Last week saw a heap (for clarification, a heap is a number that I can’t quite remember) of the Inmarsat family and a few of our partners such as Actility, Jersey Telecom and Genetec, attend the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
It was the busiest and most exciting work week in recent memory, with so much activity that I’d need a novella rather than a blog to squeeze it all in; but before I get into that, a brief word on our host country Rwanda. Apart from being a slightly awkward place to get to from London (try an 11-hour layover in Nairobi after a long week) I was blown away by a beautiful, lush green, city with genuine and friendly people.
It was my first visit and a welcome change from the usual conference venues of Las Vegas or Dubai. All of these platitudes though were really put into perspective on visiting and paying our respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Just a couple of decades ago, Rwanda, I learned, was in the midst of something that I don’t have the words to describe; that it has become as beautiful as it is today is a testament to the people that live there.
Improving lives through connectivity
The lead up to the summit was almost as busy as the conference itself, with the team clambering over roof-tops installing LoRa base stations to provide city-wide coverage, interviewing prospective interns from the local Carnegie Mellon campus (we found one, he’s ace), installing trackers on taxis (more on that in a bit), filming case studies in the rural areas of Kigali and delivering an Internet of Things (IoT) boot-camp to a room rammed full of eager graduate students who wanted to grow their knowledge. Frankly, if we’d have finished there and not even attended the summit, I think we could have still claimed the week to be a success. Little did we know that the work was just starting.
Our plan was always to expose as many African nations to our capabilities and the possibilities held within IoT for smart cities and smart agriculture. Our CEO, Rupert Pearce, started the ball rolling with a plenary session outlining what we’d already put into Kigali, and what the next 12 months would entail.
This lit the blue-touch paper and very quickly we were inundated with requests from delegations from nations all across Africa for further meetings – exactly what we wanted; the mandate to continue our work, growing capabilities, learning more and improving lives through ICT and IoT.
My favourite story for the whole week though is more local and more humbling. While installing the tracking technology onto the local taxi, one of the team causally mentioned what it was we were doing, that it was for the Summit and that the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame was going to be attending.
At the next opportunity the driver completely disappeared; we thought we’d spooked him and he’d gone home, but one slightly panicked phone call later, we were reassured that he hadn’t and was on his way back to us. It turned out that, upon hearing that the President was involved, our new friend had actually slipped away to put a shirt and tie on as a mark of respect. He was so proud that he’d be involved.
If you thought that was cool, it actually gets better. As part of a tour of the exhibition stands, we were able to take some of President Kagame’s time and walk him through the technology that we’d deployed in his capital city, including showing him a photo of the driver stood with his taxi! Of course, straight away we sent him a text to let him know, and it’s safe to say he nearly burst with pride.
It’s interactions like this that we’re striving for, and I for one bet that our driver has by now told every single person that he knows, and every passenger that he’s had since.
About the author
Philip Meyers is Head of Innovation for Inmarsat Enterprise. He has almost 15 years of experience in telecommunications and has spent the last few years concentrating on satellite solutions for consumers, and developing Inmarsat’s technology agnostic LPWAN strategy. Passionate about technology and communications, Mr. Meyers implemented the first public LoRa network in the City of London, allowing applications in both asset tracking and smart building management, using satellite as a backhaul.