[SMART CITY] Cape Town seeks to tackle urban challenges with new technologies

The concept of “smart city” is growing in popularity on the African continent, and more specifically in South Africa. Increasing density, congested streets, high pollution levels and lengthy recycling processes are all issues that African countries need to address. In light of a humid and arid climate, African cities are attracted to some of the concepts conveyed by the Smart City model. Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa and one of the most modern African cities. The bigger cities are turning into true technological platforms, increasingly integrating Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) into the urban landscape. The quest to the smart city is notably reflected in the urgent needs lying at the heart of the city, whether they are public, urban or citizen needs. Cities on the African continent are most often exposed to the same constraints, which most often revolve around overpopulation and booming urbanization. The creation of urban areas is therefore a priority, and the city of Cape Town in South Africa has made this one of its priorities. According to a report by the consulting firm Deloitte, entitled “Africa is ready to leapfrog the competition: Through Smart Cities Technology“, Africa is one of the continents most inclined to develop smart cities for several reasons:

  • A certain ease in implementing new technologies due to the difficulties for African cities to maintain the infrastructure and costs of existing systems;
  • A gorwing middle-class;
  • A significant increase in urbanization;
  • A telephony penetration that reaches about 72% on the continent.

The African continent is therefore growing in power and expresses its desire to respond to the growing urban problems. The criteria of the smart city are seen here as implementing better lifestyles for citizens. The growth of a city like Cape Town is such that the city government has taken up the challenge of finding strategic and technological solutions.  

An urban initiative and data collected in real time

The concept of smart city applies to the scale of a city but is primarily thought of at the government level. African leaders are harnessing the public sector to make African cities smarter and serve their citizens. In November 2013, a South African minister spoke at the GovTechnology Conference to highlight South Africa’s Constitution, and said the quality of life of citizens should be significantly improved by ICT.  He specifically mentioned  the “city of tomorrow” supported by increased connectivity.

The city of Cape Town thus chooses to harness the Internet of Things to foster its development: intelligent sensors, capable of analysing data in real time in the heart of the city, are a major asset for smart cities. Cape Town relies on the deployment of these sensors to meet demands for electricity, water management and waste treatment. They enable the municipality to collect real-time data on millions of devices, particularly water and electricity meters. They also provide information on the state of garbage cans, traffic lights and street lighting. IoT network providers such as Sqwidnet accelerate data collection. Sqwidnet currently covers South Africa’s eight metros and aims to be deployed on all national roads. By the end of 2017, network coverage will reach 85% of South Africa’s population. The collection of this data in real time is aimed at optimising agriculture and traffic management. Finally, in order to prevent or deter crime, these sensors signal every shot detected in crime areas. This “Spot Spotter” system, which detects shots, was first tested in 2016 in the Hanover Park and Manenberg districts of Cape Town. The results have been consistent and have led to a reduction in gun crime. In total, the city has 560 surveillance cameras.

Citizen life is paramount in Cape Town. To this end, the municipality has launched an action plan to make Cape Town a smart city. The plan is based on four pillars:

  1. Digital infrastructure
  2. Digital inclusion
  3. E-government
  4. Digital Economy

The City of Cape Town maintains its lead as one of the most intelligent cities on the African continent with the creation of an open-data portal. This portal crunches the data provided by, and for, citizens and communicates it to the public. Cape Town makes full use of the data it collects to improve the lives of its citizens. In particular, the data provided in real time allows the city to optimize emergency response to fire and rescue: because of its topography and vegetation, Cape Town is indeed located in a fire sensitive area. To this end, the Cape Town Emergency Response Centre was established as an “integrated solution” for public safety. In addition, in 2016, IBM and its weather portal, The Weather Company, implemented a cognitive dashboard to assess the “risk and severity of fires” in the city. This application allows firefighters to be alerted quickly.

Implementing the Internet of Things to meet citizens’ needs

There are many initiatives in the heart of the city to respond to the problems of the growing population, which is faced with insufficient government authorities, such as access to care. The city of Cape Town sees the Internet of Things as a means of extending government services and benefits, but also of providing the population with access to basic healthcare.  The city has also implemented a metering system to reduce water and energy consumption, which led to a 10% reduction in usage. The city acts transparently with its citizens via its open data web portal. Currently, the city offers 86 datasets for downloading. The main users include universities, innovation centres, laboratories, and public bodies. Buses have been equipped with connectivity, and by the end of 2016, the city counted nearly 72 public Wi-Fi spots; and the aim is to eventually install them in the city’s boroughs. Also in terms of connectivity, high-speed optical fibre has been installed.

A number of mobile applications cover the city’s various activities and services. The “WhereIsMyTransport (WIMT)” application, launched in 2014, provides information on fares, frequency and modes of transport. In 2016, the competitive application in Uber, Taxify was created with the aim of increasing driver remuneration.

The recent water crises in the regions around Cape Town and in the city itself are at the heart of the issues that intelligent solutions are designed to address. Thanks to sensors placed in the heart of the city, residents and authorities can be warned of a water leak in real time. These intelligent metering systems ensure that daily water quotas are not exceeded.

Conclusion

Implementing the Internet of Things in the heart of a city not only serves the city, it can improve much more, such as the management of scarce resources in a city like Cape Town. Technology helps to solve urban problems. City-specific issues such as traffic congestion, resource management and civic life are now being rethought. The city of Cape Town has seized the opportunity of the Internet of Things to develop its city. Wi-Fi access has been rethought to allow more people to access it even in the most remote locations. With such a high telephony rate, the demand for Wi-Fi access is increasing. However, digital initiatives need to be adopted at all levels. Governments, industry and municipalities must implement them. African countries are often perceived as underdeveloped, but given their resources and the technologies they use, they are making a real leap in connectivity. In the city of Cape Town, citizens have access to information through Wi-Fi hotspots. These are the starting point for connecting with the city, and with the world. Thanks to Wi-Fi, the services provided by the Internet of Things become efficient.