• Connectivity
  • Is more connectivity what African eHealth wants for Christmas?

    A huge, long-standing challenge for Africa’s eHealth’s expanding connectivity to reach more people and enable more use. As mobile phone numbers and coverage expand, and mHealth opportunities with it, there’s many other typed of eHealth, such as hospital information systems that rely on other types of connectivity and networks. As these expand, connectivity and the networks have to expand too, and this is on top of the investment needed to improve existing networks to meet users’ needs. 

    Michael Lewis describes an extreme example of network investment in Flash Boys, the story of faster, allegedly immoral electronic trading on USA’s stock markets. Network projects that shave a few milliseconds, a thousandth of a second, off networks speeds to change and improve traders’ performances and add lots of US$ to their organisations’ profitability. 

    It can take between one and four tenths of a second to blink, so investing in a few extra milliseconds of network speeds is beyond Africa’s eHealth needs. Instead, a survey by Corning, Healthcare Facilities Struggle to Keep up with Rapid Growth of Network Demand, and published by Fierce Markets, offers a more realistic option.

    Alongside expanding health workers’ network needs, patients and families want more reliable, connected services too, but hospitals’ networks are under strain and clogged up. Corning, a fibre-optic supplier, surveyed four main types of healthcare organisation: hospital systems, 38%, healthcare facilities, 31%, university hospitals, 17%, and teaching and multi-system hospitals rounded, 14%. 

    Network needs are driven by other eHealth investment that includes: 

    69% healthcare facilities provide clinicians with laptops 69% provides computer workstations on wheels 49% supply smartphones 36% provide cell phones 36% provide tablets 32% offer pagers 24% offer tablets not specifically designed for healthcare.

    Each facility provides an average of 3.2 devices with network capabilities to each of their clinicians. These need network capacity: 

    69% use wireless apps for clinical communications 60% for medical device connectivity 43% for Wireless Medical Telemetry Services (WMTS) 42% for inventory management using Radio-Frequency Identification ( RFID) 29% for location and tracking using Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) or Bluetooth.

    In this setting, more than half the respondents said inconsistent cellular coverage is a problem. About 53% said slow data transfer from wireless devices is too slow. Some 76% said Wi-Fi is either always or sometimes not sufficient for guest and clinical use. Some of these constraints adversely affect patient safety and slows down some clinical decision taking.

    Solutions aren’t simple. Nearly 20% upgrade their networks every two to three years. About 34% upgrade every four years or more. About 39% don’t know. As eHealth expands and relies more and more on the cloud, network capacity will need expanding further, probably with more frequent upgrades. Network investment will need an increasingly bigger share of Africa’s eHealth resources to keep up.

  • Will light-spots replace hot-spots?

    Since 1997, Wi-Fi’s expanded access to the Internet at an enormous rate. Like all technology, it suffers from obsolescence, and after 18 years, is it’s time coming? Velmenni, an Estonian start-up, has used Li-FI successfully. The International Business Times (IBT) has reported on the achievement of using a Li-Fi-enabled lightbulb to transmit data at 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).That’s about 100 times faster than Wi-Fi’s radio signals.

    Li-Fi uses Visible Light Communications (VLC) technology. It’s a subset of optical wireless communications technologies that delivers high-speed, bidirectional, networked mobile communications. It works in a similar to Wi-Fi, but much faster. In 2008, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) released IEEE P802.15 Working Group for Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPANs), a tutorial on VLC. Since then, Harald Haas, a physicist at Edinburgh University, set up pureLiFi.  It now has a partnership with a French industrial-lighting company to roll out VLC technology in its bulbs in 2016. Li-Fi might be available a few years after these light-spots are available.

    VLC, so Li-Fi, works with Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs. They’re semiconductors, so the optical output can be modulated at very high speeds and detected by photodetector devices that can convert signals back to electrical current. To create Li-FI, a microchip needs fitting to the LED bulbs.

    IBT says Li-Fi won't work through walls. It doesn’t work outdoors either and it needs the lights on all the time to deliver connectivity. These limitations may mean that Li-FI and Wi-Fi may work alongside each other, so it may be too soon to think about turning the lights out in Wi-Fi.

  • When will Wi-Fi overtake cellular networks?

    Africa’s growing number of mHealth initiatives may be accompanied with a change in its communication infrastructure.  Wi-Fi First says that Wi-Fi’s everywhere, and it's disrupting the mobile industry in a big way. Will it boost mHealth in Africa?

    Wi-Fi First℠ is an infrastructure where mobile devices and services use Wi-Fi hotspots as their main network. Cellular networks are only used to fill the blackspot gaps. Free, a French ISP started the trend in 2012. GIGAOM likens it to a French revolution. It’s claimed that it has considerable benefit for consumers and offers new business models by putting Wi-Fi and at the forefront of mobile communications.

