The Internet of Things (IoT) is an over arching technological term representing a network of devices capable of collecting data, sharing data over the Internet and sourcing information for users with ease. Many IoT devices also resemble robots, able to assist in household chores and using sensors to monitor health, movement, visitors at the door and more. With IoT technology spreading far and wide, for continents such as Africa, embracing this new form of technology has the potential to offer new jobs and provide new solutions to issues such as water and power shortages.

There are a variety of predictions for the amount of Internet of Things devices (wirelessly connected devices) on Earth. For example, IHS market estimated 30.7 billion IoT devices for 2020, Gartner predicts 20.8 billion devices other than smartphones, tablets, and computers by 2020. $6 billion is anticipated to be invested into IoT solutions, such as app-connected devices, IoT security, device hardware, further development of new ideas and devices, and the integration of IoT into the homes of the public and businesses around the world.

While the West and Asia have been able to invest wealth into the development of IoT technology, more impoverished places have not been able to progress at the same rate. For example, as IoT is integrated into the technological landscape of many nations, continents like Africa may struggle to adapt to this due to the disparity in wealth and cultural difference in the type of jobs carried out by its citizens. With the 4th age of industry rearing its head, African people may fall victim to not having the funds available to participate in the IoT phenomenon to the same degree as wealthier regions. Unemployment could be a risk as less traditional, manual jobs will be required, but given the right skills and a financially viable approach to developing new IoT technology, Africa and other more impoverished regions could play a role in the advancement of IoT.

IoT could offer developing countries the opportunity to develop a low cost and sustainable approach to the technology. The creation of new jobs with a focus on sustainability could help the economy as well as the environment. Although if appropriately managed with an inclusive approach, the rich and poor of Africa could benefit from IoT, there is a risk that jobs may not be evenly distributed between all income brackets. Despite the enormous potential for IoT to offer economic empowerment to underprivileged communities if IoT education and employment remains biased towards the rich, inequality could increase.

Although there is potential for IoT deployment to be challenging in Africa, there are organisations that are actively seeking out a positive and efficient approach. For example, the WAZIUP project uses IoT and Big Data technology to enhance the working conditions in rural Sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa’s lack of infrastructure, expensive hardware, and limited technological background are all issues they experience surrounding the deployment of IoT. According to the WAIZUP project, the implementation of IoT solutions in rural locations needs to tackle four significant issues: “(a) Longer range for rural access, (b) Cost of hardware and services, (c) Limit dependancy to proprietary infrastructures and (d) Provide local interaction models”.

In rural Africa, GSM/GPRS and 3G/4G are very costly for IoT devices. Instead, short-range technologies like IEEE 802.15.4 can be used by administering multi-hop routing. Transmitted-receivers (wireless communications devices) consume an enormous amount of power in a radio node, and as long-distance transmission needs immense power multi-hop routing could be a more energy efficient option than single-hop routing.

There are active startups like Illuminum Greenhouse in Kenya that focus on IoT solutions for agriculture. The company’s greenhouses are powered by solar panels and sensors, which work together to create an optimal environment for growing crops. When the sensors detect that the crops need water (when the soil is dry), an automated watering system supplies the precise amount of water required. Illuminum Greenhouse builds cost-efficient greenhouses suitable for farmers of smalls areas of land. They also promote the local economy by only using locally available materials and solar-powered sensors. This particular startup exemplifies how relatively affordable and straightforward IoT systems can improve the living conditions of underprivileged African people who would otherwise struggle to make money and survive.  

With IoT technology spreading far and wide, for continents such as Africa, embracing this new form of technology has the potential to offer new jobs and provide new solutions to issues such as water and power shortages. With a humanitarian approach, the deployment of IoT in Africa could be enormously positive; with companies like Illuminum Greenhouse and their consideration for rural land workers and impoverished regions, IoT could boost the economy and aid sustainability. With globalisation and access to the internet increasing in Africa, more people can learn about IoT and how to apply it in their communities. Of course, not every region in Africa has much in the way of internet connectivity, but the poorest country in Africa, Nigeria, had 98,391,456 Internet users as of December 2017 (50.2% of the population) while In 2013 only 33% of Nigerians used the Internet. Although there is a long way to go, as internet usage steadily rises, more opportunities become available for the people of Africa.