AROUND the world, cities are getting connected: Smart lighting and traffic systems. Connected public transport. Hyper-local air quality control. High-speed public Wi-Fi for citizens and businesses. And at the core of it, is government, in partnership with the public sector, laying the foundation to make all this happen.
Currently government departments have their own systems sitting separately to manage services and in order to build smart cities, they need to build a bridge to all these facets by linking the different systems within the metros to share and pull data that can help improve service deliveries.
For Africa, part of creating this environment means that cities need to embrace all the technological innovations that are available to them. In fact, African cities have the opportunity to start with the latest technology, bypassing older and more well-established cities elsewhere in the world. And if you look at the strides that Africa has made from a broadband capacity point of view, not to mention the fact that we are seen as a mobile continent, we are fast moving into a connected framework from a personal, business and even governmental perspective.
Case in point is Nairobi having introduced smart street lamps that use LED lighting, saving the city money on energy costs. Additionally, the lamp poles have Wi-Fi embedded in them which helps with air quality probes and with the installed IoT be installed – which is one of the key building blocks to smart cities and CCTV cameras can be connected as well. Nairobi is fast tracking the smart city race and already has a smart system in place that can adapt to the changes in the environment in an effort to provide integrated and intelligent services to the city. This high-tech profile can also be sued to attract new businesses and tourism.
The ICT sector plays a significant role – connectivity means citizens have access to information, knowledge to innovate, do business differently etc but ultimately build a knowledge-based and socially connected community. Data is currently very expensive locally which limits access. This has a direct effect on businesses, especially SMEs that can’t afford it, students who need to access to information for educational purposes and just normal citizens that need access to undertake their daily obligations. This is why we are seeing initiatives such as Project Isizwe for example whose main objective is to provide Free Wi-Fi to communities coming to the fore – all in an effort to provide free connectivity to those that need it.
In fact, as cities get smarter, they recognise one fact of life right away: any old Wi-Fi technology isn’t going to cut it. Smart City applications demand a wireless network that can deal with tough issues like complex meshing in outdoor environments. One that can communicate with thousands of different devices—smart and dumb alike—simultaneously and one that delivers superior performance for every user, even in high-traffic areas like convention centres, airports and busy downtown shopping districts.
And Wi-Fi is playing a major role in making it all happen. On-boarding millions of connected devices needs to be simple, seamless and secure. Users need to be able to connect to the Wi-Fi from anywhere automatically, without having to constantly re-enter credentials. And no matter how large the Smart City deployment grows, everything should be able to be controlled easily and centrally from the cloud
While every country operates differently and citizens have different needs and requirements, what is evident is that we need to have the right infrastructure to make this happen. Traditionally, smart cities are ranked with the following areas in mind:
* regional competitiveness
* transport and ICT economics
* natural resources
* human and social capital
* quality of life, and
* participation of citizens in the governance of cities.
However, to be truly considered Smart, cities need to have a strong drive in all of these areas. The African continent is a developing one and as such, there is a strong need to focus more on investing in information communication technology (ICT) and socio-economic development, while still effectively managing budgets and scarce natural resource, to ensure it is able to continue to develop and smart cities are able to come to the fore. We still have many challenges that are making the development of smart cities difficult, but we are working towards getting the foundational elements right – and Wi-Fi’s role is as prominent as ever!
Riaan Graham, Director at Ruckus Sub-Saharan Africa