By 3 June 2024 | Categories: feature articles


By David Browne, Head: Go-To-Market – Group and Wandile Gumede, Sales Manager – Public sector at SEACOM

With urban populations set to explode during the coming years, urban areas are leveraging technology to best serve their inhabitants and transform themselves into smart cities.

Progress has been made with the residential development of the Mooikloof Mega City in Gauteng, which was first announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020 with a total project value of R84 billion. And, recently, Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi announced a multidisciplinary team had developed the master plan for the Greater Lanseria smart city project, with the City of Johannesburg processing the necessary approvals for urban planning required for the planned development.

Smart cities represent a holistic approach to urban living enabled by data and Internet-connected devices all working together. To build a truly efficient, secure, and sustainable urban environment, developers and officials need to know exactly why they are building these environments, and what foundations need to be in place to fully leverage smart and connected solutions. However, connectivity isn’t and must not be limited to city life, as rural areas are also being transformed thanks to foundational technologies that empower both people and businesses. One leads to the other, as well as helps build a digital economy that is mature, equitable, and inclusive.

Making a city “smart”

Smart cities are defined by their integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into all aspects of society, with characteristics of a smart city including a smart economy, smart mobility, and smart living. The benefits speak for themselves, but they all link back to city officials being able to use data to inform their decision making and conduct proactive analyses to improve essential urban functions and services.

Approximately 56% of the world’s population (4.4. million people) currently live in cities. That number is expected to double by 2050 to the point that cities will host nearly seven out of ten people and generate 80% of global GDP. The rate of urbanisation demands municipalities and city officials expedite efforts to future demand for housing, public infrastructure, transportation, and services, as well as facilitate economic activity and employment opportunities. Cities also have a part to play when it comes to confronting the effects of climate change, and events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted how urban areas need to be able to respond to and mitigate dangers to public safety and wellbeing.

While urban development in South Africa is positioned as a national priority, there remain obstacles such as a lack of coordination among initiatives that impede construction and development (not to mention practical challenges such as ongoing load shedding). However, what makes or breaks any smart city is how it deploys ICT technology as the bedrock of its infrastructure, especially as digital transformation takes hold and consumers and enterprises participate in the digital economy. 

Broadband Internet connectivity is how municipalities can access the data and insights they desire. With that in place, they can go about designing and implementing smart systems.

Cities that work for people

As the term implies, smart cities are all about gathering information about how they operate and using that information to guide decision-making processes. Whereas, previously, smart technologies were regarded as tools to enhance the background functions of an urban area, those technologies now also play a fundamental role in the lives and activities of the residents and businesses that occupy it. A simple example of this would be residents using their smartphones to access public services or receive safety alerts.

Underpinning the capabilities of a smart city is a network of IoT devices; a collection of Internet-connected sensors and actuators that gather and share data with each other and a centralised command and management platform. Overall, smart city technologies encompass IoT networks, cloud computing, application programming interfaces (APIs), and dashboards to optimise urban functions and ensure continuous, consistent delivery of services.

For example, city officials can use a network of cameras to monitor the amount of vehicular traffic in an area. In doing so, they can identify bottlenecks and obstructions and gather actionable insights that allow them to improve travel times and ease congestion. Another example is energy efficiency. Using smart sensors and electrical grid systems, streetlights can dim when there are no vehicles or pedestrians nearby, supplying power on demand and notifying officials of any outages.

The pathway to rural upliftment

Of course, South Africa is not all city. With rural areas making up a significant portion of the country’s geographical landscape, communities in those areas are limited in terms of what smart technologies they can implement due to insufficient broadband infrastructure. This insufficiency perpetuates the digital divide among South Africans and limits access to and participation in the national digital economy.

There are many efforts underway to close the digital divide. One example is SEACOM’s partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to support youth- and women-owned ICT SMMEs. The council’s TV whitespace spectrum technology will be made available to help support selected SMMEs and deploy essential broadband network infrastructure. It’s not always smooth sailing as SMMEs face numerous challenges on the ground, such as limited resources and security, which is why there needs to be community buy-in to build and maintain infrastructure.

Both rural communities and the cities of tomorrow will grow and thrive by extracting maximum value from the infrastructure and assets they have available. To achieve this, municipalities need to invest in connectivity solutions that enable them to accommodate all the technologies they need. Through public/private partnerships, and by working with broadband and managed service vendors, South Africa’s metropoles and development projects can leverage the full potential of connectivity.


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