Africa is not ready for Smart Cities – NEC executive

As global technology giants ready themselves to start building smart cities on the back of 5G technology and Cloud computing, Africa has been written off the list of places ready for the new technology revolution.

Vice President for Sale in Africa at Japanese technology company NEC, Chad Baker has said in an exclusive interview at the ongoing Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that “smart cities is not relevant for Africa now.”

He cited, in the main, infrastructural, regulatory, attitudinal hurdles that the continent has to deal with to get ready for start cities, saying that, it will take not less than five years for any African economy to be ready for smart cities.

Baker said even in the more matured African economies, where smart cities could be relevant, it is still very tough to initiate a revolution like that in those countries.

According to him, even though smart cities is a requirement to keep Africa part of the global community that would be connected to the Internet of things via Cloud services, it will take huge investments by both African governments and private sector.
“Currently, Africa has unique challenges that modern technology can help to address quickly in order to position it for smart cities and these include security and power among other,” he said.

Focus now

With regards to power, most African countries depend on nature as their source of power generation – hydro, wind and solar in the main, and that means telecoms operators and businesses that consume a lot of power are at risk when nature fails.

Chad Baker said NEC support, in the area of power, therefore comes in the form of high performing and efficiency back up batteries to support businesses to keep running when the national grid fails.

“Power is everything – without reliable power technology is of no relevance to societies,” he said.

He said Japan offers a lot of grants that enables its NEC experts to take up jobs in African countries in the area of security and cyber security.

“We provide solutions in the area of intimate cameras, cyber security and facial recognition – so for countries like Mali, Nigeria, Kenya and others where terrorist groups exist our facial recognition system helps to easily detect and arrest them,” he said.

NEC facial recognition systems, he said, give feedback within nano seconds and therefore make the detection of wanted characters really fast before they could get away.

Currently NEC security solutions are in Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, with footprints in seven other countries, including Ghana.

“There is a big drive in the West African market – we have spoken to Ghana about bringing in some of our border security solutions and we are working on expanding our presence in Ghana,” he said.

Chad Baker said NEC also builds data centers for telecoms operators across Africa and other parts of the world. NEC says it builds data centers with varied technologies such as microwave and LTE (small cell) and also provides security solutions for data centers in Africa.

“Beyond the macro technologies, we also provide micro technology solutions, which is particularly important for densely populated African countries like Nigeria and South Africa, where the macro solutions don’t guarantee good service quality,” he said.

He also explained that NEC solutions help telecoms operators in Africa to detect what is wrong with their existing data centers and helps them to fix the challenges to optimize performance, instead of spending more money to build more infrastructure.

Chad Baker said NEC also has a solution for waste management, where waste bins are connected to the Internet and only give signals when they are full, so the collection trucks only go to bins that are full instead of just driving around and burning fuel to check.

“This is good for Africa but there is an attitudinal challenge about the adoption of waste bins that need to be fixed quickly so that some of these modern technologies could come on stream on the continent,” he said.

By Samuel Dowuona

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