Eng. Daniel Obam works with the National Communication Secretariat as a Communications Radio Technology Expert. The Secretariat provides ICT policy advisory under the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology that advises the government on best policies that encourage the use of ICT’s to improve the livelihoods of Kenyans.  Additionally, Obam is the Chairman of Radiocommunication Advisory Group (RAG) at International Telecommunication Union (ITU). This Group advises ITU on the best way to use the frequency spectrum. He also works with other people around the world to identify frequencies that will be used to roll out networks that will facilitate Internet of Things (IoT). His role is to identify relevant studies that will be used to provide more connectivity to provide a more connected world. Currently, they are preparing for the World Radio Conference 2019 to identify spectrum for 5G.

Q: What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

A: IoT is a concept where everything in the world is connected with one another so that it is easier to check the status of the connected device. IoTinvolves connecting devices using internet to send information or connecting people to people or people to things. Today, the best example to use is Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) where they introduced a post pay electricity system where one can pay electricity bills using a mobile phone to get power.

Q:  What are the various technologies that are going to be incorporated in IoT?

A: The technologies are different.  One can use the current technologies we have on mobile networks like 4G,3G and 2G and in future 5G to incorporate IoT. The 5G will be a more pervasive technology where you can have machine-machine communication, automated vehicles, whereby cars could drive themselves along the highway; you have networks that connect and enable the different vehicles on the road communicate to avoid collision.
Already, this type of technology is being implemented in some cars. The cars have electronically connected devices that can give a beep or warning whenone is reversing or about to hit another car. Cars also have sensors within themselves to detect any issues that may arise.
There is also another application ofIoTalready under implementation. Currently Nairobi City has a system that sends an SMS to motorists on available parking space within the city. The message gives information on the nearest parking space from where the motorist is.
Mobile phone companies and broadcasting firms are also using IoT for their remote stations to either monitor fuel level in a remote generator or the power levels in a transmitter. The feedback is later sent to the control or network operations center.

Q: What is the architecture of an IoT network?

A: The architecture of IoT can be described through this example; a human being may have a device that sends a signal through a mobile network, this is then linked to a server or control center where that information is analyzed then sent to somebody else who can make use of that information. The architecture here would include a personal area network which would be a phone, a mobile operator network throughfibreto a server which examines the data. The resulting information is later sentto another network.

Q: Tell us about the IoT protocol and IoT devices

A: One of the IoT protocols involves a shared device communicating to another device. For example, if I have a wearable device measuring my blood pressure, it will send the readings of my pressure to another device or network where my doctor is. Alternatively, I can have a phone that can monitor the security status of my house and alert me in case of anything.

Second is machine to machine or server-server communication where there is no device involved.  For instance, a bank customer can use a mobile banking application to transfer funds. This would be regarded as server-server connection.

Server communicating to a device is the other IoT protocol. Here a device is defined as the equipment used by the end user. The devices may be different; it may be something embedded in the body, a mobile phone, a machine or a laptop. The device becomesthe equipment that is used to access the Internet of Things.

Q: What changes does the IoT promise to our lives, what is its potential in Kenya?

A: The potential of IoT is huge. It will be employed in automating traffic flow which will affect our lives in a great way. IoT will aid in the management of traffic, predict traffic patterns and control how traffic flows in cities and other regions.  The other potential is in industrialization especially in automation of processes.  Instead of having manual systems in the industry, we have machines connected to one another increasing or contributing to efficiencies.
Globally, it has been estimated that by 2025IoT will be a business worth ten trillions of dollars. Again, after ten years, 250 billion devices will be connected to easily manage them through these connections.

Q: What do you regard as the most interesting use of the IoT?

A: In my opinion, creation of smart cities and automation of traffic on the roads would be regarded as the most interesting use of IoT. Water is wasted a lot, in smart cities we will havedevices embedded in the pipes, through them it will be easy to detect a leakage when it’s about to occur. Introduction of smart roads to manage traffic ordevices that can respond if there is an accident is an interesting use of IoT. Through this you can be able to warn motorists approaching the area to avoid snarl ups.

Smart parking is the other interesting use of IoT as people won’t waste time looking for parking and will go straight away to where parking space is available. Lastis smart buildings that manage security from a central point.

Q: What one factor would most accelerate the benefits of IoT?

A: I think it is industrialization. I think if we automate industrial processes, manufacturing of goods will be more effective. For example, instead of ordering raw materials two months ahead, one can order the materials as you consume it. This was traditionally referred to as ‘just in time manufacturing’ meaning you order what you need today, it is supplied. After that you can order again. This will avoid putting resources that will last for long thus saving on storage and providers of resources don’t have to supply too much.  Moreover, IoT will aid in accelerating the smart city technology.

Q: What are the policy changes that would accelerate the benefits of the IOT in Kenya?

A: One of the policy changes will incorporate the need to avail more spectrums to allow devices to connect to one another.  In Kenya for example, 99.99% of people use mobile phones to access the internet. This means that there is need to have a more mobile friendly policy environment to allow for devices to connect to a mobile network. We also need to recognize the benefits of IoT in Kenya so as to become early adopters rather than people who are catching up on the technology.

Q: Do you think engineers in Kenya are ready for IoT, what role do they have?

When we are talking about smart roads, weneed to have road engineers who design smart roads that are IoT enabled. Then for an automotive engineer, he or she has to design vehicles that are IoT enabled so that they are smart vehicles.

For a telecommunications engineer, they need to design devices that will be integrated into other engineering arms that canincorporatea mobile network. These engineers need also to plan for a spectrum which allows connectivity to other devices.

Therefore, all engineers have a role to play when it comes to creating designs to boost and bring more efficiency in application or utilization of what has been designed.

Q: What are the dangers or challenges that come with IoT

A: Already today with mobile technology, there is a big problem of security. When you shift control from humans to machines, there is a potential that somebody will hack into your system and get access to critical information. 

When building this kind of network, security should be of great concern to avoid intruders interfering with the system.  You can imagine if a hacker interrupts an automated power or water system, this can result in shutting down of power or water supply to a home, estate or city.

The second challenge is when so many devices are connected; all information goes to a central point that is a server.  Here one needs to have a system or analytic skills to evaluate this information beforeit’s transferred to another system or device.

Q: What’s the one piece of advice for Kenyans interested in the Internet of Things?

A: Actually, we are already in an IoT network. Presently, individuals can directly connect to their banks using a mobile application and transfer money, peopleor parents can use their mobile phones to keep an eye ontheir children at home while at work.

To top it all most people are already using the network, it’s just that they don’t know. I wish to encourage users to embrace security while using this type of network. Let’s use the technology to ease our work.

In 2015, it was decided that spectrum be allocated to the next generation of mobile network 5G to enhance connectivity. The network will allow people to do more automated things.

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