to push for narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) adoption.

Kenyan telecom company Safaricom plans to launch a narrowband IoT network for the Kenyan market. According to Thibaud Rerolle, the CTO at Safaricom, the launch of the network will inspire innovation and contribute greatly to improving the economy.

“I think IoT exemplifies nicely our vision to transform lives through technology. With the advent of narrowband IoT in our 4G network, this will give the capability to offer IoT use cases to the public,” Rerolle said in an ITWeb Africa article.

Down south, Vodacom South Africa launched an NB-IoT lab at its Vodaworld campus in Johannesburg, to spur innovation. The lab, which was opened in July, aims to host the machine-to-machine innovation that fuels IoT.

Deon Liebenberg, managing executive for Vodacom IoT says that “Vodacom’s NB-IoT lab provides a controlled test environment and framework for customers and developers to develop hardware and applications as well as test their end point devices on the NB-IoT network. Vodacom is investing heavily in South Africa’s NB-IoT ecosystem and we look forward to collaborating with developers and customers to realise its potential.”

Why NB-IoT?

It is expected that between 2017 and 2020, the number of connected things will grow from 8.4 billion to 20.4 billion due to NB-IoT. This is because the technology allows for connectivity in the hardest to access areas—which will increase business efficiencies and will offer new managed services opportunities—driving business to a total and always connected environment irrespective of where they operate in.

NB-IoT is a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network technology and is ratified 3GPP, a telecoms standards body which works to develop future generation wireless technologies. Narrowband IoT offers specific qualities that make it a starting point for pushing IoT into emerging markets within Africa.

The power efficiency in NB-IoT enables the technology to be deployed where electricity and energy is not fully available including rural Africa. In return, it saves costs since there is little electricity being consumed by the devices.

Riaan Graham, sales director at Ruckus for sub-Saharan Africa, says there are absolutely no extra investments needed to launch an NB-IoT network. “The spectrum is available and ready for use. IoT devices can be rolled out in mass due to the good coverage (mostly) mobile operators have today,” Graham told IDG Connect.

Graham states that the reliability of running NB-IoT on a licensed platform is a guarantee and improves quality of service for the user. He also added that NB-IoT has a global reach. “The NB-IoT can assist IoT innovators to find affordable entry points in new markets globally,” he said.

Business case for NB-IoT

“Narrowband IoT is a perfect way to introduce IoT in Africa as it can easily handle the increasing number of connected devices that exist as it has been reported that currently the number of mobile devices exceed the number of people on earth—a clear indication of the growth for people’s need to be connected for various reasons,” Graham said.

The application of NB-IoT is vast and touches on all industries including health, agriculture and even environmental conservation.

All these use cases of IoT converge with smart cities, which are fuelled by the growth of IoT. Cities such as Kigali and Nairobi are tipped to be among the smart cities of the near future.

In particular, Kenya’s national transport and safety authority is looking to introduce a digital traffic monitor. Among other things, it will help identify rogue drivers and fine them through a machine-to-machine system. Already the roll out of the digital car identification systems is underway with the authority also launching a driver point system on a public portal.

Cameras will be able to identify offenders, notify them through text messaging and deduct their driver points in a bid to curb road accidents.

Kigali has already has laid out its smart city plans through the Kigali Smart City Masterplan which is set to affect various sectors in the economy. “Smart cities are becoming a reality, having real time access to data, then using that data to make dynamic and informed decisions will improve the service delivery capabilities of metros,” Graham stated.

He added that, “Real time data that can be used to improve areas in a metro such as traffic flow, water management, environmental water management, etc. All of these are essential services which will improve the lives of all residents within these smart cities.”

IoT will allow businesses and metros to become much more efficient in delivering a wide range of services which in turn, will improve productivity and ultimately result in driving down operational costs.

What is the ROI on IoT?

“Every IoT project needs a reality check to have a full understanding of the benefits and the risks. Just because all sorts of processes can be tagged and tracked using IoT, it doesn’t mean that every smart connection is worth the effort,” Kerry Hope, the business development manager at Magic Software in South Africa cautioned.

“A return on investment needs to be calculated for both the short term and the long term, including any costs related to compliance, and risks related to cyberattacks,” she added.

Hope said that even though there are opportunities in IoT, such as the readily available frequencies, companies and organisations should take into consideration other equipment they would need to have a functioning system, such as the networks of sensors, controllers, beacons, smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Apart from efficient service, IoT networks will generate thousands if not millions of data points which will need to be evaluated. Big data analysis can aid in delivering real-time feedback and improved services. This requires funds and investments.

“An ROI within a year is a typical goal,” Hope advised. “As an example, an industrial company introduced sensors into a production line system to warn of a potential upcoming malfunction to reduce downtime for an assembly line. The project included the automatic creation of rules based on historical data to predict potential equipment failures. The project was a success with a strong ROI showing immediate benefits.”

Hope advised that organisations still need to employ a system that will relook at the business case for IoT deployment. This would ensure that resources are not directed at obsolete goals and new developments are also incorporated.

Balancing the pros and cons for NB-IoT will differ depending on an organisation’s goal. However, the opportunities to reduce logistics and improve on business efficiency will clearly make NB-IoT worth considering.