Over half a billion Africans will take mobile phone subscriptions in the next five years, says the GSMA – no wonder, then, that Africa is known for innovation in mobile payments, but tech innovation on the continent doesn’t stop there:
1. building infrastructure
Infrastructure is essential if Africa is going to access the opportunities of digital transformation. Internet Society's chief economist, Michael Kende, warns: “The lack of locally hosted content can have significant impacts on the entire Internet ecosystem in a country.”
Africa needs its own data centers. “Done right, the evolution and expansion of data centers will enable the globalization of the African continent,” said Aurecon’s Peter Greaves. It is already happening: Nigerian network solutions provider, MainOne, opened the largest West African Tier-III data center earlier this year.
“The increasing demand for data centers in Africa will lead to an inspiring, large scale build of data centers and usher in a digital revolution in Africa,” said Greaves. With support from Aurecon and MainOne, that revolution may be Africanized.
2. boosting bandwidth
Millions of Africans use smartphones but not every community has Internet access: fixed line telephony historically didn’t cover the entire continent and even mobile infrastructure remains limited (3G isn’t everywhere). African provider, Yahsat, provides affordable satellite broadband Internet access, but it may be that white space technology will save the day.
In a first for Africa, Microsoft and Spectra Wireless have launched Africa’s first commercial Internet service network using TV white spaces in Ghana following a pilot scheme in 2014. The service, which you can secure for a day or more, is currently aimed at students and educational institutions and should help boost business and learning in the country. It is also a poster child for white space infrastructure deployments across the planet.
3. detecting counterfeit drugs
Over 100,000 African deaths per year are linked to counterfeit drugs, claims the World Health Organization. These fakes kill – in 2008 over 80 children died after swallowing cough syrup cut with antifreeze. Nigeria’s fake drugs problem is so extensive that neighboring countries, Ghana and Sierra Leone have both banned drugs sourced from there.
To address the problem, Merck and local distributor BIOFEM Pharmaceuticals used data analytics and an authentication system provided by Sproxil. Nigerian drugs consumers are encouraged to verify their purchase using a serial number on the packaging and text – send the number to learn if the drugs are genuine. In three months 25 million customers used this service, and sales of genuine medication climbed 10%.
4. creating delivery networks
A growing middle class and mobile broadband penetration (at least in major conurbations) has driven a boom in ecommerce – with only one hiccup: delivery.
A couple of interesting African start-ups are attempting to address this. Nigeria’s Delivery Science uses data analytics to help African ecommerce firms improve delivery efficiency. The company aims to manage the logistics of delivery from the warehouse to the customer, and is pioneering use of SMS verification codes to ensure the right person takes delivery.
In Kenya, Sendy is a motorbike delivery service that operates on similar principles to Uber, enabling customers to track exactly where the deliver is using your smartphone. Given the level of congestion in the biggest African cities bike-based delivery service makes sense, while the ability to track packages in real time should improve customer experiences. Delivery services are essential to African ecommerce, even the Orange-supported Mewanko Farm (which lets small farmers sell direct to the public online) needs delivery.
5. instant connectivity
Kenya is the birthplace of BRCK, a rugged, portable Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) hotspot and battery extender built for tough places. Dust, drop and weather resistant you can charge the device worry free with almost anything – a car battery, solar panel or your Mac, for example.
Pop a 3G SIM inside and it shares your connection with up to 20 devices as a wireless network. No SIM card? Use BRCK’s built in vMNO, There is also an external GSM antenna and 10/100Mbps WAN/LAN port. There’s lots more interesting features, including an API and 4GB of built-in space (upgradeable) and remote management software.
One reason the project secured $1.2 million in seed funding was this solutions potential to bring Internet access to parts of the world where even power supply is a problem. It’s a perfect example of African ingenuity solving African problems.
Jon Evans is highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men’s interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.