By Femi Oshiga, vice president of Service Providers in the Middle East & Africa, CommScope
As we head to Cape Town, we’ll be joining 15,000 tech enthusiasts who are eager to discuss Africa’s connectivity infrastructure, disruptive technologies, digital services and ICT strategies. It’s an exciting time for a region that has the chance to leapfrog in technology as 5G related activities become more widespread across Africa from mid-way through the decade.
According to GSMA, by 2025, there will be commercial 5G services in at least seven markets, including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, with 28 million 5G connections (equivalent to 3% of total mobile connections) between them. South Africa’s data-only operator Rain has launched the continent’s first commercial 5G network early this year and countries are moving quickly toward a state of readiness with 4G adoption approaching mass market and operators progressing with network modernisation initiatives.
Most people think of 5G as a new wireless service for faster smartphones, but it is also a medium that enables a city to become smarter. Citizens and visitors will one day demand new applications also be integrated into city services and capabilities. Growing urban demographics and the rapid expansion of cities forces governments to deploy smart city solutions to sustain city services, drive economic competitiveness, and enable a thriving environment in Africa and the Middle East (AME). Smart city initiatives in the region predominantly focus on four areas: mobility, security, sustainability, and public services.
Looking toward a smart future – a global perspective
To make things “smart” and improve overall efficiency, we connect IoT devices through a network to the cloud (and each other). Thus, anything “smart” requires connectivity, both wired and wireless, at least in most cases. The 5G networks of the future will bring sophisticated connectivity to these edge IoT devices with higher speeds, more machine-to-machine connections and very low latencies – enabling a new generation of applications and use cases that we haven’t yet thought of.
Once we connect all the eyes and ears (IoT sensors) of the world to the data center brain, we can start generating intelligent data to drive new analytics and services. As well, more processing power is shifting to the edge, with the deployment of MEC (Mobile Edge Computing) moving closer to the actual end points and users to enable lower-latency applications.
All of these IoT edge devices and MECs need a home close to the users, which is why some city streetlights are morphing into smart poles. Streetlights are uniquely spaced throughout the city; they provide power and altitude and are ready for remodeling with LED replacements. Today, cities are eyeing two types of smart poles for replacing traditional streetlights:
- IoT streetlight pole– A streetlight pole can support public Wi-Fi deployments, environmental sensors, gunshot detection and LED lighting controls upgrades. Adding IoT edge devices transforms humble streetlight poles into smart IoT poles.
- Telco pole – These are the typical small cell poles deployed by carriers or neutral hosts to support cellular connectivity in dense areas. These poles are built for connectivity and will play a critical role in 5G mmWave deployments. By adding IoT devices, simple telco poles become smart telco poles. With telco poles, the connectivity backbone delivering a path between the edge and the cloud is already established, thereby enabling faster deployments. Due to the larger form factor of small cell equipment, physical constraints should be an early and primary guideline for aesthetic concealment in cities.
It should be noted that smart poles are part of a smart ecosystem and no single company can go at this alone. I am constantly asked if CommScope has any plans to build IoT sensors, software, apps or services for smart poles and my answer is “no, we need an ecosystem.” Put simply, these interconnected products and services require multiple players to work in harmony to offer complex services.
This is why it is critical for the industry to support an open ecosystem that allows customers to choose their own edge devices, software and cloud providers. This is particularly important due to the long lifecycle (decades) of public projects compared to typical enterprise (years) engagements. In addition, regulatory guidelines should also be considered.
At CommScope, we provide the physical layer for smart poles and do that exceptionally well. This starts with the fiber and copper solutions connecting all the racks inside a data center. From there, we supply outside fiber solutions to connect these data centers to the central offices (head ends) for the carriers and all the way to the business/home or macro/metro cell tower. At these end points, we typically see the conversion from wireline to licensed or unlicensed spectrum wireless.
These wireless networks are also experiencing constant changes where licensed (4G/5G) and unlicensed (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LoRa, etc.) are beginning to converge. For example, smart buildings are expected to provide reliable cellular coverage inside the building along with ubiquitous Wi-Fi and support for IoT wireless networks. Add the upcoming CBRS private networking play and we soon realize we are building multiple networks under one roof – all delivering ones and zeros to endpoints. How will all these networks converge in the future?
By providing the connectivity piece in this complex puzzle, CommScope adds tremendous value to the customer. We will continue to build out our ecosystem so we can offer complete solutions with our partners. With the acquisition of ARRIS and Ruckus Networks, CommScope has the resources of a Fortune 250-sized company that is well placed to drive the future of connectivity in the region.
In a new era of IT, the network underpins everything
Below are example solutions that enable a smart future for network operators across the region:
- Fiber for high-speed and robust connectivity: Smart cities will be built on fiber. CommScope’s fiber technologies enable faster connectivity in buildings, the data center and central office.
- Ultra-connected homes are becoming a reality: Consumers are experiencing an increasingly digital life and network operators are seeking ways to unlock the best user experience. CommScope is delivering reliable, high-bandwidth Wi-Fi to every corner of the home and sees the smart media device bringing connected home technologies together for a unique personalized experience.
- Powering connectivity for smart cities: As smart cities add new mobile-connected devices like security cameras and air quality sensors, they must have access to electricity. This is not always an easy task considering devices may be several hundred meters away from a power source. Network operators are using CommScope’s powered fiber cable systems to speed and simplify installation, and power these types of network devices.
- Digital foundation for smarter buildings: As the number of connected devices grows, the location of these devices is becoming more important. CommScope’s automated infrastructure management (AIM) system knows exactly what is connected, how it is connected and where it is located. The software automatically tracks changes, issues work orders, and documents the entire network. It also provides root-cause analysis in the event of failure, helping restore services faster.