Total Telecom spoke to Clementine Fournier Regional Vice President for Africa at BICS, to find out how IoT technology is transforming life in Africa
How can businesses and operators harness the IoT to drive new revenue streams?
“With the suggestion that by 2020 there could be more than 20 billion connected devices in the world, there is no doubt that the IoT is big business. But, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit IoT Business Index 2017, businesses aren’t adopting the IoT as quickly as previously anticipated.
“In Africa, the potential of the IoT is huge. If harnessed correctly, it could play a role in accelerating the development of Africa’s economy – more so than in other markets – driving socio-economic growth, enabling businesses to leapfrog the lack of infrastructure and digitise their offerings.
“Benefits of the IoT include having everything in the cloud, instead of on physical infrastructure, which increases agility and improves cost efficiencies, and being able to manage applications remotely, instead of requiring on-site human presence. Throughout Africa a number of IoT projects are being launched around logistics, fleet management, transportation, mining and agriculture, but two examples to best illustrate the true potential of the IoT are:
Telemedicine (the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology): with cheaper wearables available, the IoT makes it possible for a doctor to carry out remote medical checks, and avoid long journeys to hard-to-reach villages.
Resource management: access to water is major challenge in many regions in Africa, making it a protected resource. By using IoT sensors, utility companies can detect abnormalities – such as major leakages – and trigger an intervention.
“For mobile operators, there is a clear opportunity to unlock new revenue streams. With a lack of fixed-line infrastructure in many places throughout the continent, it is only mobile network operators who can provide the connectivity required for these IoT projects and stand to benefit as a result.”
What are the barriers to IoT rollout in Africa?
“For businesses looking to rollout IoT, there are two barriers we’ve identified which may hinder success. The first one is a lack of readiness from mobile operators to provide actual M2M/IoT platforms to their enterprise customers. A regular SIM card is not enough to support IoT connectivity, and IoT projects usually have at least a few thousand SIMs, and sometimes even millions!
“Manual management is not an option when it comes to the IoT, as everything needs to be automated and integrated with the backend systems of enterprises. This means that extensive APIs are needed for the enterprise to integrate the connectivity into their business.
“In addition to this, when an enterprise launches an IoT project, it means it is providing extra connectivity services to its customers. The company therefore needs capabilities such as being able to bill its customers for connectivity, and being able to provide them with support.
“This is where M2M/IoT platforms bring can help operators. Today, such platforms can be completely cloud-based, minimising the technical effort required and the upfront cost, putting every operator in the region in a position to launch one.
“The second barrier is the lack of affordable roaming across the continent. Many IoT use-cases, such as logistics and transportation, require international connectivity, and without it, some IoT projects are not able to progress because of the unsustainable cost of mobile data.
“If the cost of mobile roaming in the region decreases, mobile operators will see the benefits through the acceleration of IoT market development. There are so many devices available to connect out there, by reducing the costs, we’ll be able to achieve the full potential of the IoT.”
How much of an impact is the rollout of LTE having on the continent? How can operators use LTE networks to better monetise data consumption?
“GSM networks are the main way internet is accessed in Africa, and since its rollout, LTE has been key to increasing the quality of services and customer experience, allowing new applications to be used, such as streaming, VoLTE, and RCS.
“Newly licensed mobile operators exclusively offer 4G to their customers. They’re positioned to provide Internet access only (similarly to an ISP), which is increasing pressure on other traditional MNOs.”
Tell us a little about the latest security and fraud trends, and how operators can adopt a collaborative approach to mitigate revenue loss.
“The monetary losses due to fraud, related to international traffic, remain high and continue to have a significant impact on telcos’ bottom lines. It is estimated that globally, operators lose US$17 billion to international voice fraud, which is a figure that needs addressing if they’re to see an impact on their revenues.
“Across the African continent, the most prevalent types of fraud are bypass (e.g. SIM boxes and CLI manipulation), missed call campaigns (aka Wangari), roaming fraud and PBX hacking. These interconnection fraud types are responsible for somewhere in the region of US$150 million each year, and SIM box fraud alone was culpable for around US$5.8 million of losses to Ghana alone.
“In order to be effective in stopping these frauds, the industry requires a collaborative, end-to-end approach, making sure that both the retail- and wholesale-sides of the business act and share information in a timely manner, so others can avoid similar attacks. A global network means telcos can amalgamate their knowledge and experience on fraud attacks happening in a given network at any time, to protect all other networks.
“BICS, a global carrier, has been promoting global collaboration for a long time now, driving wholesalers’ efforts in fighting international voice fraud. We chair the i3Forum Fraud Fight subgroup, which is successfully bringing together a number of tier-one wholesale carriers to create guidelines of best practices for the wider industry.
“When we talk about fraud, no operator is an island, and where international traffic has no boundaries and reaches most of the players in the industry, so unfortunately does fraud. Therefore, having an industry-wide, collaborative approach is an absolute must to prevent fraud and mitigate revenue loss for telcos around the globe, and Africa is no exception.”