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When the phrase “Internet of Things” was first used in 1999, no one knew it had the impact to be a revolutionary technology trend around the world. Sixteen years down the line, it hasn’t just become a household term among “netizens” but has caused a change to how people-people, people-things, and things-things communicate.
Wikipedia, defines the Internet of Things (IoT) as the inclusion of electronics and software in any device not usually considered computerized in nature, to enable it to achieve greater value and service by giving it an ability to network and communicate with other devices.
IoT can simply be defined as the connection of objects with an on and off switch to the Internet with the sole aim of providing users with smarter and more competent experiences independent of human interaction. These objects include but are not limited to devices like wearables, light bulbs, car and home appliances. Sounding like an impossible feat, Daniel Burrus shed more light on how this communication works.
“The Internet of Things revolves around increased machine-to-machine (M2M) communication; it’s built on cloud computing and networks of data-gathering sensors; it’s mobile, virtual, and instantaneous connection; and they say it’s going to make everything in our lives from streetlights to seaports “smart” He said.
In a continent like Africa where most people access the Internet from their mobile device, the practical applications of IoT solutions are endless. In South Africa, Smart meters have been installed to measure power utility usage in Johannesburg. Rwanda also uses SIM cards to connect Point of Sale terminals in remote areas enabling merchants to accept credit or debit card payments. In Nigeria, an Agricultural technology company is targeting farmers in need of tractor services.
The presence of IoT in industries like medical and health-care, transportation systems, amongst others,will greatly improve the way services in these industries are delivered. It will also open up new revenue streams, facilitate new business models and drive efficiency. The economic implication will also be massive across the world as figures that emerged from the 2014 Cisco Connect in South Africa suggested that the globe could realize about $19 trillion through the application of IoT, while some $500 billion can be realized by Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and other sub-Saharan African countries in another decade.
As a technology that is solely about connecting the unconnected, Africa’s internet penetration rate of over 27.5%, making it the least connected continent in the world is a major indication of the challenge IoT will have in making any impact in the continent. Challenges like Power and Service quality from telecoms operators amongst others threaten the future of IoT in Africa. South Africa presently has enough power to drive this technology but Nigeria and some other African countries have to upgrade their power sector to make this technology fully functional.
An upgrade of this will to a large extent enable the telecom operator provide better service quality to its subscribers than it is doing presently because the cost of acquiring and maintaining support infrastructure is on the high side.
Just as the internet did, the Internet of things has the possibility to change the world. Therefore, its time for Africa to consider implementing strategies to invest in stronger internet connectivity across the continent to leverage the new opportunities that will become available with the IoT as well as deal with the challenges that will come with it.
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