February 17th, 2014
Kenya is a country with little of what we consider routine infrastructure. More specifically, outside of Nairobi, its capital, it is extremely deficient in mass electricity generation. Rural Kenyans, when they can afford it, burn expensive and highly polluting kerosene to obtain a few precious hours of electricity to power their daily needs.
That was until recently, when a new system of electricity and banking emerged that has put electricity into the homes of thousands of Kenyans and created an alternative banking system that relies completely on mobile technology.
M-Kopa now provides low-cost solar power stations to 50,000 Kenyan households (and adds 1,000 a month), which pay for the service through M-Pesa — mobile money in Swahili — a completely wireless system of electronic money transfer. M-Pesa acts as a “banking” system for Kenyans who can deposit and withdraw funds, transfer money, pay bills, and purchase airtime for cellphones, which are plentiful in Kenya. Through M-Pesa and wireless technology, an entirely new economy has appeared in Kenya in just a few years.
M-Kopa is a version of rapidly growing M2M (machine to machine) connection technology, sometimes called the Internet of Things, which was highlighted at the recent Wavefront Wireless Summits conference in Vancouver.
Wavefront is Canada’s Centre of Excellence Commercialization and Research which helps wireless companies grow by connecting them with resources, partners and opportunities. This was its third, and largest summit in as many years.
Attended by about 600 thinkers and experts in most aspects of wireless communication and technology, the Wireless summit has become a platform for discussion of the latest wireless technology and its implications for businesses.
To put their views simply: Wireless technology connection is growing rapidly and will soon become the primary method of connection, launching an era of near-omnipresent data transfer and communications.
A visit to the summit confirms that the future — previously predicted in science fiction — is forming before our eyes: we have cars that park themselves; buildings that control their own ecologies; and farms that apportion water and other nutrients after analyzing data gathered by themselves or relayed from other computers via the Internet of Things.
The Wavefront Wireless Summit is a window into that new world. It allows us to glimpse the near future when machines gather data and make their own decisions on how to react, automatically operate most of our conveniences and tools, and generally govern the activity of this World without guidance or labour from people.
“There is a convergence happening,” said James Maynard, chief executive of Wavefront. “The cost of technology is approaching free and bandwidth is ubiquitous, meaning there is little cost to compete. The convergence of mobile, social, data and cloud are creating transformative business opportunities never seen before. “
Jeff Seifer, chief technology officer of Cisco Canada and a keynote speaker, explained it as being in the “midst of a transition” that will see mobile become the centre of the Internet. Statistics provide some proof of this: the number of devices connected to the Internet is expected to increase to 50 billion within a few years, from nine billion now, as mobile devices dominate and increasingly guide our lives.
Our cars will mirror our homes in terms of connection to devices. Wearable technology such as smartwatches and fitness trackers will attach to the clothes we use to cover our bodies. Routine kitchen appliances will be connected to the Web, perhaps downloading recipes or nutrition information. Our health will be continually monitored and resulting data will be remotely transferred to analysis machines. Buildings will continually transmit data regarding plumbing, air quality, heating and cooling to other machines that adjust as necessary.
All of this technological wonder involves machine to machine transmission. Whereas we once were required to provide our information to service companies, we now won’t have to be involved with the transmission of information at all – it will be done via wireless. Already some buildings are using rudimentary versions of this monitoring.
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