Communication giants MTN and Huawei have teamed up to bring narrowband-Internet of Things (NB-IoT) to Africa to “revolutionise” the connectivity drive across the continent.
MTN South Africa chief enterprise business officer Alpheus Mangale said NB-IoT was one of the best technologies for low-powered wide area networks, enabling wide and deep coverage, providing an extra 20 dB reach to access areas where signals had previously had difficulty penetrating.
Launching the new technology on the sidelines of the AfricaCom conference, in Cape Town, he explained that there were currently some 60-million cellular IoT connections in Africa. This is expected to grow seven-fold to 450-million devices connected across industries and enterprises by 2020.
“Mobile penetration in Africa has grown to 82.9%, and apps – most notably instant messaging and banking apps – continue to shape and influence how people transact and interact,” said MTN group technology and information systems executive Babak Fouladi.
Globally, the number of devices connected to an IoT platform was expected to jump from 400-million in 2015 to three-billion in 2020, added Huawei cloud core product line president Michael Ma, pointing to a world of “all things sensing, all things connected, all things intelligence.”
NB-IoT supported massive deployment, leveraging a capacity of 100 000 connected devices per single cell, and boasted a ten-year battery life, while its low cost, at $5 a module, using existing infrastructure, expected to break through the barriers of entry to market.
“The IoT service can seamlessly be deployed based on the expansive network infrastructure that MTN has rolled out across its operations in Africa and the Middle East,” Fouladi commented.
The company aims to deploy the technology, using a narrow band on refarmed 900 MHz spectrum, in South Africa, from next year, before expanding into Nigeria in 2018.
Following this, NB-IoT will expand across the rest of the 22 markets MTN operates in, targeting relevant applications, such as smart meters, smart parking, wildlife tracking, smart farms, smart fridges and smart homes.
The joint innovation already developed between the parties – smart fridges, water metering and a user-based insurance platform tracking driving trends – has already been piloted this year and demonstrated at AfricaCom.
The smart fridge, used in a township in Gauteng, detects activities and inventory through door, smoke and temperature sensors and cameras and has a siren alarm, panic button and a location-tracking device, besides others.
The on-board user-based insurance device collects driver information, generates scores based on driver behaviour and tracks a vehicle in real time.
The water meter, using NB-IoT technology, connects industrial type devices, with a pilot demonstration installed in Johannesburg providing real-time water metering activities and including big data analysis, flow analysis and consumption analysis.
MTN plans to engage water utilities in 2017 for potential partnerships to monitor South Africa’s scare water resources and plug leakages, Fouladi explained.
Mangale noted that the intention, overall, was to partner with application providers focused on the vertical industries to deliver managed services.
Huawei Consulting business and network VP Ian Mash believed NB-IoT would stimulate and accelerate digitalisation.
Speaking during the keynote presentations at AfricaCom, he pointed out that the whole value chain of business was changing, with IoT presenting a $2-trillion revenue opportunity.
Business is turning into a digital world, with the digital journey comprising real-time, on-demand, all-online, do-it-yourself and social applications.
“It is about everything being online, [and] it is about the customer [being able to access] self-service,” he said.