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African city to deploy IoT network which will provide blueprint for ‘smart city’ initiatives

Government officials in Rwanda have announced its plans to deploy a city-wide IoT network in the capital city of Kigali as it renews its effort to improve every day services for its citizens. The IoT network will be the established courtesy of mobile satellite communications provider, Inmarsat, and low-power wide-area network company Actility.

However, the IoT opportunity in Africa represents an entirely different nature to that seen in Europe and the West. Officials hope that by embracing IoT technology it can be implemented in a way that provides people with access to clean and safe drinking water, cheaper and more efficient methods of growing crops - and to deliver humanitarian aid in areas devastated by natural disaster. What IoT will be primarily utilized for in Kigali is not yet known, but one thing that is undeniable is that IoT represents the potential to change people's lives for the better.

Africa is unique in the fact that it has the opportunity to almost construct and shape 'smart cities' and new infrastructure from scratch, unlike many Western countries. In the West many businesses and governments face challenges with legacy IT infrastructures. Traditionally, African nations have been significantly hindered in a technological capacity by a glaring lack of sufficient infrastructure, which ultimately resulted in big investment players staying away from the region. However, research from IDC forecasts that IoT spending in Africa and the Middle East will reach $7.8b in 2017.

Representatives of Inmarsat, Actility and those who've organized the technology conference entitled 'Transform Africa Summit' believe that the transformation of Rwanda's capital city into a new 'smart city' will serve as a benchmark to showcase the significant benefits of IoT to other cities in Africa.

The companies have deployed a LoRa-based wide-area network (LoRaWAN), designed to support millions of IoT devices in the city, home to more than 740,000 people. The network, which has been active since May 1, will run for a year initially. The hope is that it will provide the connectivity platform for a number of IoT applications in areas like health, education and utilities, and act as a blueprint for the rest of the continent.

Paul Gudonis, president at Inmarsat Enterprise, said that despite the hype surrounding the opportunity for IoT in Africa, the technology is still relatively untested.

He said: "Kigali is taking the lead with its smart city project, creating an IoT ecosystem where both private and government organizations can experiment with this technology in a vibrant and lively city. The project will therefore begin to take the potential of this exciting technology beyond futurist visions and into a real-world scenario and we look forward to seeing the creativity of Kigali's many entrepreneurs, students and businesses unleashed on the IoT network."

The project represents the potential to completely transform people's lives for the better and the program has been met with much excitement in Rwanda. The potential to transform was emphasized emphatically by executive director of Smart Africa, Dr. Hamadoun Toure.

He said: "The time is right. Africa is on the rise. African ingenuity has sometimes been restricted by the infrastructure available to us in the past, but now new possibilities are opening up as technology transforms how our cities operate. The Kigali project will expose a new generation of students, business leaders, and technologists to the potential of the IoT, and will create demand for innovative solutions to common urban issues in countries and cities all over Africa. Inmarsat and Actility have built the gateway to a smarter future for our cities."