By Sudipto Moitra, General Manager: ICT at MTN SA Business
The Internet of Things (IoT) is more than just a collection of sensors and connected devices talking to each other. It’s an ecosystem of products and services that allows effective connectivity to add value to every sector of the economy – and it presents an ideal opportunity to solve many of the issues the African continent is currently facing. It has the potential to change the lives and livelihoods of people from Cape to Cairo.
As we saw at the recent annual MTN Business IoT Conference, it has quickly become apparent that developers and industry in Africa has the technology at its fingertips to develop African solutions to African problems.
Recent trends indicate that this wave of growth is already catching on and will continue to accelerate. IoT revenue is expected to more than double in the Middle East and Africa by 2023, according to GlobalData. The report notes that stakeholders are exploring and identifying key areas of growth despite IoT still being in early stages of uptake. Africa and the Middle East is expected to become the second-fastest growing region for IoT revenue, second behind the Asia-Pacific. The utilities, government and manufacturing verticals will be driving this revenue, having accounted for more than 50% of the total IoT opportunity in the area in 2018.
This opportunity is also reflected in the latest GSMA Mobile Economy 2020 report, which holds that IoT connections are set to reach almost 25 billion globally by 2025, up from 12 billion in 2019. The report points out that the business case for IoT is shifting from just connecting devices to addressing specific problems or needs with solutions to collect, process and integrate data from multiple sources. This can then be analysed to create value and provide actionable insight. Notably, enterprise IoT connections will overtake consumer connections in 2024, and will almost triple between 2019 and 2025 to reach 13.3 billion. This will account for just over half of all IoT connections in 2025.
As the applications and uses of IoT continue to increase, so will the need for networks that are designed to ensure stable, secure and effective transmission of data. According to Cisco, global IP networks will support up to 10 billion new devices and connections over the next five years. The Ericsson Mobility Report says that IoT sensors and devices are expected to exceed mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices in 2018. In fact, Ericsson predicts there will be approximately 28 billion connected devices worldwide by 2021, with nearly 16 billion related to IoT.
At MTN Business, we realise the urgent need to provide these pathways towards growth by harnessing our network. We are ensuring that the billions of things connected to the African IoT have a fast, secure, and cost-effective network available across the continent. This is more than talking about ‘things’ like smart home appliances, e.g., a smart fridge that tells you when you’re running low on milk. Examples of ‘things’ in a business or industrial context include smart geysers, mining machines that ‘talk to each other’, smart buildings where various facilities within a building ‘communicate’, smart cars and fleets, security systems, and so on.
One of the primary areas we have seen IoT make an impact is in reaching African citizens who have had limited access to services like modern healthcare. We have also seen it changing the face of conservation and industries like agriculture and mining – the industries that are the lifeblood of Africa. We are also experiencing a revolution in industries like retail, transportation and manufacturing, thanks to IoT.
It’s no surprise that fleet management, security and surveillance are the hottest areas for IoT growth, according to Forrester. Asset management and tracking, combined with fleet management, are vital parts of transport and logistics. Knowing where each vehicle or item is, how long it took to deliver, and the routes taken by drivers are giving businesses a lot more data to fix supply cost issues.
Healthcare in Africa is seeing one of the biggest impacts as a result of IoT. There are now applications that allow patients to monitor their drug usage, track their treatments, and test for chronic diseases. This is matched by the impact IoT is making on two sectors vital to the success of most African economies: agriculture and mining.
Farmers are now able to use sensors to monitor soil, seeds and humidity, helping them fine-tune their processes to get the highest yield possible. In mining, IoT is creating a safer environment while allowing miners to go deeper than ever before.
Breakthroughs in the cost of sensors, processing power and bandwidth to connect devices are clearly enabling ubiquitous connections right now. Early simple products like fitness trackers and thermostats have already gained traction, with smart cities becoming the norm across the continent. Devices, sensors, connectivity and analytics are combining to change transport, energy and environment, culture and community.
Another good example is the global Machine-to-Machine (M2M) SIM card, which allows customers all over Africa to access the same M2M capabilities.
The Smart Water Metering solution launched last year, is another major step forward, as was the first Narrowband Internet of Things solution in Africa. Other solutions we are looking to deploy in the future include wildlife tracking, smart farming, and smart parking, to name a few.
Innovative solutions, like the ones showcased at our annual MTN Business IoT Conference are key to creating a better, more connected Africa, and we are proud to be enabling this.
The IoT value proposition is indeed compelling for the growth of Africa. IoT will be a driver of new product cycles, and another leg of cost-efficiencies, and is poised to be a driver of incremental revenue streams based on new products and services.
At the heart of all of this is connectivity and MTN Business is proud to be playing our part in helping to lead Africa into a reality where connectivity is becoming ubiquitous.