Defining the digital future
Over the past few months, we’ve seen the world transform. It’s clear that cities will be affected in the long-term, which is why it’s critical to reflect on how emerging technologies can shape the future.
The emergence of 5G networks and boundless broadband deployment has the potential to change the way cities define their digital future. The promise of mobile gigabit connectivity, low latency and unprecedented device density offers new and exciting developments that affect every aspect of public life, from intelligent transportation to public safety and waste management. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is shining additional light on the need for greater connectivity speeds and broadband access, that not only allows organisations to drive business continuity, but to also bridge the digital divide and enhance a country’s digital infrastructure.
According to a report produced by the GMSA titled “5G in Sub-Saharan Africa: laying the foundations”, 5G will pay a pivotal role in shaping the digital landscape of the region, however mass adoption is not imminent due to the cost of the infrastructure that needs to be developed. Nonetheless, the report goes on to document how the positive impact of 5G is acknowledged in the region, however the implementation will be lagged, and most respondents alluded to wanting it to be tested in other regions, before adopting the technology, allowing for economies of scale for equipment and devices to drive the costs down. South Africa is leading the way in terms of implementation with 5G available in major cities through an increasing number of operators.
Over the past few months, the global pandemic has further impacted the perceived value of 5G in Sub-Saharan Africa and has illuminated equity issues and opportunities to address them. Government leaders know that inequalities will continue to grow should they not solve the problem right now. As these governments look to rebuild their economies and invest in technology infrastructure, enhanced broadband deployment provides communities with an opportunity to close the digital divide by shrinking the gap between constituents who have access to high-speed connectivity and those who don’t.
Enhanced connectivity: will form the backbone of smart cities and a new era of tech innovations
African cities are in a good position to accelerate into Smart City stature due to the rapid urbanisation their cities are experiencing, lessons learnt from other first world countries as well as the economic opportunity many African cities hold. In these environments, enhanced connectivity forms the backbone for smart city communications and applications, enabling networks to carry the real-time information that makes cities ‘smart.’ These connections between almost every type of smart device, appliance or machine, will allow cities to reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, manage waste disposal, conserve energy and optimise the efficiency of utilities.
Emerging 5G capabilities will even facilitate communications between smart, and eventually driverless, cars that will connect to the larger smart city network. With 5G networks touted as having latency rates of under a milli-second, near-instantaneous delivery of information will support rapid responsiveness needed by autonomous vehicles when confronting an imminent danger like a pedestrian. Today, service providers are introducing software that incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technology, which can be as smart and dynamic as the smart cities themselves. New software innovations can analyse data patterns and identify anomalies, spikes of traffic or congestion and instruct the city’s traffic control systems to take appropriate action.
The impending 5G transition, with significant advances in bandwidth and improved latency and quality of service (QoS), will enable a new wave of services including enhanced mobile broadband, connected cars, drones, smart retail, industrial robots, and much more. This new era of 5G networks will see not only technology innovations, but also business model innovations that result in intelligent devices and applications consuming and generating data like never before. Imagine the future - what used to be possible only in science fiction movies – flying drones, driverless cars and planes, machine-to-machine interactions, seamless communication around the globe – is fast becoming a reality.
Looking ahead: this is a transformation journey, not an overnight upgrade.
As cities and countries across Africa look to capitalise on the benefits of enhanced connectivity through broadband deployment, their journey may include obstacles. 5G is not simply an evolution of 4G - it requires massive transformation, demanding new distributed architectures using software-defined infrastructure.
When government invests in this new software-defined world, it is imperative to remember that it’s constructed upon common building blocks of compute, storage and networking. For example, 5G requires multiple ecosystems driven by use cases and end-user experiences, a highly distributed infrastructure and workload agility in a cloud native environment. Establishing this baseline on open, interoperable standards will set governments up for innovation and flexibility as they continue on their connectivity journeys.
As we leverage enhanced connectivity to enable new use cases as part of wider smart city initiatives, networks must be equipped to deal with the extensive usage variations associated with everyday life in a major city. As bandwidth use shifts with traffic patterns, day-and-night cycles and major city events, IT leaders need to focus on how these stressors are affecting networks.
We cannot accept the status quo when we’ve seen what technology and data can do when needed most. As populations grow, government services must be effective, efficient and equitable. Moving forward, remember that this transformation is a gradual architectural evolution, and an opportunity for communities and governments to close the connectivity divide to bring to fruition the next wave of technology led, human progress.