IBM’s Research Lab Rises to Meet Africa’s Challenges
Scientists at IBM’s Africa Research Lab are on a mission to rise to the unique challenges that the continent has and find smart solutions that will ultimately benefit the population in some of its most critical areas such as healthcare and education.
In August 2012, IBM, a world leader in providing technology solutions, officially opened its 12th global research laboratory at the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.
An old library building at the host university was commandeered by IBM which invested in refurbishing the premises and equipping it with its state-of-the-art technology.
It is now home to some of the best scientific brains in the world including 25 research staff, 21 of which have either PHDs or Masters’ degrees, and who have come from globally-recognised academic institutions from around the world including Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and Harvard and Stanford in the USA.
At the helm, is Chief Scientist Osamuyimen Stewart, fondly known as Uyi, whose sheer passion and enthusiasm for the work now being carried out at the laboratory could probably provide enough energy to light up the whole of Nairobi.
A better future
Aside from the fact that the research work being undertaken is to ultimately provide IBM with new applications for sale, the areas in which it is working the hardest are ultimately aimed at creating better futures for the continent’s inhabitants from a standpoint of improving economies to providing better healthcare and education for the millions in need in Africa.
Stewart summed up the mission: “It is to leverage science and technology to develop commercially viable innovation that will impact lives of more than a billion people on the continent of Africa.”
For IBM, Africa was the last cog in its research wheel. It had already established its network of research labs strategically across the world but the vast continent had been left out because for many years education standards were not of a comparable standard.
Stewart explained: “The way we have set up labs traditionally has been to collaborate with a top a top rate university and the reason for that is simple so that the university can provide the lab with a steady stream of research talent.
“In the past 30 or 40 years Africa has taken a downward turn in its educational life and there have only been a few in South Africa have turned up at the bottom of global top 100 lists.”
A couple of significant things conspired to change the prospects for an IBM lab in Africa. The first was the establishment of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative and the second was the realisation that the many challenges Africa presents were in fact an opportunity for research.
“IBM’s Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research, Dr John Kelly, was quoted as saying that we need to make the world our lab and when we looked around we saw there was a gap and that gap was Africa,” said Stewart.
“Africa more than compensates for its deficits in universities by offering us the possibility of doing first class research because everywhere you look there are challenges.”
The African scientists are now conducting research in five main areas: education, healthcare, human mobility, financial inclusion and utilities, which involve smarter management of the environment in three main areas, energy, water and waste management.
The research work includes the development of cognitive computing technologies that can be applied to address all of the above issues and work on some of these projects commenced even before the lab was officially opened.
One example is traffic congestion where the scientists have been leveraging IBM’s Watson (Big Data) technologies to crunch information about the traffic situation in Nairobi.
“A logistics business needs to be able to give an estimated time of arrival of when a delivery is going to be made to its customers, but if it can’t because of the traffic issues that can flare up in the city centre then we need to be able to utilise all the information that will help people make smarter decisions.
“For instance if you knew that there was a traffic backlog around the airport you might decide to carry on working for a couple of hours at the office before attempting to make that journey,” explained Stewart.
“What we are building up is made of two levels, at the ground level is a data hub that acquires data from all sources such as the ministry, CCTV images, sensors on the ground, data from Telco towers and then we can leverage Watson technology to generate new models about traffic pattern, pedestrian flow etc to an application level that people can use in whatever way they want.”
Within healthcare, where there is a dearth of skilled medical professionals across Sub-Saharan Africa, the researchers are looking at developing applications that will assist the education of the unskilled workers at health centres, such as clinical officers.
“We want to help to create a new class of healthcare workers in Africa and therefore open up the services to those millions who do not have access to healthcare,” said Stewart.
IBM is currently seeking to partner with the many utility stakeholders in order to provide better solutions for the supply of safe drinking water, power and waste management services, where currently there are many problems to address.
Many Africans are currently digitally invisible which from an economic point of view means it is difficult to evaluate such things as credit worthiness.
