Internet of Things (IoT)

Introduction 

The current generation is heavily reliant on devices such as phones, laptops, computers for their day to day activities. In this realm of devices exists the Internet of Things.

The diagram below shows the estimated overall world population and the connected devices by 2020.

Between 2003 and 2020, the estimated percentage growth in connected devices per person was at 650% and growing.

The exponential growth rate shows that this should be an area that requires exploration and better understanding as it has a direct effect on the future of Africa, and its people. What is necessary is that the Internet of Things is understood and as well its importance. 

Understanding Internet of Things

Internet of Things (IoT) is simply the network of interconnected things/devices which are embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity and necessary electronics that enables them to collect and exchange data making them responsive.

Internet of Things as a concept is essentially an architectural framework which allows integration and data exchange between the physical world and computer systems over existing network infrastructure.

There are multiple areas in which the internet of things can be applied. This article will introduce some of them.

Focus Areas

The goal behind the Internet of things is to have devices that self-report in real-time, improving efficiency and bringing important information to the surface more quickly than a system depending on human intervention.

Some of the focus areas that exist include:

• Smart Metering for Water

The primary benefit to consumers is to understand their consumption of water provided by utilities on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. This is achieved through Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) measured by meters.

What makes smart meters smart is the ability to collect the data points required for consumption and transmit them, and provide this data directly to the consumers. The direct benefit is that consumers will receive an accurate bill against their true consumption. An incidental benefit is that they (consumers) will be able to determine their patterns in consumption and appropriately plan their finances according to how much water they consume.

For companies or entities who provide water as a service to consumers, they will also benefit from accurate data about how much water is produced against water supplied to the customers. This is essential because it solves the problem of Non Revenue Water which is calculated by determining the revenue of the water produced less the water billed to consumers.

• Smart Metering for Energy 

Similar to metering for water, the primary benefit to consumers is to determine their true consumption of energy through accurate measurements collected periodically. 

This solution allows customers to pay what they owe at the end of every month determined by accurate data and not estimated use. This also enables consumers to be more responsible in their consumption at home.

At the company or entity level, smart metering for energy will enable them to determine both the electricity fed into the grid, and electricity consumed from the grid. The network of smart meters will also allow them to receive data for information, monitoring and control purposes. 

Consequently, final customers can get as a minimum accurate and regular measurements of their energy use, and get billed on electricity they actually use. This puts an end to incorrect bills, and back billing, which is a concern for both consumers and suppliers

• Smart Tracking of Assets

The objective is to allow individuals or entities to receive real-time transmissions from smart trackers attached to these assets. 

In areas like Fleet Management where this is applied, individuals or entities that own, and and manage multiple vehicles are able to receive real time data about these vehicles. The direct benefit is that it reduces theft of vehicles and extends to equipment carried by them.

Another benefit is that it can be used to improve the accuracy and efficiency of regular equipment maintenance by reporting on mechanical health and asset status based on usage metrics such as engine hours in near real time.

The application of Internet of Things also includes other areas such as Home Automation, Smart Farming, Automation of Industries among others.

Conclusion 

The smart meters market had approximately 4.61 million units shipped across the Middle East & Africa in 2020, and the number is estimated to reach 8.62 million units by 2026.

Furthermore, the increasing per capita consumption of electricity and water is pushing the need for smart meters. This shows that the influence of internet of things is growing rapidly in Africa.

Africa is ripe with opportunities in Internet of things.


Stephen Wamicha is a an Internet of Things (IoT) practitioner.
He has created the Community IoT in Africa on the HiA Network which Members can access here.

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