DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – As data connectivity is becoming the Fourth Utility in cities across the Middle East, businesses and homes across the region are rushing to implement it. The region is prioritizing innovative technologies that pave the way for the future of smart cities as network operators start the commercial rollout of 5G.
“The Middle East is focused on high speeds, low latency and building connections that support smart city transformation,” said Ehab Kanary, vice president of Enterprise, CommScope. “With the acquisition of ARRIS and Ruckus Networks, CommScope has the resources of a Fortune 250-sized company that is well placed to drive the future of connectivity in the region.”
Below are three trends that will impact smart cities in the Middle East:
City planners must continue to make investments for the long term: Governments in the region are playing a key role in leading and funding smart city projects. City planners must continue to educate themselves about the future possibilities of – and requirements for – smart city infrastructure, consulting with IoT vendors and network connectivity vendors, and working to develop a plan for the long term.
Governments and the private sector must join forces: Connectivity is the basic requirement for smart cities, and fiber-fed 5G wireless is the infrastructure that will make it possible. But to enable 5G universally, cities and service providers will have to work together. Shared infrastructure makes 5G a viable business model for both cities and service providers.
As 5G technology spreads, cities will leverage it to become “smarter”: Most people think of 5G as a new wireless service for faster smartphones, but it is also a medium that enables a city to become smarter. Citizens and visitors will demand virtual reality, augmented reality and autonomous vehicle applications also be integrated into city services and capabilities. In the near future, countries in the Middle East are engaged in projects aimed at improving public services, security and quality of life.
During GITEX Technology Week 2019, CommScope will highlight its latest solutions to enable a smart future for network operators across the region:
Fiber for High-Speed and Robust Connectivity: Smart cities will be built on fiber. CommScope will be demonstrating fiber technologies for faster connectivity in buildings, the data center and central office.
Ultra-Connected Homes are Becoming a Reality: Consumers are experiencing an increasingly digital life and network operators are seeking ways to unlock the best user experience. CommScope will demonstrate how the company is delivering reliable, high-bandwidth Wi-Fi to every corner of the home and showcase how the smart media device brings connected home technologies together for a unique personalized experience.
Powering Connectivity for Smart Cities: As smart cities add new mobile-connected devices like security cameras and air quality sensors, they must have access to electricity. This is not always an easy task considering devices may be several hundred meters away from a power source. Network operators are using CommScope’s powered fiber cable systems to speed and simplify installation, and power these types of network devices.
Digital foundation for Smarter Buildings: As the number of connected devices grows, the location of these devices is becoming more important. CommScope’s automated infrastructure management (AIM) system knows exactly what is connected, how it is connected and where it is located. The software automatically tracks changes, issues work orders and documents the entire network. It also provides root-cause analysis in the event of failure, helping restore services faster.
Journalists are invited to learn more about these trends and technologies from CommScope’s experts in Hall 7, Stand H7-D43, taking place in Dubai on October 6-10, 2019.
CommScope (NASDAQ: COMM) and the recently acquired ARRIS and Ruckus Networks are redefining tomorrow by shaping the future of wired and wireless communications. Our combined global team of employees, innovators and technologists have empowered customers in all regions of the world to anticipate what’s next and push the boundaries of what’s possible. Discover more at www.commscope.com.
News Media Contact: Komal Mishra +971 43602440 Komal@activedmc.com
Construction to date stands as one of the largest industries in the world and the MENA region is no exception. Many governments especially of its most affluent petrol-exporting countries struggled and still are due to a shortage of skilled workers, weak productivity growth, and waste. Construction sites of the future ‘will be people-free’ were already thought about back in 2014, when experts in construction processes were advancing ideas on developments being foreseeable soon through BIM-based Automated Construction. But unlike what happened in manufacturing in the developed world with all their adopted automated processes, the construction world has witnessed little progress, standing as one of the least digitized industries worldwide despite the recently proven potential of robots, drones, and printed buildings.
