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Through its affordable IoT solutions, SqwidNet is all set to revolutionize South Africa's life expectancy by 30 years

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Internet of Things (IoT) is the driving factor for the development of new business models and digital transformation initiatives. IoT allows assets to communicate using the Internet , and they can also be controlled and monitored remotely. IoT offers smart sensors and other devices, which can give new opportunities for cities to leverage data. Most of the companies these days use IoT for monitoring and managing their widely dispersed processes. IoT devices can also provide you with data to anticipate things in advance. The low cost of the devices makes it possible to manage activities that were previously unreachable.

For the development of cities and improving people's lives through IoT, firms like Sqwidnet are driving innovation. Sqwidnet is a Sigfox licensed network operator and wholesale IoT connectivity provider in South Africa. Sqwidnet's vision is to increase South Africa's life expectancy by 30 years in 30 years, through affordable and available technology, and it is doing this using IoT. The company's Sigfox network offers South Africans IoT connectivity that is ultra-low-cost, uses extremely low power, and, therefore, can work maintenance-free in the field for years, or even decades. Sqwidnet's network coverage is currently available to over 90% of the country's population. The design thinking behind Sqwidnet is to offer an open-access IoT network that helps improve decision-making when it comes to our life-giving shared assets like water. This allows technology companies to be a lot more agile and a lot more tailored when connecting assets in the physical world to the digital world.

In conversation with Phathizwe Malinga, Managing Director of SqwidNet

Q. How has interconnection helped businesses become more productive?

For us, being able to use Sigfox as a common language and signal of trust, has allowed us to build the most open-access IoT ecosystem with a high degree of interoperability. If you are having problems with your application because cellphones have upgraded their browsers, no problem, you change without affecting the rest of your ABCD. You decide that maybe GPS is after all important after deploying more than 5000 devices to half of your assets, no problem; you can change the device to another one without suffering from compatibility issues of increased costs. It is simplified; it is demystified, and it is kept affordable to even a business with just one asset. No complicated IT integration projects unless you choose to. The Sqwidnet ecosystem strives for plug and play, and that's what most businesses want.

Q. How do you deal with the privacy concerns surrounding the use of IoT devices?

Security is everything when it comes to connecting thousands of assets per customer. There should never be a compromise either to the privacy of the information, or the vulnerability of the organization. And Sigfox technology was built from the ground up with this in mind. Firstly, our technology is designed and manufactured in the factory with the customer in mind. No one else can use the sensor attached to an asset, and no one knows how it generates information, except the customer and the factory. This eliminates a lot of the privacy risk. Secondly, our devices do not actually connect to the Internet and have no IP addresses that could make them vulnerable. The device is simply "placed" on the assets and will sense when the assets go into distress, i.e., tolerance exceeded. The device then wakes up, sends a one-way message, and "goes back to sleep." We guarantee as a network to hear that asset, using our national coverage, which is also triply secure, using the best available cloud storage security features. Thirdly, your anonymous information sits in our cloud even at this point, and we simply act as a post box. We tell your cloud that you have a message. Your cloud, be it Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, or Google Cloud, or any other reputable cloud provider fetches its "payload" using security keys we don't even have access to, and finally treats the data in your cloud with respect to all the POPI or GDPR policy observations, away from the Sigfox cloud. Throughout, your main line of business that lives on your cloud remains unconnected and invulnerable.

Q. Why do you feel that there is need for IoT based solution?

That's a great question. Let me answer from a business perspective. The more the world gets more complex, the more innovation and improvement companies have to do to remain relevant, keep adding value, and keep improving our quality of life. And from a business point of view, the pace is swift, faster than it takes for you to be wrong if you try and change your products and services twice. So, in order to be sure that your change actually improves your products and services, you need evidence-based data about your products, when they are being made, when they are in use, and the value your customer derives from them. This means data-driven changes, and that is what IoT based solutions allow you to do, to be fact-based in your quest to remain relevant. To improve your decision-making in a way that will enable you to keep your customers happy.

Q. Do you have any new services ready to be launched?

The latest offering that I'm quite excited about is "Digital Plumber." We teamed up with a few of our technology partners to provide plumbers training via the Institute of Plumbers South Africa. Digital Plumber equips plumbers, who are small businesses and entrepreneurs, with knowledge and tools that allow them to offer digital products and services to their customers. Now isn't that something? One of the needles we know we have to move in this Big Cause is to be able to democratize our digital aspirations, and equipping entrepreneurs and small businesses goes a long way towards that.

Meet the leader behind the success of SqwidNet

Phathizwe Malinga is the Managing Director of SqwidNet, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dark Fibre Africa. He is responsible for building an Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity business in South Africa in partnership with International IoT giant Sigfox and is driving innovation through IoT by working closely with SqwidNet's partners' ecosystem. Malinga is passionate about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and its impact on Africa's life expectancy. With IoT being the cornerstone of data-driven decision-making, he is exposed to amazing Africans, in business and society, using IoT and other 4IR technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotics to continuously improve their products and services, and our quality of life. He has been involved in information technology and the telecommunications industry for over two decades. Before joining SqwidNet, Malinga was the Head of Software Development and IT Application Strategy at Life Healthcare Group. He completed his Executive MBA from the Graduate School of Business, Cape Town, and continues to guest lecture with the university. He is also a faculty member of Singularity University, and finally, is privileged to sit on the board of Bizmod Consulting (Pty) Ltd as a non-executive director. Malinga is also one of the founding members of the IoT Industry Council of South Africa, the country's first IoT industry representative body.

”We ensure that our network is business-grade: meaning, we offer a penalty-based SLA to our partners so that they can assure businesses that we will hear their assets, when they speak, ‘nomakanjani’.”