    A recent survey found that 90% of people spend at least nineteen hours a day within Wi-Fi range. The Wireless Broadband Alliance says the number of Wi-Fi network access points is expected to reach 5.8 million by 2015, up from 1.3 million in 2011. Alongside this, Cable Wi-Fi is could soon have more availability than cellular infrastructure.

    An article in The Economist says that the Wi-Fi First growth could catch out cellular providers, similar to the way that Skype did with telecoms companies. Last year, Conventional networks had 569 billion minutes of international calls. Skype had 248 billion, more than 30% of the minutes.

    For Africa’s healthcare, the issues are first, will Wi-Fi First help to expand the continents mHealth growth? Next, when will it make a difference? Then, will it be a big difference. It could all depend on the number and distribution of the hotspots.

  • Cote d'Ivoire has an Orange dialogue

    Dialogue is crucial to successful stakeholder engagement. Elie Wiesel, a Romanian-born American novelist and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, sees dialogue as “I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension.” Orange and Cote d’Ivoire’s health system are using Orange’s specific, structured dialogue mechanism to involve members of its healthcare ecosystem, including government, healthcare professionals, and patients.

    The dialogue began in Abidjan and the Bouaké region in February this year. They addressed day-to-day healthcare challenges faced by Ivoirians, aiming to identifying appropriate, relevant ICT solutions. Four major issues emerged:

    Healthcare affordability Geographic accessibility Medical care quality Disseminating prevention and awareness information.

    Affordability topped patients’ eHealth solutions and its links to geographic accessibility. Initiatives for remote medical monitoring, dedicated hotlines, and information and prevention campaigns by text and voice messaging were seen as good initiatives.

    Doctors wanted the development and provision of distance learning and a professional directory. Institutional representative stakeholders’ priorities were computerisation of patient data and healthcare services networks. EHRs were accorded a high priority.

    A challenge is now is for Cote d’Ivoire to integrate these stakeholder perspectives for a set of affordable eHealth initiatives over an investment timescale. After that, procurement, successful implementation then benefits realisation follow. The African Centre for eHealth Excellence (Acfee) shows that success for each of these depends extensively on continuous, effective stakeholder engagement.

    This in turn depends on continuous, effective, constructive dialogue. Cote d’Ivoire seems to already have it in place. It hasn’t fallen into the trap that Edward do Bono found when he said “In 80% of Socrates' dialogues there was no constructive outcome. He saw his role as simply pointing out what was "wrong.”  What’s needed is always better.

  • Rwanda's 4G LTE receives Global Telecom Innovation Award

    Rwanda’s 4G LTE project was recognised for its innovation in business model, innovative market structure and speed of rollout across the country in an award ceremony hosted by the Global Telecom Business Magazine in London. In November 2014, Rwanda launched the high-speed 4G LTE broadband network. An article in BIZTECH Africa says the network was established through an agreement between the Government of Rwanda and KT Corporation, South Korea’s largest telecommunications provider. The network is expected to serve 95% of the population by 2017.

    Commenting on the award, the Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, said “the Government of Rwanda congratulates our partner Korea Telecom on this award which recognises President Paul Kagame’s vision of making ICT a central component of the country’s rapid social economic transformation. It invites all industry players to accelerate their efforts towards delivering the promise of broadband to our economy and our people.”

    Rwanda continues to be one of the fastest growing African ICT markets. The country hopes to become a regional centre for training of high quality ICT professionals and researchers. With a population of 11.7 million people, Rwanda’s mobile penetration currently stands at 71.6% with Internet penetration around 28%.

    With its continuous ICT developments it seems that Rwanda is well on its way to becoming a ICT hub for Africa. The increased connectivity will benefit various sectors including healthcare. eHealth and mHealth services will be supported by a faster and more reliable connection helping healthcare extend its reach to more remote areas. 

  • Nigeria's connecting

    The Nigerian government has approved four fiber optic cable landing points in four coastal states to ensure widespread penetration of high capacity internet bandwidths in the country says ITWEB Africa. Nigeria is hoping to achieve 30% broadband penetration by 2018 and the new cables will go a long way to achieving the goal.

    Prior to this announcement, Nigeria only had a landing point in Lagos to facilitate international submarine optic cables from Main One Cable Company, MTN's West Africa Cable System (WACS), SAT 3 from the NITEL and Globacom's Glo 1 cable. The project is to be financed by the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF).

    The additional landing points will make internet connection faster and cheaper in parts of the country and reduce vulnerability and risks associated with a single point of failure in the system. Connectivity is fundamental for all eHealth and mHealth initiatives and may encourage further uptake of these services in the country. 