The construction sector is on the cusp of a technological transformation which will drive sustainability considerations to the forefront of decision-making, according to experts who will be debating key challenges associated with construction megatrends at an event this month. Robots are predicted to replace humans as the sector becomes increasingly automated over the next 30 years, supporting the drive for carbon-neutral development while radically improving health and safety on building sites. Dr Will Cavendish, global leader digital services, Arup; Aref Boualwan, senior manager digital transformation & strategy, CCC; Peter Jones, technical & operational efficiency director, Skanska; and Sherief Elabd, director of industry strategy, Oracle Construction and Engineering, will be among speakers at the Construction Technology Forum 2019, on September 24 and 25 September at Address, Dubai Marina, Dubai. According to Arup’s Cavendish, firms wishing to stay at the forefront of the construction sector must make both technology and sustainability considerations a priority or they risk being left behind. He says: “With the world becoming more polluted and fossil fuel use needing to fall, the transformation to carbon-neutral infrastructure, buildings, transportation and grid will become paramount to being able to live and operate in the Middle East.” Skanska’s Jones shares this vision for the future of the construction sector, adding: “Sites will deliver net-zero carbon through the use of electric vehicles, and plant and machinery powered from renewable resources.” By 2050, Jones predicts construction sites will look more like assembly plants dominated by robots. He says: “There will be very little build completed on site, except for foundations and earthworks. It will be more like an outside factory, with various sub-assembled components being delivered to site to be assembled by robots or automated vehicles. Ninety per cent will be manufactured off-site and only brought to site for final assembly.” CCC’s Boualwan also foresees connected systems and robots permeating future construction sites, creating a major shift in the required workforce skills. He believes a big advantage of this will be improved health and safety: “One of the main reasons why robots are increasingly deployed is their ability to replace workers in dangerous and hazardous construction zones, thus helping to improve safety measures.” Boualwan envisages significant opportunities in the construction sector for start-ups to help drive digitalisation. He believes this could help eradicate the days of construction delays and spiralling budgets: “The sector has lagged when it comes to technological advancements. Partnering with construction technology start-ups could help put an end to the expansion of construction schedules, and the continuous increase in labour and material costs. I believe the GCC construction scene is on the cusp of a new, ever-evolving era of engaging construction technology start-ups.” Middle East construction firms need to respond to advances in the sector in order to maintain their competitive advantage, and Arup’s Cavendish recommends they do this by prioritising considerations such as: sourcing sustainable materials; integrating with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; considering the “circular economy” to understand what happens at the end of a building’s lifecycle; and integrating smart technologies into buildings from design and through the lifecycle to deliver carbon-neutral operations. Oracle’s Elabd also endorses the need for prompt action in order to keep up with the rapid pace of change associated with tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), Building Information Modelling (BIM) and drones. He adds: “Companies need to be taking technology trends seriously now by investing their resources in quality research and development, and most importantly by focusing on process re-engineering and integration within their business culture and markets. Without a clear process which supports collaboration and adoption, there is no pathway to successful digital transformation.” “AI is the big game-changer in construction as everything is now revolved around improving productivity, especially labour, in a market that is more competitive than ever.” “Sustainability will become inherited and integral to any new construction, with constant improvements in performance driven by AI and automation, as well as the use of sustainable materials which promote less energy and water consumption.” With governments in the region laying the foundations for data-driven economies, the Construction Technology Forum is designed to provide insights into how adopting technology can reduce operational costs, boost productivity and enhance overall quality across all elements of the industry supply-chain. The Construction Technology Forum is organised by Ventures Connect, a partnership between b2b Connect and Ventures Middle East; two businesses committed to empowering companies across the Middle East and Africa Region while enabling critical connections with key stakeholders and decision-makers across various industries.
In Lebanon, around 350,000 Syrian refugees don’t have access to enough safe and nutritious food. To stem the crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations introduced an electronic voucher system to distribute food aid. People are given debit cards loaded with “e-vouchers” that they can use in certain shops to buy food.
But we found that Syrian refugees living in rural Lebanon often have to make difficult choices when buying essential items at the expense of food. Their e-vouchers can only be used in exchange for food, not other essentials like nappies.
Refugees have to engage in “grey-area transactions” that work around the e-voucher system, by asking shop owners to sell them the nappies and instead record on the system that they bought food. This places refugees in a vulnerable position – shop owners often charge higher prices for scanning non-food items as food, but refugees have no choice but to depend on shop owners to cooperate.
