Nigeria has enough bandwidth to cater for the Internet of Things – IoT Africa Networks Ltd CEO
Lare Ayoola, CEO of IoT Africa Networks Ltd in this interview with BusinessDay’s Frank Eleanya speaks on the prospects of the Internet of Things for the Nigerian economy. He says IoT has the potential to transform every industry and cut down on waste of resources. He also explains the recent partnership between IoT Africa and Sigfox, a global IoT company that provides one of the lowest bandwidth IoT networks.
What is IoT to the average person?
IoT means the Internet of Things. However, that does not mean much to most people. We have the internet and we have devices, so IoT is an ecosystem that allows sensors, things in your environment to speak to the internet and tell you about what is happening in that environment. It Devices could be a temperature monitor that could speak to you through the internet and you will be able to read that information on your phone, on your monitor or your laptop and get that information and act upon it. Therefore, what we are talking about are sensory devices that measure temperature, pressure, location, vibration, movement, humidity, pH level in the soil, door open and closed, fire or no fire. The sensors measure that and communicate wirelessly using radio signals to a base station. The base station talks to the cloud which cloud, which in turn talks to the platform and the platform talks to your phone or your laptop and gives you the information. The Internet of things is many things.
Do you think Nigeria is ready for the Internet of Things?
Nigeria is very ready for IoT. One of the major components of IoT is the internet which internet, which is available in almost all parts of Nigeria. IoT does not use much bandwidth, it uses very little bandwidth, especially Sigfox Technology. It is an ultra-narrow band sending data packets of less than 12 bytes. Therefore, it is a very tiny bit of information and using a very tiny bit of bandwidth. Nigeria has enough bandwidth to cater for IoT more than any other requirement. I think the government has done its job; it has enabled the telecoms industry and telecoms private companies to be established by law. The telecoms companies have provided internet and made it available to everybody at an affordable rate. Virtually everybody from the highest to the lowest has access to the internet in Nigeria now.
The second thing that the government did was by enabling telecoms, over 30 million Nigerians use smartphones. That is the last figure I saw and I am sure it is rising every day because smartphones are getting cheaper. Because people use smartphones, it means they have a device through they can see what is going on in their home. – I don’t mean video because Sigfox IoT doesn’t enable that – but they can if their doors are open or closed or if there is a fire, breaking into their homes, their shops, if their car is moving away from where it is, etc. The internet we have now being provided has enabled the use of smartphones to bring about IoT.
Of course, there is a software that software goes with it. But Sigfox who is our partner provides that technology and also there are hundreds of other Sigfox partners across the world who spend time developing software, devices and so on.
Tell us more about the partnership between IoT Africa and Sigfox, and the impact it is going to have on the Nigerian economy?
IoT Africa is the exclusive partner of Sigfox France in Nigeria. This means that we will build the low power wide area network, and we will allow connectivity of Sigfox compliant devices to connect on the network. The relationship is one of over 65 relationships in the world. Over 65 countries today have Sigfox technology running in their IoT. Nigeria is one of the 65 countries. IoT Africa is the Sigfox operator for Nigeria.
Our responsibility is to build the network, operate, maintain, support and build the channel partners who will sell connectivity to the network. Our job also – for now until our channel partners take over – is to provide sufficient devices and solutions, software platforms, dashboards and other components of the IoT ecosystem to be able to supply the customers with a complete solution. Our job is also to provide our partners with technical support, marketing training and marketing support and ensure customer service is first class.
What should the industry expect with Sigfox?
With IoT Africa as a Sigfox operator in Nigeria, I think the Nigerian economy should expect a substantial boost. The provision of IoT services and solutions in Nigeria enables improved productivity, minimizes waste, maximizes loss prevention, makes decision making much faster by providing a massive amount of data that can be analyzed and presented for decision-makers. For instance, the insurance industry will benefit tremendously because the industry will no longer receive information about a house or factory that has burnt down. However, as the fire is starting the insurance company will know that the fire is starting. It will also help the work of the fire brigade and the police. The IoT will provide very quick information about very many things and enable very quick decision making to make sure that loss is prevented. You can put sensors on breaches and tall buildings so that when the columns are starting to fail, there will be a contraction or an expansion which will tell the engineers that something out of the ordinary is happening to this load-bearing column and somebody should look at it. Therefore, the incident of a building collapsing can almost be almost totally eradicated at least to the extent you will be able to get every occupant out of that building on time, so there will be no loss of lives.
