Right across Africa, municipalities and national governments are looking to transform major urban areas into smart cities.
They envision cities where connected sensors and devices—such as smart traffic lights, CCTV cameras, drones and sensors—drive transport systems, emergency services, utilities like water and power, and even services such as garbage collection.
These sensors will produce massive pools of data that city managers can use to optimise the performance of infrastructure such as the power grid and water system and to manage urban problems such as energy efficiency, criminal activity and traffic congestion. Cities will have the big data at their fingertips they need to make informed decisions about housing development, deployment of police, and so much more.
For residents, too, the benefits are immense. The Digitisation of government services will allow them to enjoy seamless and reliable municipal services. Increasingly, they will also enjoy free Internet services provided by their cities, allowing them to easily access a wealth of government, educational, health and commercial services and information.
Commuters in Cape Town, South Africa, for instance, can already access Wi-Fi on the MyCiTi buses, as well as in many urban metros, allowing for the democratisation of internet access. In Kigali, Rwanda, a number of interesting smart city proofs of concept are currently been rolled out. Some examples include sensors in buildings to monitor air quality, smart buses with Wi-Fi connectivity, and a precision farming initiative that uses sensors to monitor water consumption and crop yields.
Bringing the smart city vision to life will demand significant investments in Africa’s fixed-line telecoms networks. One such investment, back in 2009, saw SEACOM launch the first submarine cable system along Africa’s east coast, connecting people, governments and businesses to fast, affordable Internet services. More submarine cables followed off the east and west coasts, creating a resilient ring of fast connectivity.
Meanwhile, local and regional telecoms players have invested in connecting metropolitan areas in major economies with fibre, as well as in building national and regional fibre backbones to connect towns and cities to these submarine cables and the rest of the world.
With fibre links from city-to-city and fibre rings around many key cities, the missing piece of the puzzle is ubiquitous fibre to the premises. The industry is making investments in fibre to the home and business, as well as LTE/4G in many of the larger cities, but we’ve only just begun. Much more must be done to deliver universal access to seamless, fast, high quality fibre connectivity in every African city.
Why fibre in a mobile-dominated continent like Africa?
Because only fibre can truly deliver the high bandwidth and performance we will need in cities where millions of people use content-rich applications from their mobile devices and where millions more connected sensors, robots and automated systems gather data and talk to each other.
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A longer version of this article is published in Developing Telecoms’ new special report on Smart City Technologies in emerging markets. To continue reading and learn more about the benefits of fibre for mobile operators, governments and businesses in Africa and other emerging markets click here to download a free copy of this report.
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