With a projected annual growth rate of 13.28%, the South African IoT market is set to reach a staggering US$11.32 billion by 2028. This rise is largely credited to the commercial, mining, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors which are already harnessing intelligent water and energy management solutions. Dr Andrew Dickson, Engineering Executive at CBI-electric: low voltage, says that while IoT is a catalyst for the country’s development across various sectors, more needs to be done to propel South Africa into the digital future.
“IoT, short for the Internet of Things, represents a profound technological shift that links physical objects and devices to the internet, enabling them to collect, exchange, and share real-time data,” he explains. “At its core, it fuses the tangible world with the digital realm by embedding sensors, software, and network connectivity into everyday items, ranging from household appliances to industrial machinery and even wearable devices. These smart ‘things’ create a continuous stream of data, which can be remotely monitored, analysed, and controlled to elevate efficiency, automation, and decision-making across diverse domains.”
“This technology’s data-gathering capabilities pave the way for innovation,” he points out. “By collecting and analysing data, we can optimise resource utilisation and identify and address problems across a myriad of sectors. This holistic view enables smarter decision-making and more efficient resource allocation, benefiting areas like energy management, water conservation and resource management and optimisation.”
Dr Dickson adds that while South Africa’s IoT journey not only addresses immediate challenges, it could position the nation as an IoT development and expertise hub, not only within Africa but on the global stage. “Successful IoT use cases established in South Africa can be replicated across other countries, given the right infrastructure and design. This has the potential to advance South Africa as a significant contributor to the global IoT landscape.”
However, he notes that the country is currently faced with hurdles on its path to IoT expansion which need to be mitigated. These include:
- Load shedding and energy availability: One of the most glaring issues facing South Africa is the perennial problem of energy availability, epitomised by load shedding. However, it’s essential to recognise that the real challenge lies not just in load shedding itself but in the constant vulnerability of energy supply, hindering the widespread adoption of IoT solutions.
- Network infrastructure: Recent disruptions in network infrastructure, such as fibre optic outages, have raised concerns about the reliability of connectivity and its potential to prevent the seamless adoption of smart technologies.
- Economic stability: The broader economic landscape in South Africa presents formidable hurdles due to limitations in disposable income. The soaring costs of energy, exemplified by an 18% tariff increase and potential further hikes, necessitate a more strategic approach to energy consumption management.
- Hesitation among prospective users: The unfamiliarity of new technology often breeds reluctance among potential users, especially those in the older demographic. In the early stages of IoT adoption, recommendations from trusted sources play a pivotal role in dispelling uncertainties.
- Regulatory framework and policy implications: South Africa currently lacks comprehensive regulatory frameworks tailored specifically to IoT with existing regulations tending to focus on discrete areas like cybersecurity. This gap poses concerns about data privacy and security, acting as a deterrent to IoT adoption. Therefore, South Africa needs to establish a more comprehensive and holistic governance framework addressing IoT-related security and data protection.
To address these challenges, Dr Dickson highlights the crucial role of collaborative partnerships. “The collaboration between government entities, industry stakeholders, and research institutions stands as a critical imperative in creating a conducive environment for IoT expansion in South Africa. These partnerships are instrumental for enabling large-scale development and showcasing the potential of IoT products. Simultaneously, research institutions are essential for advancing IoT technologies by building upon real-world use cases which can lay the foundation for broader system understanding.”
“As South Africa stands at the brink of an IoT revolution that promises to tackle critical challenges and unlock the benefits of innovation, efficiency, and sustainable development across multiple sectors, we find ourselves at a crossroads where we must make changes to fully harness the potential of IoT. This will enhance the country’s status as an IoT hub and, in turn, attract the international IoT market, allowing our economy to benefit,” Dr Dickson concludes.