“We are trying to solve this problem to and if we can crack it then it opens up an economic and commercial gold mine to the whole community, and in particular those in rural communities who at present cannot get loans to help their businesses because there is no way of measuring their credit worthiness,” said Stewart.
The Lab is working hard to bring about change and within the next five years or so it is aiming to expand across the continent and have all the work currently being carried out in Kenya replicated across all regions.
“Our vision is to deliver our research across the continent, to become a truly pan African research facility and I believe we will achieve this,” said Stewart.
IBM, Uyi Stewart, Africa business, Africa technology, big data, Africa healthcare, Africa education
NetNumber: Time for a cloud-native transformation
NetNumber is accelerating the transition in the telecom industry to 5G as it starts a shift to cloud-native architecture to address the fast-paced demands of global subscribers and businesses.
NetNumber is offering the industry’s first cloud-native platform designed to ensure InterGENerational™ network performance addresses both the legacy and next-generation requirements of telecom networks.
“NetNumber has developed the industry’s most robust cloud-native, InterGENerational platform that addresses both the legacy and 5G requirements of telcos,” said Matt Rosenberg, Chief Revenue Officer of NetNumber.
The platform provides vertical and horizontal scale-out with low latency, coupled with a suite of data replication capabilities, which provide flexible architectural options that can evolve with the changing network over time.
“Cloud-based solutions from other vendors tend to be limited in terms of supporting particular network generations or protocols. We’ve created our latest platform TITAN.IUM to allow customers to take any generation of applications, any generation of legacy services and protocols and move them into the new world of cloud-native architecture,” said Rosenberg.
“This is a really important part for a carrier to harmonise their network, bring data services together, bring legacy with new together in order to make a more effective and efficient network, as well as reduce their cost as they scale forward,” he said.
Established in 1999, NetNumber has fostered a strong team environment that leverages the industry’s best skills to offer software solutions tailored for carriers of all dimensions. Based outside of Boston and with presence in over 20 countries, the company delivers a range of products that address all generations (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G) of network functions in the core network, deep rooted security products and services, STIR/ SHAKEN and set of options around data services in more than 90 countries.
Steeped in experience in building telecom solutions, software, protocol stacks, and integration of third party tools, the company’s development organisation has proven to supply to the industry with the most reliable and flexible solutions on the market.
“At NetNumber, we focus on our core competencies – we are dedicated to providing industry expertise in signaling, routing, security, subscriber management and data services. We provide customers a strong ROI through platform-based solutions that reduce Capex and Opex in the long-term,” commented Rosenberg.
Five reasons why customers choose NetNumber:
- Expertise - NetNumber has experts with deep knowledge in signaling/routing, security, and subscriber database management.
- Integration - An industry-first platform brings together domain services, applications, security, and global data services.
- Scale - NetNumber has the ability to seamlessly increase network efficiency using vertical and horizontal scaling.
- Speed - World-class solutions have the power to help companies create new service offerings and accelerate time to ROI.
- Savings - Customers enjoy significant savings in capex and opex, flexible deployment models, and investment protection.
NetNumber and Virgin Mobile MEA
“We're very proud of our partnership with Virgin Mobile MEA as they've taken the concept of the InterGENerational platform into their regional network strategy,” commented Rosenberg. “That’s accelerated how they develop exceptional services across the Middle East and Africa region.
“We work with them hand-in-hand to deliver multiple applications onto our platform which has enabled them to provide exceptional, advanced and innovative services to their customers across the Middle East, who demand high quality services.
“What they've really taken advantage of is scale. What I mean by that is they are putting multiple generations of applications and services onto the same platform and distributing that data across their network. That has resulted in an advantageous position of time to market and operational savings.
“Rather than having different applications for many different vendors that cause operational chaos, they've been able to consolidate that and reduce their operating costs by having everything on one common architecture. We’ve had a long-term relationship with Virgin Mobile in Saudi Arabia, and recently signed an agreement with Virgin Mobile in Kuwait.”
Rosenberg says that with these solutions, Virgin Mobile MEA can take advantage of getting to the market much quicker and faster—which is what today’s discerning customer demands.