The recent news that Liquid Telecom has partnered with Sigfox Networks to to build and operate a nationwide Internet of Things (IoT) network should have received more prime time airplay than it deserved. The low cost, low energy consumption, long range IoT network will cover up to 85% of the Kenyan population. The introduction of a Sigfox “Low Power Wide Area Network” (LPWAN) is the first in the region, allowing users to use IoT technology wherever they are and positioning the country to apply cost-effective local solutions using IoT. This if you ask me, is a significant leapfrog opportunity for the country to show Africa and the world once more, who is the technology adoption leader.
The internet is full of articles of how the IoT adoption will be bigger than the mobile’s. The Internet is about to come out the screens we have used to interacting with, into the real world. The Internet is going to soon cease being virtual and become part of the world we live in. However, there has been little discussion of how the IoT will be adopted in Kenya.
Why “Low Power Wide Area Network” (LPWAN)?
The IoT will involve the connection of billions of sensors. These sensors will sense our surroundings, feed this data into computing systems that will most likely be in the cloud. I say most likely because IoT is bound to decentralize computing with what is known as fog computing. One of the shortcomings of the current mobile era is the high power consumption of mobile computing devices and networks. Their algorithms and architecture is optimized for speed and not power efficiency. If we were to embrace IoT and use the existing mobile networks, it would lead to sensors consuming a lot of power. This would limit applications, conditions and environments in which they can be deployed. With Low Power Wide Area Networks or LPWANs, the network is optimized for power efficiency and not speed. This means that IoT sensors that connect to LPWAN consumes much less power. To give an example, there now exist IoT sensors that can go for 10 years on a single battery charge thanks to their ability to use very low power in transmitting data. Industry estimates that there will be about 24 billion IoT devices on Earth by 2020. That’s approximately four devices for every human being on the planet.
The IoT Adoption Waves in Kenya?
The Liquid LPWAN presents an opportunity for Kenya to embrace the IoT. The question in everyone’s mind however is: What real life application for IoT is there in Kenya? Based on my prediction, there will be two adoption waves.
The IoT early adopters who make up the first wave, will be manufacturing and logistics companies who will have realized early enough the efficiencies the IoT will bring into their operations. For example, one of the biggest challenges faced by keg beer manufacturers is the loss of the aluminum kegs. It is estimated that over 15% of the kegs are lost and never return to the depot, with each keg costing about KES 30,000 to manufacture, they are losing money. With IoT sensors with GPS and tracking capabilities, the brewers can not only keep track of their kegs throughout the supply chain but also monitor the freshness of their contents.
Another low hanging fruit is in the logistics sector. App developers can come up with new applications that leverage IoT sensors and networks, for example, to track the delivery routes and frequency of various parcels and use this data to come up with better, more efficient routing, or efficiently track in real-time the movement of goods. Utility companies such as Kenya Power can add value to their customers by incorporating IoT smart meters that will enable consumers track power consumption in real-time and give them more control over their usage patterns.
The second wave of adoption will bring IoT into homes and personal spaces. This will see the rise in smart homes, embedded health devices and personal tracking systems. This is the wave that will cause an IoT adoption explosion whose outcome is mass adoption, massive drop in IoT device prices and unprecedented innovation around the IoT similar to what we witnessed in the mobile telephony adoption.
The benefits of the IoT adoption will be immense, consider the effect of connecting taxi cars to the internet via apps such as Uber, Taxify and Littlecab. This has had the effect of significantly lowering taxi fares and waiting times in ways we thought impossible just a few years back. This is just one example of how connecting previously unconnected everyday things to the Internet will change how we live and work.
IoT Security and Regulation
The IoT is coming, whether we are ready or not. However, lessons from the mobile telephony adoption wave can be adopted to avoid similar mistakes that arose during the mobile era. These mistakes in the IoT include:
1. Failure to secure user data in transit or in storage collected by the IoT sensors.
2. Failure to regulate the quality of both the IoT software and hardware components imported into the country.
3. Lack of public awareness on the good use of the IoT and best practices when using or interacting with the IoT.
4. Failure to ensure privacy of people or entities the IoT sensors collect data about whether deliberately collected or not.
The above can be remedied by putting in place laws and regulations on the IoT use in Kenya and creating public awareness early enough for the IoT users.