Globally, spending on smart cities is expected to top $34-billion by the end of 2020.
And, even though the likes of Zurich, Oslo, Bergen, and Amsterdam are leading the charge when it comes to pushing the global smart city agenda, more African countries will start embracing the concept as technology becomes accessible and affordable.
Already, many governments on the continent are using technology to improve service delivery and enhance the lives of their citizens. But it will be a mistake to compare what is being done in Africa with the rest of the world. Being considered smart means different things in different regions.
“But irrespective of how cities apply their thinking to rolling out smart solutions, there must be a foundation built around fast and reliable connectivity. Without this, not much can be done to truly digitally transform a city,” says Andries Janse Van Rensburg, Ruckus channel manager at Weston-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa.
WiFi for all
This is where the deployment of public WiFi becomes a critical building block. Not only will people be able to access the internet from anywhere in the city, but it paves the way for smart applications delivered through the Internet of Things (IoT).
This sees more devices being able to connect to city management systems. Think everything from smart lighting to smart robots, and smart parking systems. Think linking security cameras to the closest emergency response teams alleviating pressure on the central control room. All this is made possible by a humble WiFi service.
“Of course, this does not mean WiFi in the traditional sense. Old technology is simply not going to be good enough. Smart city applications require a wireless network that can deal with challengers such as complex meshing in outdoor environments, delivering reliable throughput irrespective of physical location or traffic experienced on the system, and being able to adapt to scalability as required,” adds Janse Van Rensburg.
Accessibility must therefore become a priority. If logging on (from a citizen perspective) is cumbersome, people will not use it. Similarly, if the authentication between the wireless network and IoT-enabled devices is not managed properly, none of the systems will be able to work as required.
“This is where relying on experienced partners such as Ruckus Wireless can be the difference between enabling a smart city and creating a white elephant that is unusable. Ruckus is able to make onboarding millions of connected devices a simple, seamless, and secure experience,” says Janse Van Rensburg.
WiFi is therefore the cornerstone in bridging the digital divide. With more than 30% of the global population without internet access, being part of the digital economy is an experience lost for millions of people.
“In Africa, with its spirit of entrepreneurship, WiFi empowers people to market their services in communities, engage with potential customers, and find out how they compare to others anywhere in the world.
“A wireless network spread across the city can do much to stimulate economic growth. In countries like South Africa where mobile data is expensive, a freely available WiFi platform means people can become part of the digital revolution. From learners researching projects to people streaming music, and government delivering telemedicine and e-learning not to mention citizen-specific services, WiFi will be the way of the future on the African smart city roadmap,” concludes Janse Van Rensburg.