For this column, I am going to dive into how developing countries are building out their infrastructures to support IoT (Internet of Things) applications. There are many opportunities and challenges of adopting IoT solutions in the developing world. Since this is a pretty big discussion I won’t be able to cover it in one blog, so look for the next several blogs to address specific issues facing developing nations and how specific IoT solutions are making a difference.
There is no question that here in the United States, we talk a lot about our crumbling infrastructure and how it is affecting public safety, innovation, and progress in areas like smart cities, and the economy.
In 2017, we’ve been covering infrastructure frequently here on The Peggy Smedley Show and in Connected World and Constructech magazines, because my team and I believe that a healthy infrastructure is key to the future of the United States’ economic success. Even though we’re usually focused on our own soil, this also goes for every other nation on earth that wants to compete globally in the next several decades.
The Internet of Things impacts agriculture, energy, manufacturing, construction, and medicine. It can also impact citizens’ quality of life by enabling things like smart cities and smart transportation systems. It’s no different in developing nations.
The great IoT story we’ve been telling (and living) isn’t just relevant in the developed world; it’s relevant everywhere. In fact, the IoT’s potential is even more profound when you look at what the technology is able to help accomplish in developing countries.
In the United States, Europe, and elsewhere in the industrialized world, we’re talking mostly about finding ways to cut costs and increase efficiencies across supply chains and businesses. But in the non-industrialized world, we’re often talking about ways to leverage technology to make people’s lives safer, healthier, and yes, more connected—which can have a lot of implications for education and economic opportunity.
In other words, there’s a stronger focus on human wellbeing when you talk about the IoT in developing nations.
For instance, in the developing world, the IoT is driving improvements in healthcare and sanitation, water access and quality, agriculture, natural resource management, energy, and resiliency to climate change, to name just a few.
The IoT also has enormous potential in developing countries to drive social and economic advancement.
This is also true in the United States, it just seems like the potential for impact is greater in parts of the world where most citizens don’t have access to clean water, reliable electricity, or basic medical care, for instance.
Access to services that ensure basic quality of life and economic advancement opportunities are far from equal throughout the developed world, in general, the scope of these problems is not as big as it is in the developing world.
Governments, development organizations, businesses, and citizens in the emerging world are already incorporating the IoT and big data analysis to help alleviate some of the developing world’s most pressing problems.
However, most IoT discussions are still happening in the developed world. According to research from IDC (Intl. Data Corp.), the worldwide market for IoT solutions will grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020.
Currently, developed regions garner the majority of the IoT market, IDC says, representing approximately 90% of installed units. However, given the latent potential of developing markets, these areas of the world may end up contributing in a big way to the expected growth of global IoT.
Of course, just like here in the U.S., the IoT can’t develop to its potential if there’s no supporting infrastructure to support it. According to the ITU (Intl. Telecommunications Union), ensuring device connectivity and sufficient bandwidth for wireless sensors offers exciting big data opportunities, such as combining location information with status information to provide realtime data to first responders about evolving situations.
Such situations may involve civil unrest, natural disasters, or other types of incidents that tend to evolve quickly and that need attention from authorities.
Beyond emergency services and disaster preparedness, big-data techniques can also open up new opportunities for enhancing short and long-term decisionmaking for healthcare, education, and more.
IoT technologies have been used to monitor the movement of people in West Africa during an Ebola outbreak, which helped humanitarian organizations better understand, predict, and address the epidemic.
Solutions have been and are being tested in places like Nairobi and Cape Town, in which low-cost, solar-powered fire and smoke alarm sensors are placed in high-density urban areas, including slums.
These sensors detect fires quickly, send GPS (global positioning systems) data to responders, sound alarms, and send SMS communications to residents, since fires spread particularly quickly in environments like this.
The IoT can help measure urban air pollution in developing cities; water flow sensors can help warn locals and authorities about impending floods; and connected surveillance drones can help nations protect their natural resources, such as native endangered wildlife.
Developing nations face challenges, however, just like we do in the developed world. A lack of supporting infrastructure that offers reliability, scalability, and capacity at an affordable cost can hinder deployments.
A lack of standards, interoperability, and consistent privacy and security policies can also hold IoT adoption back. The ITU’s “harnessing the Internet of Things for global development” whitepaper makes some great suggestions for helping developing nations get to the next level of IoT.
Suggestions include creating a policy framework, promoting the development of standards that facilitate interoperability, and developing strategies to protect devices, systems, and users via privacy and security measures.
In future columns, I will get in more specifics about the types of IoT solutions developing nations are deploying now, and the types of IoT solutions that will likely benefit them in the future. So it’s no surprise that the IoT also has enormous potential in developing countries to drive social and economic transformation. And that’s what makes it so exciting to be reporting on the IoT.
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