News | March 2016
Optimism in the future of Africa’s economy is growing 1. Despite its geographical, environmental and political complexities the continent is evolving into a promising investment destination. But it has not always been quite so attractive to investors. And without the capital to invest, the continent’s rural and remote areas have struggled to establish significant utilities infrastructures; the basic backbone of economic prosperity.
Economies the world over are now looking eagerly to the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform business models, reimagine customer experiences and reinvent public services. The Internet of Things cannot be brought to life, however, without a robust IT infrastructure to underpin it. So while Western governments focus on repurposing and in some cases overhauling legacy IT infrastructures to seize the IoT opportunity, Africa has the agility to start afresh and establish an infrastructure robust enough to support the current and future mobile, cloud and big data needs of its population.
IoT requires a machine-to-machine communications network to connect machines, devices and objects to the internet, turning them into ‘intelligent’ assets capable of sending and receiving vast amounts of data. According to Vodafone’s 2015 M2M Barometer Report 35% of organisations in Africa now have M2M deployments in place2 and IDC predicts significant potential for M2M growth across the African continent in energy, utility, and security services 3. Enterprises and growing urban populations in mature markets such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria clearly stand to gain from the technology. Arguably the more exciting story to be told, however, is the one of the remote African communities gaining access to technologies that can bring powerful socio-economic benefits.
M2M innovation in Africa
Using M2M connectivity, innovative off-grid energy suppliers, such as BBOXX, are supplying solar power generators to African consumers in rural areas 4. Vodafone M2M SIMs installed in every solar unit connect BBOXX’s smart generators to a global network. Units can be deployed quickly anywhere in the world and installation updates, fault checks and usage tracking can be managed centrally. This provides remote households and people located in rural off-grid areas, such as coffee and vanilla farmers, with access to a cost-effective, reliable and consistent power supply – and BBOXX with a scalable business model.
On average, households using the smart generators are saving US$17 per month, with some even using the solar kits to create small businesses such as phone charging. As many as 71% of households interviewed by BBOXX claim to be bringing in additional income from the technology, averaging at $49 per month 5.
The technology is also helping to improve educational outcomes in Uganda by giving students a stronger sense of morale and safety. Following the installation of 51 BBOXX solar systems in eight primary schools in 2014, enrollment rates from boys have increased by 63%, while the number of students who feel scared or unsafe at night has dropped from 85% to less than 1% 6.
A brighter future
Africa is at a pivotal moment in its technological revolution. By quickly capitalising on its lack of legacy infrastructure, the continent has an opportunity to leapfrog Europe and Northern America to connect its people, places and things. The faster this happens, the sooner its businesses can build competitive advantage on the global stage. And the faster rural communities can reap benefit social, economic and environmental benefits.