Africa’s virtual dreams become a reality with IoT

The global Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity technology provider, Sigfox, and its South African operator

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The global Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity technology provider, Sigfox, and its South African operator, SqwidNet, are on the fast track when it comes to driving national IoT adoption and digitally transforming the country’s economy
A wholly-owned subsidiary of Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), SqwidNet was born from a need for the company to effectively participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“As a telecoms company, they were looking into how they could innovate for and participate in the next big thing—Industry 4.0. SqwidNet was created with the intention of supporting IoT in South Africa and providing open access for the IOT market,” says the CEO, Phathizwe Malinga.

“While researching various technologies, SqwidNet discovered Sigfox, we really liked the platform and—the feeling was mutual. We won the exclusive licence to operate Sigfox for SA,” he adds.

Based on the Sigfox standard, SqwidNet offers its customers the ability to connect things through low-cost, low-power devices that monitor and respond to events in the environment. The network is highly pervasive and ultra-narrowband, allowing SqwidNet to create a platform that transmits and exchanges data between devices as well as with operators and users—all to make life easier, safer, more convenient, and more streamlined.

“We are now part of a global network that operates in 60 countries and covers over one billion people. In SA, we’re proud to cover over 90% of the population and we do that using over 1 000 base stations—ensuring that we can pick up messages regardless of where we are. Rural areas are especially important to us when it comes to IoT because of the number of things we plan to connect in SA in the future,” he says.

According to him, it all comes down to your ABCDs—applications, backend, connectivity and devices— and when you put them together, you have IoT.

“For our part, we provide the connectivity, but that’s just our day job. We are also part of a much bigger ecosystem, one that’s made up of the A, B and D companies. We ensure that there is a dedicated nationwide business grade IoT network to offer businesses a high-quality signal they can trust. We also bring the open access culture to IoT to ensure that they also have access to high-quality IoT components they can rely on.

“SqwidNet has also helped with water leakages in the Western Cape, offering a saving of up to 20% on installation for Western Cape customers. This technology is now also available on Takealot. In another instance, we have also brought better security to the stolen vehicle recovery industry, bringing in new technology that is anti-jamming. What also makes this technology special is the fact that it’s battery-powered, and this makes it difficult for the criminal to find the device as we are able to do a deep install,” he says.

Malinga is also proud of DFA bringing IoT to public safety with their manhole tampering solution. According to Herman Mashaba, there were 104 manhole-related deaths in 2017 alone.

“Those stats are worrying. With our manhole tampering solution, telecommunications companies and municipalities are able to detect tampering and theft, enabling them to mitigate the risk to citizens.

“Our ecosystem continues to amaze me. Every month, there are various new collaborations and they are producing awesome new IoT solutions. Just last month, we worked with Nerospec to develop a new-level tactical awareness gun tracker for security teams. The tracker records a host of useful data for the control rooms in which a security officer is located, and whether or not he’s fired his gun. The tracker also acts as a torch with a strobe function—providing officers with a non-lethal option. Then, there is also PoolSense—and since I’ve been using it, my pool has been clean for the longest time,” he jokes.

PoolSense looks like much like an HTH floater but this clever device tells you exactly what you need to do to your pool to keep it looking blue.

“This project was also really great in that it brought together two very different people—one very young graduate and one very seasoned businessman. The two got together and, using available technology, they have created a very viable product, which is now exporting to the rest of the globe,” he explains.

Malinga believes that while the Third Industrial Revolution brought about automation, the continuous drop in costs and the increase in mechanised factories have built the foundation for Industry 4.0.

“What we have now is an abundance of real-time visibility, but the key difference between the two is that this visibility is IoT-driven, and we are on a quest to continue to blur the line between the physical and the virtual. We are moving from a data-driven world to one that is asset-driven, allowing businesses to improve their products and services in good time for new changes up the road. They are able to service their customers in a more empathetic way, and we are also starting to see the move away from over-engineered products that end up costing more, to products that are more easily improved as needs change.

“We also now live in an age where entrepreneurs have access to technology that allows them to be viable and valuable, especially to the under-serviced market,” Malinga says.

SqwidNet has just completed the first phase of their growth strategy, their quality network and quality ecosystem now well-established, but Malinga hopes to continue to grow their ecosystem and increase the number of commercial uses.

“The more customers we have using IoT, the sooner we will be able to turn our economy around. Looking ahead, we also want to ensure that we connect as many things as possible as I believe this allows us to put Africa first, with the African context in mind, and growing IoT will give us the confidence to solve our own complex problems,” he says.

For Malinga, his leadership role is one that excites him daily. From discovering new opportunities and business cases to funders, strategies and proof of concept, these are all plans that happen on paper. In order for these plans to change the world, he believes it is vital to share them, providing your employees with a clear vision of where you want the company to go.

“You have to share this vision with your people in a way that galvanises them, inspiring them to be their best selves and on board when it comes to helping realise the strategy you develop on paper. I’m lucky to be working with extremely talented individuals who have already achieved so much more than expected, and they look so much more fulfilled—every day, I come in and I am in awe of their superpowers,” he says.

Having completed his Executive MBA from the Graduate School of Business, Cape Town, Malinga has been involved in the information technology and the telecommunications industry for over two decades, where he was the Head of Software Development and IT Application Strategy at the Life Healthcare Group before joining the SqwidNet team.

“Joining this team has been a big highlight of my career so far, it’s been like watching the birth of an overnight success and though there have been a few more years to that overnight success, it has still been amazing to watch it happen. I was also really humbled when New GX decided to name me their CEO of the Year, it’s amazing to know that the efforts of my team are reaching people we didn’t even know were watching,” he says.

Inspired by people from all walks of life, he is especially taken with both the arts and sports, which have greatly influenced him in his way of doing business.

“Those two disciplines really capture so much of the human spirit and a good moment in sport will give fans goosebumps, the same goes for art. I don’t yet know what gives our customers goosebumps but that’s what I chase—I want us to be doing goosebump stuff.

“I also believe that it’s finally time for Africa, it is time and while it’s not going to be sexy, it is going to be honest and worth it. The time has come for us to fix our problems, we have the technology and when I look around, it feels like we have the will to make the change,” Malinga concludes.

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