  • 4G coming to 7 MEA countries

    Orange plans to roll-out 4G network services in seven countries in Africa and the Middle East, according to an article in ITWEB Africa. The 4G network has already been launched in Botswana. Orange is present in 20 countries across the region, including Egypt, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, The Ivory Coast, Jordan, Niger, and Kenya.

    Company CEO Stephane Richard said that his company plans to continue to invest significantly in the African and Middle Eastern region. According to Richard, they’ll launch 4G by 2018 in most countries where Orange has a presence.

    This is an exciting prospect for African countries rolling out eHealth and mHealth initiatives. Increased coverage and better connectivity will go a long in supporting the development of eHealth in the region.

  • President Kagame's championing broadband development

    Mr Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda has been honoured by the ITU for his leadership and dedication in promoting ICTs and broadband connectivity as a means of achieving sustainable development. The ITU has presented the World Telecommunication and Information Society Award to three eminent personalities including Mr Kagame. Ms Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea and Mr Carlos Slim and Chairman, Grupo Carso and President of the Carlos Slim Foundation were also recipients of the award.

    ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré, welcomed guests to the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day ceremony saying, “our distinguished laureates this year are among the greatest champions of ICT in the world. They have supported our work with tremendous zeal, and together we have accomplished a lot – particularly in highlighting the key role ICTs play in the global economy as well as in leveraging sustainable development.”

    He went on to say that “Broadband connectivity is a critical element today in ensuring that ICTs are used as effective delivery vehicles for health, education, governance, trade and commerce in order to achieve sustainable socio-economic growth.”

    President Kagame is certainly a role model for other African countries with Rwanda being an example of how ICT can help support sustainable growth. The country has not only seen strong economic growth but also development in the healthcare sector, which continues to benefit from its eHealth initiatives.

  • WiFi hotspot makes satellite Internet affordable

    Maybe satellite services aren’t too expensive. SES Broadband Services and Kiora Media have announced that they will work together to provide Internet access and content through WiFi hotspots in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The hotspots will be located in public spaces and retail outlets, where users can pay for the service. The initiative will help drive down the cost per user. It also strengthens the business case for satellite Internet hotspots.

    This new proposition is the latest to address the connectivity challenge shared by African content consumers and the eHealth sector. “…Costly Point-to-Point backhauling and a lack of terrestrial connectivity remains a problem that prevents devices from obtaining content. With this new solution we aim to solve the bottleneck,” says Patrick Biewer, Managing Director of SES Broadband Services.

    The capital cost of Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) is far lower than laying fibre over any significant distance. While operational costs are higher in some countries, they’re dropping quite rapidly, making satellite Internet the more affordable option in many cases. Profitability for suppliers is increased by having multiple users or content consumers use each hotspot.

    These are valuable lessons for connectivity for eHealth, where dedicated satellite Internet may be too costly for the health service provider. By partnering with other community entities as Internet data consumers, two goals are met: reducing  connectivity costs to health service providers, and increasing the social returns for each WiFi hotspot. eHNA’s waiting to see how long it’ll take healthcare to adopt WiFi on a bigger scale.

  • So you asked for free WiFi, now Facebook is sending Drones

    Google grabbed headlines June 2013 with their promise of ubiquitous WiFi from high altitude balloons. Now Facebook has a proposal to try to go one better and provide free WiFi everywhere, with a solution that scores well on at least two metrics that get eHNA excited: connectivity potential for Africa and connectivity for eHealth. It’s also innovative, out-of-the-box and fun. Tom Walker of the UK’s Independent had an article about it.

    Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, made the announcement in March 2014. The strategy employs drones and low-earth-orbit satellites. Two thirds of the earth is targeted, to connect billions of people currently without Internet. It’s called the Connectivity Lab and Facebook’s apparently already hired several aerospace and communications experts from NASA and has purchased British aerospace company Ascenta, creators of Zephyr, a solar-powered drone the can run for 80-odd hours. Facebook is also rumoured to have been in talks to buy the Texas firm Titan Aerospace for as much as $60m; Titan is developing drones capable of flying non-stop on solar power for up to five years.

    The plan is an initiative of Internet.org, which wants to bring Internet access to those parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America that remain offline. It was launched 2013 by a group of technology companies. “Our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic Internet services available to every person in the world,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote in a post.

    It’s not Facebook’s first foray into this territory. In the past year they’ve already worked with partners in Paraguay and the Philippines to bring mobile Internet to three million new users.

    If, as Bill Gates suggested, “the Internet is the town square of the global village of tomorrow,” users across Africa have much to gain from joining this village, and much to contribute too. Health strengthening opportunities are enormous. A question is how we will prepare ourselves to realise benefits as the Internet connectivity expands.