As more industries and services around the world become ‘smart’, the focus is often placed on the proliferation of sensing devices to collect various types of information, or on the growth in the level of computing power that is required to analyse data and identify trends and patterns.

However, Nexign’s regional head and vice-president: sales, Middle East and Africa Ahmad Sayed, explains that none of this growth would be possible if it was not for the widespread availability of fast, reliable networks. This makes communications service providers – and their transformation toward becoming digital service providers – a critical part of the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem.

In South Africa, global consulting and research firm Analysys Mason expects that the number of Internet of Things devices on mobile networks will reach 29-million by 2023, resulting in connectivity revenue of almost R3-billion ($225-million) for operators.

“While IoT has a major dependency on communications networks, a growing number of network operators have undertaken – or are in the process of undertaking – digital transformation journeys, which makes it easier for them to roll out new services and cater for new business models,” Sayed explains.

A major inhibitor to the adoption of IoT is the readiness of network operators, as well as the acceptance that the biggest volume of communication in future will be machine to machine (M2M). More receptive customers understand this, as well as why it is important to make the shift and introduce IoT products and services.

“This is where, having the right IoT platform comes into play; it sits at the heart of any IoT ecosystem, and having a robust, agile solution in place is vital if service providers are to provision and monetise products using these new technologies,” he says.

Sayed explains that the IoT platform should be an end-to-end platform that provides customers with the tools to efficiently control and manage connected IoT devices, as well as include built-in analytics to reduce maintenance costs, and offer new ways of monetising low-margin IoT subscribers. Customers should be able to monitor distributed devices in real time, manage devices at infrastructure level and diagnose any problems that may occur when IoT devices are connected to the network.

A capable IoT platform should further enable businesses to build ecosystems that encompass the wide range of applications embedded in smart devices in conjunction with cloud-based applications for monitoring, analysis or automation.

According to Sayed, the key drivers of adoption are the rise in smart city, smart energy, smart logistics, and smart industry projects – with IoT being the focal point of the implementation. In Africa, smart farming has the potential to revolutionise the agriculture sector by better monitoring and management of resources.

“We are seeing a lot of development in the smart utilities sector. Providing an IoT service or solution doesn’t just help the network operator earn revenue, it also benefits B2B customers, who can use these technologies to transform their IoT business into the digital environment, significantly optimising their business processes as a result. Communications service providers sit in the middle of this all, and without them, this would not be possible,” says Sayed.

He adds that while the implementation times can vary depending on the scale of the project, they have noticed that IoT project rollouts happen at a much faster pace than what is seen with traditional ICT or emerging technology projects, and the same is expected of IoT deployments in the African market.

“IoT is no longer just a buzzword. It is a reality and already a global trend. While initial projects have been focused on advanced economies, the rate of adoption has increased in developing countries too, and digital service providers will play a key role in driving adoption,” Sayed concludes.