South Africa’s first smart community won’t be Cape Town or Johannesburg

A number of planned communities being built with connectivity at their core are leading the local race toward being truly integrated smart cities – but they won’t be in Johannesburg or Cape Town says Vox Telecoms CEO, Jacques du Toit.

Speaking to BusinessTech, du Toit noted that while these communities are already on the rise in the country, there is a major problem with the legacy of built areas such as Cape Town and Johannesburg which are now using closed systems that aren’t designed to connect or communicate with each other.

He noted that instead of this “siloed approach” to city management, Vox and a number of developers around the country had instead begun at the development stage –  to ensure new developments are built with connectivity in mind from the very start.

“With a 100Mbps broadband link and WiFi connectivity from day one, each home in one of these planned communities has the potential to be a smart home, with built-in security and entertainment being just the start.”

“This is then extended onto the broader community – technology can be used by authorities to better manage the use of street lights, the collection of waste, and to cut down on water wastage, while residents can find parking more easily.”

How development works 

While it’s exciting to talk about the development of smart cities in the country, we are currently doing so amidst the backdrop of a technical recession and an incredibly difficult housing market.

This is most representative in how development costs and technology is included in the development and sales costs, noted du Toit.

“Some developers want a revenue share, or want to own the technology, and IT companies might make the decision to walk away, because there is not enough margin to share,” he said.

“It has to have a mutual benefit to both parties for a roll-out of this nature to be successful.”

“Developers might need to take the view that the technology they will deploy will differentiate their properties and opt not to make money on the IT elements, but rather on maximising the revenue on their core products (property).”

According to du Toit, this is reflected in how the property developers themselves are dealing with FTTH and smart roll-out.

He noted that while South Africa’s retail landlords were increasingly relying on technology (facial recognition and social media engagement elements) to build shopper profiles and preferences there were were other developers that were relying solely on outside industry advice – meaning they were likely to get left behind.

The cost vs demand analysis of Fibre roll-out 

Those familiar with South Africa’s current fibre roll-out process will be aware of the current cost vs demand process used by the country’s providers in deciding which suburbs do and don’t receive fibre as a priority.

However when talking about development from the ground-up it is no longer a case of demand, said du Toit.

“There is a cost vs benefit discussion, not cost vs demand.  Often, a user won’t know how the information that is being served, or what we know about him/her has been gathered.”

“Users are therefore not driving this – the demand comes from the developers to run more efficient environments.”

He notes that as the scale increases, volumes and technologies will also improve, driving costs down.

“I think that as we broaden the possibilities beyond what we read (electricity, humidity, water, leakage, collection, traffic control), and think more creatively, the benefits will increase and the costs become less of a factor.”

Cape Town and Johannesburg still have a role to play

While it is much more difficulty to make South Africa’s largest cities “smart” instead of building from the ground up, they still have a critical role in facilitation – “bringing their teams in line with what the private sector has got to offer”, said du Toit.

“We see three parties – the municipality (city/ council etc), the suppliers and the community itself – and government and city leaders can play a significant role in assistance with funding.”

“The J-curve is so deep and the costs associated with converting existing cities into smart cities, or creating new smart cities are such that significant funding is required and this is the role that we believe government can and should be playing.”

So where can we can expect to see the first of these planned smart communities?

According to du Toit, while new developments are currently underway, infrastructure coverage still plays a key role.

The better you have, the more you can do with it.

“Typically the places where you will see the quickest deployment is where the FTTX operators are busy deploying and right now, most of that is happening in the main cities and metropolitans.”

Read: Asking prices for high-end homes in Gauteng drop by as much as R1 million

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South Africa’s first smart community won’t be Cape Town or Johannesburg