With network coverage now extended to 83% of the population, SqwidNet has facilitated the accelerated development and adoption of IoT-based services and solutions in SA

SqwidNet, the licensed Sigfox internet of things (IoT) network operator in SA, announced in March that it covers 83% of the country’s population with its network. With more than 90% coverage across municipal highways, and 75% across national highways, it is SA’s most pervasive IoT network that is purpose-built for and dedicated to IoT.

For Wave 1, which has focused on population coverage, the SqwidNet network has not just been limited to cities and metros. As SqwidNet acting CEO Phathizwe Malinga says: ‘We’re going to where people live and work.’ This means coverage includes rural areas. Malinga explains that the next wave of coverage will look to provide specific solutions. ‘Wave 2 is more customer-specific and is typically deployed to service requirements such as the monitoring and management of livestock and assets in a farm,’ he says.

The network, which will enable millions of physical devices to be connected to the digital world, is only one element of the IoT ecosystem that is delivered by SqwidNet. As the local Sigfox operator, SqwidNet fosters an open-access IoT ecosystem, which includes device manufacturers, cloud-based software platforms and system integrators that enable IoT to flourish in SA.

Perhaps the most important enabling initiative that SqwidNet has embarked on to drive innovation in the sector, is the recently launched entrepreneur-ship programme, (IoT)E – IoT to the power of E. This programme empowers local entrepreneurs who would like to develop their skills and knowledge to become established players in the IoT ecosystem nationally and internationally. SqwidNet intends to facilitate one (IoT)E programme every quarter – ultimately empowering 100 entrepreneurs in 2018. ‘The next wave of entrepreneurship and innovation for Africa must come from within the continent itself,’ says Malinga. ‘Over the years we have seen our continent’s engineers and entrepreneurs have great ideas, but they often lack the means and sometimes even the tools to convert these ideas into viable businesses. Our programme is designed to not only provide the necessary tools, but to also give guidance to enable these brilliant minds to take their products to market.’

Malinga adds that SqwidNet’s (IoT)E programme allows the company to attract individuals who are passionate about solving some of the country’s challenges through technology. ‘The entrepreneurs in attendance at our first workshop included individuals who simply had a good idea, but no mechanism or tools to translate the idea into a product. We are glad to report that we contributed to their knowledge and will continue to do so over the next few months.’

IoT enables data and analytics-driven business processes that are context-aware and predictive in nature. Through its various partner projects SqwidNet has already shown how IoT technology can provide specific solutions to SA business challenges. In one example, the customer wanted to be able to detect intrusion at the thousands of facilities that it owns, by optimising maintenance and associated service delivery. ‘Asset tracking – be it from a location perspective or associated asset usage – is a popular customer request, resulting in the deployment of solutions today that are able to track the location and quality of goods-in-transit,’ says Malinga. ‘Within the asset usage space, we have customers that have adopted solutions that enable them to track and monitor driver behaviour, which then ties back closely to their own asset management plan and associated service delivery.’

In another notable project, the customer wanted to ensure that they were operating responsibly by monitoring the air quality around a waste-management facility. The IoT technology enabled by SqwidNet’s network allowed the client to monitor for gases such as hydrogen sulphide and volatile organic compounds, and to ensure that the facility is able to proactively take action when these gas levels start to approach anywhere near the levels that could potentially impact the surrounding community.

‘Customer demand for the type of connectivity and associated devices that we enable has been unprecedented,’ says Malinga. ‘This demand comes from a wide variety of industry verticals, and this in turn has triggered further development in the IoT ecosystem that we participate in. IoT, and specifically digital transformation journeys that companies are embarking on, are expecting to realise tangible benefits, either through cost savings or revenue enhancement. We work closely with our partners and their customers to help realise these benefits.’

Since its launch in late 2016, SqwidNet has partnered with more than 30 ICT service providers, who are at various stages of deploying IoT solutions across a number of industry verticals. These partnerships will ensure that SA – and Africa, as SqwidNet expands coverage into the broader continent – reaps the benefits of inclusion, participation and improves the quality of life enabled by IoT technologies. This coverage also means that companies from industries such as security, agriculture, utilities, transport and logistics will not need to invest in their own network infrastructure to benefit from IoT. Malinga believes ‘they can leverage the SqwidNet ecosystem to deploy IoT solutions and benefit from the digital economy immediately’.

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