When you look at what IoT can do to the economy as a whole, like in the health sector where most of us have elderly relatives in the hometowns and we are not there with them. Hence, most of us have no idea how well our fathers or mothers are doing; whether they have fallen down and need help; or have a weak pulse or it seems too fast. So many things you have no idea about our elderly relatives in the village. We also – to a large extent – have no idea where our children are. With IoT, you can know where your children are at every point in time, how well they are doing; how well the elderly people are in the village. They can wear a simple device on their wrist, which reads his basic body information such as temperature, pulse, and others can be taken. IoT will help the health sector, the agricultural sector, the industrial sector, the banking industry, and the insurance industry. One of the challenges that many companies face is the theft of their goods. IoT coming into Nigeria will cause a dramatic change for the better in every aspect of life. Even the least paid worker in Nigeria would be able to install a home security device in his or her house and be able to monitor what is going on in their home from their smartphone.
What is the value of the IoT market?
My estimates of the value of the market are, within the next five years, probably about $1 billion. Worldwide, it is reported to be around $1 trillion. The market is huge.
What are the jobs that could be created from IoT in Nigeria?
It is a totally new industry; it is not replacing any industry. What that means is, for instance, there are 40 million homes in Nigeria out of which 100 percent do not have one smoke alarm; 100 percent of them do not have any intrusion detector, imagine how many technicians will be required to fit 40 million homes with safety and security devices. Let us look at offices where most are not measuring temperature, carbon dioxide, 99.9 percent do not have a fire alarm. Imagine how many people will be required to fit offices with fire alarms. It is dramatic.
Today, agriculture is not monitored by any means; there are no devices in the field to monitor moisture, PH level nitrate level, temperature, etc, these are the things that affect crops. If the temperature is too high, the crops will fail, the solution could be to sprinkle them a little bit more often with water. Many times, farmers are spending too much money on fertilizer. They put fertilizer when they think the soil needs, but the IoT devices will tell them which parts of the field require fertilizer. It will cut the use of fertilizer by as much as 50 percent and you will still get the same result as you are getting now with overuse of fertilizer. The overuse of fertilizer kills the soil because it has an impact on the microorganisms that are in the soil required for plans to even absorb the fertilizer in the first place. Helping reduce the overuse of fertilizers, you create many jobs; somebody has to sell to the market, somebody has to install the device; somebody has to maintain, etc. massive job creation from this and we are talking about a country of 196 million people according to PwC. That is many people to serve. Every industry that can help create employment should be encouraged.
How do you address the local content side of the Sigfox technology?
Local content is something that we take seriously because we are acutely aware of the regulations concerning it. I know that NITDA has come up with policies relating to local content; also coming from the oil industry, I am well aware of the local content laws. What are our strategies to keep within the guidelines and surpass them?
First, all we are bringing is network technology and device technology. There is a huge labor force there will be involved in the selling, installing, supporting and carrying out warranty management. Sigfox has a developer kit and it encourages developers to use their technology to develop software that facilitates IoT. The data received has to be analyzed and presented in the right form for people to be able to understand. Somebody has to write the software to do that, somebody has to do the data analytics. What Sigfox does is it encourages by providing software developers with all the tools that they need to develop software applications to work on the Sigfox platform.
Sigfox also encourages device manufacturers to design their own devices that are compliant with Sigfox technology. IoT Africa’s job as the Sigfox operator of Nigeria is to liaise with the universities, the innovation hub and share with them sufficient information to help them identify opportunities and become Sigfox partners. A device partner is either a device manufacturer or software developer that produces a device or software that facilitates IoT using Sigfox technology. Sigfox is no longer a closed technology. It is an open technology, which means that thousands of software developers in Nigeria will spring up and focus on participating in this IoT revolution. Thousands of electronic engineers, computer scientists, mechanical engineers and agricultural engineers and so on will spring up and start using Sigfox technology.
What criteria qualifies one as a channel partner?
I think that the most important qualification is to have the right attitude and to be interested in satisfying the customer. We can train you to do the rest. We can train you to be a developer. We can train you to be a device inventor and an installer and support. One of the things that are difficult to train is attitude, which is why it is number one on our list.