During a water crisis, readily available technology, such as the Internet of Things, enabled through WiFi, can be used to apply water management systems throughout a city, including monitoring use, pinpointing leaks and curbing excessive use, says wireless solutions provider Ruckus.
“Investing in WiFi as the backbone radio infrastructure can directly provide a solution for water management through sensor technology,” says Ruckus Europe, Middle East and Africa VP Nick Watson.
He suggests that government and businesses should allocate a budget to WiFi infrastructure, which could, for instance, contribute to water-starved Cape Town becoming a smart city, assist with crop management and traffic management, as well as provide a high-speed, accessible network for public use.
However, high data rates may limit businesses from investing in WiFi infrastructure. “Mobile data rates are quite prohibitive. Most people can afford the handsets, but they simply can not afford the connection,” says Watson.
Watson discussed connectivity and smart cities at the AfricaCom Conference held last month at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. He also addressed the dangers of a divided society should high data rates continue – which is problematic, especially in unequal South Africa – when he addressed how WiFi can improve a city’s operations.
Another function WiFi could serve is providing a platform for parking management systems, with Watson noting how much worse the traffic was this year, compared with his visit last year. These systems can integrate with the Google Maps application on phones to indicate available parking space, which can mitigate people driving around looking for parking space, reducing congestion, saving fuel and lowering pollution.
Watson notes that WiFi can also be used in a manufacturing environment to reduce downtime in production plants using video capturing to enable users to remotely see where equipment has malfunctioned and, subsequently, order spare parts.
Further, cold-storage operations can benefit from using WiFi in that incoming produce can be monitored, as well as the temperature at which it should be kept throughout its journey, which prevents food waste.
Watson says this kind of investment in WiFi infrastructure is more likely through public–private partnerships, owing to lack of government funding, and that more people are connected through private investment, which means more people are being exposed to companies’ advertising online.
“It is not a case of convincing businesses of the benefits – because people generally know the capabilities of having a WiFi network – it is rather a case of encouraging businesses to reach out and ask for assistance.”
For example, Watson mentions that social media corporation Facebook has subsidised a network called Express WiFi, offering a network to access affordable and high-speed public Internet, across different locations in Nigeria. “. . . the Western Cape could be making this happen by reaching out to investors,” he adds.
Several service providers are assessing the ways through which they can provide fixed broadband connectivity and wireless connectivity at an affordable price, and what kind of business models there are in terms of funding – through advertising or other means.
Moreover, he points out that large WiFi networks are becoming more prominent in Johannesburg, where shopping malls are having location-based services installed and WiFi is being provided by mall operators and tenants, especially because brands want to access information about shoppers’ habits.
“We are in the early stages of WiFi being deployed across South Africa and I see no reason why this will not take off in the Western Cape in the near future,” Watson concludes.