Africa's IoT network: Are we building it the wrong way?

Africa's IoT industry can learn from mistakes made in telecommunications infrastructure.

For most people in rural Africa, having access to cooking gas is an expensive dream. A dream that is being realised by the deployment of IoT by letting users pay daily, through mobile money, for LPG use through a smart meter affixed on the gas cylinder. Pioneering this innovation are companies such as PayGo Energy and M-Gas in Kenya and KopaGas in Tanzania.

Africa is beginning to see more use cases for the internet of things, not as the developed nations would, but for solving local problems. As more telecom companies upgrade their networks to handle 4G and 5G, the prospects of having a robust IoT sector holds more promise now than ever before.

With 600 million mobile subscribers expected by 2025, Africa will see a rise in what is termed as mobile IoT. Just as the telecommunications systems have grown over the last 20 years, IoT is set to become a major industry changer in the coming years.

But experts are warning that if not modelled properly, the IoT sector could face the same fate as the dwindling telecom tower business, where individual companies created their infrastructure only to be redundant and expensive.

Business models around IoT are being crystallised across the continent, even though the infrastructure for this is still wanting. It might seem like a problem, but it could be a clean canvas for nations to redraw and reimagine the deployment of IoT infrastructure, for a more efficient rollout.

So what are some of the lessons the IoT landscape can learn from other failed models of infrastructure development?

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