When Tim Berners Lee started the ARPANET revolution that would later evolve into the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1991, he probably didn’t know just how disruptive his brain child would be. In a little over 2 decades, the internet has fundamentally redefined everything “re-definable” and its effect is that of a game changer for business, government and every other sector that matters.

The latest digital thrust is the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT) or Internet of Everything (IoE) which goes beyond connecting computers to actually connecting things; from household utensils, stationeries, and pretty much everything else that can be touched and felt, to the information grid, the idea being to ensure continuous and seamless interactions between humans and objects.

Africa has been a huge breeding ground for the internet as reports indicate that 297.9 million internet users (so-called “Netizens”) existed on the continent as at 2014, with Nigeria leading the continental internet party with about 75 million users. Thus, hopes are high that Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, would also lead the IoT revolution in the region.

The IoT hasn’t been fully conceptualized yet, so it is, more or less, still a vision, albeit a compelling one. Major consultancies around the world have sized up the potential opportunities embedded within this phenomenon and predict that the technology could see compound annual growth rates (CAGR) of at least 30 percent over the next half decade.

“IoE Creates $14.4 Trillion of Value at Stake for Companies and Industries. Cisco predicts that the IoE Value at Stake will be $14.4 trillion for companies and industries worldwide in the next decade. More specifically, over the next 10 years, the Value at Stake represents an opportunity to increase global corporate profits by about 21 percent,” a Cisco report reads.

Needless to say, this advancement is worth much more than the internet itself, and the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group has attempted to quantify this thinking by forecasting that 25 billion “things” will be connected to the internet by 2015 and the figure will grow to 50 billion by 2020.

“Looking to the future, Cisco IBSG predicts there will be 25 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2015 and 50 billion by 2020. It is important to note that these estimates do not take into account rapid advances in Internet or device technology; the numbers presented are based on what is known to be true today,” another Cisco report states.

The world that results from this revolution is painted by the words of Kevin Ashton, who has been credited with coining the phrase “Internet of Things” way back in 1999; “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things, using data they gathered without any help from us, we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.”

Cisco is not the only telecoms vendor saying great things about the IoT revolution. Swedish multinational, Ericcson, had the following to say in a report dubbed “More than 50 Billion Connected Devices.”

“The vision of more than 50 billion connected devices will see profound changes in the way people, businesses and society interact. With ubiquitous mobile broadband-enabled internet access, connectivity and networking are becoming completely independent of location. Combined with falling prices for communication modules, connectivity services and embedded computing, the drivers for new services and functionality – broadband ubiquity, cost of connectivity, and openness and simplicity – will lead to more efficient business models and improved lifestyle for individuals and society. We are already heading full-speed towards connectivity for everyone. In 2010, more than twice as many connected devices as subscribers were added to carrier networks in the U.S market.”

Beyond the social and efficiency dimensions, there are significant economic implications as well. At the Cisco Connect 2014 in South Africa, figures emerged suggesting that the globe could realize about $19 trillion through the application of IoE, while some $500 billion can be realized by Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and other sub-Saharan African countries in another decade.

The reality when it comes to implementation in Nigeria, however, is that there are significant gaps that will impede the spread of this technology. Ubiquitous connectivity is a critical enabler of this technology and many African countries fall short of this.

According to Ian Kennedy of the Cisco Systems Engineering division, “the Internet is still an elitist technology,” because a huge chunk of the inhabitants were still not connected. Nigeria has four broadband cables with total bandwidth potential of 11 terabytes but distribution is still a challenge, and this definitely short-circuits the potentials of the IoT.

Supporting infrastructure like power must also be in place. South Africa currently has enough power to drive the technology but Nigeria has to step up its power generation profile to facilitate this upgrade. Service quality from telecoms operators is another critical enabler, and the country has to do better in this regard by investing in better infrastructure and generally alleviating the bureaucracies in the sector.

Lastly, existing manpower will need to be retooled, re-skilled and empowered to leverage the new opportunities that will become available with the IoT as well as deal with the challenges that will come with it.

By Emmanuel Iruobe

Elsewhere on Ventures

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