Collective purchasing allows refugees to pool their cash and e-vouchers so that one person can buy non-food items for another and be repaid with food. This allows people a degree of autonomy – they don’t have to rely on shop owners to allow them to buy non-food items using their vouchers. Instead, the community can manage their resources and needs among themselves.
Unfortunately, the e-voucher system prevents refugees from buying goods in bulk. Shop owners are advised by the WFP that purchases by refugees should be typical of buying food for a family. If refugees want to buy enough rice for their community and benefit from a wholesale discount, then the shop owner can refuse the transaction. This makes collective purchasing – something refugees often prefer to do when they have cash available – more difficult.
The WFP is currently piloting blockchain technology to replace this e-voucher system in Jordan and Pakistan. This is an exciting opportunity to alleviate these problems and help to empower both refugees and the shop owners, but only if the refugees themselves are involved.
Food aid designed by refugees
Rather than using a debit card, under this new system refugees would have a digital wallet that is similar to a bank account that you can access online. And instead of it being hosted by a bank, it’s part of the blockchain.
A blockchain is a shared log of transactions, with each user being able to track how much money and goods have been exchanged. This is constantly updated as transactions of food aid and money transfers are agreed between the customer and the shop owner. Each transaction forms a block of new information. The digital ledger is an expanding chain of interconnected blocks of information – hence the name, blockchain.
The WFP is using blockchain technology to cut costs on currency exchange and bank transfers. But the blockchain still allows transactions between refugees and shop owners in the same manner as the e-voucher system. If this new and innovative technology mimics the model that came before, the restrictions on what refugees can do will continue and blockchain will mimic paternalistic aid models that focus on efficiently distributing aid, rather than empowering refugees to leverage their own ways of coping with food insecurity. But if aid is designed with input from refugee communities, the technology could give Syrian people in Lebanon more agency when buying the essentials they need to live.
Blockchain can write smart contracts, which would allow people to buy items together. These are agreements whose terms are automatically enforced by an algorithm. Smart contracts act like a lock box with two keys that can be used to open it, one key is given for each party involved in the contract.
When the smart contract is created, both parties set the conditions that need to be met for them to be able to use the keys to open the lock box. Both keys need to be used for the lock box to open and for the money to transfer to complete the transaction. Before this can happen, both parties must agree that the conditions of the contract have been met. With this, refugee communities can negotiate collective purchases with shop owners and hold them accountable to the agreements they make.
Negotiating the terms of the smart contract means that refugees have more of a say over what they consider to be a fair deal. Once the smart contract is in place, the agreed sum of money for the purchase will be placed in a digital wallet – the lock box – that is bound by the terms of the smart contract. The value of items purchased by refugees is deducted once they’ve verified their identity with a retina scan, but the money will only be released to the shop owner if the refugees verify that they received the items.
We saw how these smart contracts could rebalance the power disparity between refugees and shop owners. Including refugees in the design process of humanitarian technologies and aid models can ensure they incorporate the values and practices of the people they’re supposed to help. Future innovations must be rooted in the daily lives of refugee communities. These technologies can empower people and make a real difference to their lives, but only if they’re allowed to design how they work.
AMEInfo Staff members report business news and views from across the Middle East and North Africa region, and analyse global events impacting the region today.
Over 50% of the population are active internet users, a number that is expected to rapidly increase by the year 2030, as per Admitad’s 2nd annual industry report outlining e-commerce trends in Egypt.
Though only 15% of online users in Egypt shop online, the populous is becoming progressively approachable in online communications
The e-commerce market in the MENA Region is expected to reach $28.5 billion by 2022
“Despite the low rate of internet users currently, we are seeing an exponential growth in the e-commerce market in Egypt” – Artem Rudyuk, Head of Admitad MENA
Admitad MENA, a branch of the Global Affiliate Network Admitad, has released its second annual industry report that has comprehensively researched the increasing growth of e-commerce and online users across Egypt. Although the internet is only used by half the population of Egypt, it is still developing at an exponential rate. In fact, by the number of users alone, Egypt ranks first in the whole MENA region. By the year 2030, the growth of e-commerce in the country is expected to be remarkable – the road map includes improved Internet Networks (5G) and the opening of more than 4000 post offices for logistical convenience to aid this active development.
