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Smart Poles launch Saldanha Bay Municipality into the digital future

SBM lessons to pave the way for other regions

Fibre is about more than just connecting to the internet, says Zoom Fibre’s Managing Director Mohamed Asmal, in reference to the exciting new smart poles that have been installed in various sites in the Saldanha Bay Municipality.

“Fibre is about unleashing the power of a digital future and we are doing this right now in the Saldanha Bay Municipality, and we will take these learnings and apply them to other regions where Zoom Fibre has coverage,” says Asmal.

Zoom Fibre, which as part of the Baobab project alongside its partners the SBM municipality and Amoeba TSC, took on the task of managing the infrastructure – namely the fibre network – that would power the country’s first truly smart city. Zoom Fibre, who’s Western Cape staff contingent is based in Vredenburg, is well-known to residents in the region having laid fibre in towns across the region.

“I want you to imagine this,” says Asmal. “Imagine smart poles that run off their own renewable energy with a brain so powerful that they can adjust their brightness if there is no one in the streets, they can proactively reduce crime and reactively lead to the capture and arrest of criminals, proactively manage traffic volumes, provide Wi-Fi hotspots and so much more. That is the immense power of fibre and that is why we wake up every morning at Zoom Fibre: to bring the power of fibre to the people and to drive real digital inclusion and transformation, and so as we work through this proof of concept with the first batch of towers, over time and as it becomes feasible, we will increase the scope and functionality of the smart towers and eventually unleash the full power of fibre.”

Asmal says that while the current phase in Saldanha Bay Municipality is a pilot, or a proof of concept, the idea is to roll out the smart poles across the entire municipality and eventually in other regions of the country. “We foresee smart poles wherever Zoom Fibre has a fibre network that can enable them,” he says.

Beyond working towards the ability to recognise faces and people without capturing personal information, and therefore link suspects to a crime, the smart poles – such as the ones in the SBM region – would eventually have the functionality to be able to be proactive, such as raise alerts if suspicious people were seen gathering in the vicinity of a business or school, for example, and deploy security and alert the police. “The Internet of Things and smart cities, in general, are changing the face of our world, and the analytical ability of these smart poles, which is enabled by our fibre, means SBM is leading the pack in South Africa,” he says.

An issue that anyone in the Saldanha Bay municipality will be aware of, is how cell phone coverage takes a dip and sometimes disappears during load shedding in the region. These smart towers could well form bases for LTE providers to deliver connectivity to their customers without the fear of power cuts as the poles themselves would be powered by solar panels and bi-directional turbines. This could radically change the experience for thousands of residents.

Similarly, citizens who use Zoom Fibre through any ISP, will eventually be able to log onto their own internet package when they move from tower to tower – a bit like taking their home fibre package with them when they go out and about. Asmal says that even those without internet packages would eventually be able to access Wi-Fi, the details of which will be ironed out in due course. He adds that Zoom Fibre would be conducting feasibility studies around deploying the same LTE and Wi-Fi functionality in other regions in due course.

The launch of the smart poles in SBM follows the launch of a mobile app produced by Baobab Project partner Amoeba TSC and made available to municipal rates customers towards the end of last year. “We are committed to this region and will continue pioneering the power of fibre and working with our partners to turn SBM into a smart city connected to the world,” says Asmal. “Similarly, as we take the lessons learnt from SBM and its journey to becoming a true smart city, we will eventually deploy more value-added services in other regions serviced by Zoom Fibre.”