Future Proofing Africa's Cities

Steve Apps is a Smart City and Industry 4.0 technology expert. He’s past CTO of Huawei Southern Africa for government services. He was also executive for ecosystems and solutions at SqwidNet, rolling out the SIGFOX IoT network across South Africa. We explore what will stop us from becoming smarter cities, financial models and how future cities can be funded, improving public/ private sector collaboration, current state of IoT in Africa, civilization engineering, role of Blockchain in Africa’s future, what Steve would change if he had a magic wand and his vision of future African cities.

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Key Takeaways

This episode is brought to you in partnership with Digital Council Africa

Steve’s definition of a Smart City in an African context

  • There are many definitions, most don’t hit the nail on the head because it’s mainly to fit a specific agenda.
  • For Steve, it is taking data/ information, processing it to get a wider better view of how the city is running.
  • Then using the data to make better strategic and immediate decisions to move forward and make better use of your assets.
  • Typical Smart Cities are seen as London, Singapore, New York where they all have strong infrastructure, reliable electricity, water, good housing, good education, and more.
  • In Africa without having stable, reliable electricity you cannot have a Smart Cities – Steve explains why and what to do.

Key barriers to South African municipalities achieving smart City status and what will stop us from becoming smart cities

  • Smart Cities are technically complex and require a lot of domain knowledge. Building these skills to design, build, and implement will be a big task for any municipality. Steve uses examples.
  • Financing in our current economic state, not a conducive environment for private/ external investors.
  • Municipalities must help the low-income sector to improve their lifestyle and provide better healthcare, roads, etc. that are usually not that profitable to investors.

Financial models and how municipalities can fund these smarter cities

  • PPP’s can be successful or cause you big problems, you need to be careful.
  • Caution not to be tied into a specific agenda or technology.
  • We are a long way from open smart city technologies.
  • Steve explains the pitfall of PPP’s, what to look out for, and how to make it work.
  • Look at the low hanging fruit, Steve uses an example of smarter street poles.

How do we improve private/public sector collaboration?

  • Private participation will only happen if it is profitable.
  • Provide opportunities where a profit can be made in important sectors/ areas.
  • Private companies will have to be prepared to take on non-profitable projects and see them as total profit over projects and not profit per project.
  • The time period for contracts should be looked at, often it is not long enough to provide an impact.

Current status of IoT in Africa in its role in smarter, future cities

  • Africa has an advantage, we are far more wireless and better set to use IoT (Internet of Things).
  • Steve uses examples of IoT applications in Africa.
  • SIGFOX, NB-IoT, Wi-Fi IoT, the potential of 5G – all play a part.
  • Using and visualizing the data is the most important part.
  • Africa needs sovereign data and makes sure it stays on the continent.
  • Steve tackles the challenge of making data more open.

Civilization Engineering

  • Working from the bottom-up instead of top-down.
  • Steve explains the current process of top-down, but now looking at citizens to collaborate and develop the solutions and applications the city needs.
  • Need both top-down and button-up to really make it work.
  • Steve uses an example from Brazil.

The role of Blockchain in Africa

  • Blockchain is a technology where one application of it is digital currencies.
  • Digital currencies will become far more prominent going forward.
  • In Africa Blockchain can be used for voting, tendering, making sure you are following processes.
  • The technology can be a bit slow.
  • Blockchain is here to stay.

1 thing Steve would change if he had a magic wand

  • Steve would change the allocation of frequency/ spectrum for various technologies.
  • For IoT, as an example, there are many limitations because the frequency is not available.
  • Asia and America have far better spread of their frequencies, so they can achieve more than Europe and Africa.

What African cities will look like in the future

  • The growth of cities in Africa will outstrip city growth globally.
  • Predicted that by 2100, 8 of the largest cities in the world will be in Africa with 50 million-plus in a city.
  • We will see a massive shift in how cities work.
  • We must now plan and think about how we will grow over the next 20+ years.
  • Polycentric cities.
  • Steve looked at why many major cities in South America that existed many years ago are simply gone: They ran out of food and water, could not sustain themselves.
  • How can we turn buildings into farms? Steve uses Nairobi as an example.
  • Building greenhouses in the Arctic?
  • Steve would like to see equality, the digital divide eliminated, and access to the services you require.
  • Stable electricity, clean decent water, land for agriculture and farming, and more.
  • Steve shares his view on rapid urbanization.

About Steve Apps

Eur Ing Stephen Apps CEng Pr.Eng MIET MSAIEE.
Backed by a strong, rich background in pioneering solutions research, Steve started his career in the Royal Air Force of England as a key engineer on military and public safety national-level systems. He worked with Eskom and Accenture as a Smart Grid Subject Matter expert before becoming an Exec at Sqwidnnet, rolling out SIGFOX IoT network across SA and finally at Huawei OpenLab tackling industry verticals at all layers from the device up to business dashboards and onto Chief Digital Transformation Officer & Chief Technology Officer-Government Services (Southern Africa).

See: LinkedIn

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