In a recent report by PHD Egypt, Nour Saleh evidently notes how the Egyptian government is getting involved at all levels to increase awareness of the vast opportunities that digitization can bring to the country overall. As Egypt ventures the translation of their public sector and economy towards a digital platform, the availability of data is voluminous. The country is making prominent efforts to simplify mundane tasks and provide a smooth pathway into a digital era, including encouraging businesses to equip this transformation.
An analysis by Bain & Company estimates that the e-commerce market in the MENA Region is expected to reach $28.5 billion by 2022. As this industry continues to rise, even the small pool of internet users in Egypt is impressively active. Today, a vast majority of Egyptian people rely on social media communities, Facebook being at the top to search for information on goods and where they can find the best deals. Though only 15% of online users in Egypt shop online, the populous is becoming progressively approachable in online communications and are therefore being profoundly influenced by recommendations. Through this conscious endeavour, Egypt is proving that today is the best time to be in the e-commerce market in the MENA Region and advertisers need to start getting ready for an era of digitization.
“Despite the low rate of internet users currently, we are seeing an exponential growth in the e-commerce market in Egypt. As governments get involved and aim to simplify these processes through the addition of updated logistics and easy bank processes, we are already seeing a rise in advertisers penetrating the Egyptian market and expect to see this continue. There is no doubt that more advertisers in Egypt will start to embrace digital transformation very soon and we are seeing many of them jump onto the bandwagon already!” – Artem Rudyuk, Head of Admitad MENA
A MEConstructionNewsANALYSIS by Andrew Skudder, CEO. CCS, Guest Author, warning construction firms of the risks of not digitising operations, posted on April 25, 2019, is republished here for its obvious benefits to the MENA’s development.
With the Middle East construction sector under growing pressure as a result of a tightening economy, construction companies should be looking at ways to streamline their business processes, improve cash flow management and tighten risk management. Those that sharpen internal processes and systems today will be best positioned for an upswing in government and private sector investment in the years to come.
The sector faces numerous challenges – challenging economic growth, shrinking margins, skills shortages, rising resource and labour costs – which means it’s under pressure to start innovating.
Investment in tech is behind the curve
The challenges the industry faces are compounded by the fact that many construction groups have not digitised operations such as cost-consulting. This means they lack visibility into – and control over – the many variables, changes, people and equipment involved in any construction project.
Middle Eastern construction companies should be looking for ways to use technology to drive higher productivity, achieve cost-savings and improve project management to weather a tumultuous time for the industry. However, the lean years of late, have seen IT spending in the construction industry stagnate, despite the accelerating pace of innovation around the world.
For example, adoption of wearables, 3D printing, driverless heavy vehicles, drones and building information modelling is rising in the global construction sector. To take full advantage of these advanced technologies, many local construction companies will first need to modernise their core back-office systems.
They should be looking towards tried and tested solutions for estimating, project control, enterprise accounting and operational costing. These solutions will enable them to drive down the costs of maintaining legacy applications, help them to become more agile and give them clearer real-time visibility into business performance.
Breaking down silos
Construction performance and progress cannot be monitored on financial data alone; engineering information is just as critical. Engineering control includes generating and managing allowable and actual quantities of resources, wastages, manhours of labour, production of equipment and time for construction activities.
Without digitisation, an organisation has no clear indication of the status of the contract because it doesn’t have real-time visibility into these factors. Today’s business solutions can break down the silos, enabling estimators and accountants to produce real time-reporting, and yet continue to work in the language that is meaningful to them.
Integrated back-office systems spanning procurement, project control, cost estimation, sub-contractor management and accounting give construction companies one source and view of the truth, enabling them to manage an entire project with real-time visibility into costs and performance.
Using this data can help construction firms make better strategic and operational decisions. Data-driven insights can enable them to better manage cashflow and project risks, so they can better predict and mitigate payment delays, rising costs and other challenges. It can also help companies to drive higher levels of profitability through better project planning.
Building a foundation for the future
Looking to the future, a robust business solution is also a foundation upon which construction companies can layer drones, robots, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced digital technologies. Such solutions enable construction companies to manage and analyse big data produced by sensors, devices and workers so they can drive productivity and innovation – AI, for example, can help them rapidly process the data to find key insights.
Construction companies should embrace digital transformation to drive higher productivity, improve efficiency and gain a competitive advantage. Transforming their core business with a proven solution will help them prepare for the future, with a possibility that infrastructure spending will show signs of life again in the near future. Now is the time to lay the foundation for the next wave of growth.
I can still recall my surprise when a book by evolutionary biologist Peter Lawrence entitled “The making of a fly” came to be priced on Amazon at $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping). While my colleagues around the world must have become rather depressed that an academic book could achieve such a feat, the steep price was actually the result of algorithms feeding off each other and spiralling out of control. It turns out, it wasn’t just sales staff being creative: algorithms were calling the shots.
This eye-catching example was spotted and corrected. But what if such algorithmic interference happens all the time, including in ways we don’t even notice? If our reality is becoming increasingly constructed by algorithms, where does this leave us humans?
Inspired by such examples, my colleague Prof Allen Lee and I recently set out to explore the deeper effects of algorithmic technology in a paper in the Journal of the Association for Information Systems. Our exploration led us to the conclusion that, over time, the roles of information technology and humans have been reversed. In the past, we humans used technology as a tool. Now, technology has advanced to the point where it is using and even controlling us.
We humans are not merely cut off from the decisions that machines are making for us but deeply affected by them in unpredictable ways. Instead of being central to the system of decisions that affects us, we are cast out in to its environment. We have progressively restricted our own decision-making capacity and allowed algorithms to take over. We have become artificial humans, or human artefacts, that are created, shaped and used by the technology.
Examples abound. In law, legal analysts are gradually being replaced by artificial intelligence, meaning the successful defence or prosecution of a case can rely partly on algorithms. Software has even been allowed to predict future criminals, ultimately controlling human freedom by shaping how parole is denied or granted to prisoners. In this way, the minds of judges are being shaped by decision-making mechanisms they cannot understand because of how complex the process is and how much data it involves.
In the job market, excessive reliance on technology has led some of the world’s biggest companies to filter CVs through software, meaning human recruiters will never even glance at some potential candidates’ details. Not only does this put people’s livelihoods at the mercy of machines, it can also build in hiring biases that the company had no desire to implement, as happened with Amazon.
In news, what’s known as automated sentiment analysis analyses positive and negative opinions about companies based on different web sources. In turn, these are being used by trading algorithms that make automated financial decisions, without humans having to actually read the news.
In fact, algorithms operating without human intervention now play a significant role in financial markets. For example, 85% of all trading in the foreign exchange markets is conducted by algorithms alone. The growing algorithmic arms race to develop ever more complex systems to compete in these markets means huge sums of money are being allocated according to the decisions of machines.
On a small scale, the people and companies that create these algorithms are able to affect what they do and how they do it. But because much of artificial intelligence involves programming software to figure out how to complete a task by itself, we often don’t know exactly what is behind the decision-making. As with all technology, this can lead to unintended consequences that may go far beyond anything the designers ever envisaged.
But the algorithms that amplified the initial problems didn’t make a mistake. There wasn’t a bug in the programming. The behaviour emerged from the interaction of millions of algorithmic decisions playing off each other in unpredictable ways, following their own logic in a way that created a downward spiral for the market.
The conditions that made this possible occurred because, over the years, the people running the trading system had come to see human decisions as an obstacle to market efficiency. Back in 1987 when the US stock market fell by 22.61%, some Wall Street brokers simply stopped picking up their phones to avoid receiving their customers’ orders to sell stocks. This started a process that, as author Michael Lewis put it in his book Flash Boys, “has ended with computers entirely replacing the people”.
The financial world has invested millions in superfast cables and microwave communications to shave just milliseconds off the rate at which algorithms can transmit their instructions. When speed is so important, a human being that requires a massive 215 milliseconds to click a button is almost completely redundant. Our only remaining purpose is to reconfigure the algorithms each time the system of technological decisions fails.
As new boundaries are carved between humans and technology, we need to think carefully about where our extreme reliance on software is taking us. As human decisions are substituted by algorithmic ones, and we become tools whose lives are shaped by machines and their unintended consequences, we are setting ourselves up for technological domination. We need to decide, while we still can, what this means for us both as individuals and as a society.