How IoT is inching into Kenyan homes

The technology that makes it possible to control everything in a home remotely has been around since the 1990s in other parts of the world, but increased internet access, electricity connections and advances in technology are slowly bringing it into Kenyan homes. 

09 Jul 2021 . 3,582 Views

Alexa, set the timer for 15 minutes.

Timer set for 15 minutes.

Hey Siri, please play Burna Boy.

I’ll need to access your Spotify data to do this. Is that OK?


OK, here’s ‘Burna Boy.’

Alexa is Amazon’s default wake word for the virtual assistant in its devices while Siri is the equivalent on Apple products.

Alexa, Siri and a variety of many other virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, and Samsung Bixby though not yet ubiquitous in the country are slowly getting into Kenyan urban homes.

A virtual assistant is an application that can understand voice commands and complete tasks for a user. The Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered devices are available on most smartphones and tablets, traditional computers, and standalone gadgets.

They combine specialized computer chips, microphones, and software that listens for specific spoken commands from you and usually answers back with a voice that you select.

Houses are being built and fitted with smart intuitive devices that can tell when it’s dark and can turn on the lights, or when it’s cold turn on the heater and air-condition when it’s hot or automatically set off the fire alarm and water sprinklers when they detect fire or a smoke.

Slowly these smart devices that were commonplace in technologically advanced countries and futuristic movies are slowly getting into the country.Increased internet connectivity and electricity connections have motivated people to explore the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT refers to objects and products that are interconnected and identifiable through digital networks.

With an internet connection and electricity, one needs not be tech savvy or as wealthy as Bill Gates, whose home in Seattle, Washington, is reported to be the most famous smart home to date.

It uses a sensor system to control temperature, lighting and entertainment, and guests are given a pin that they can use to enter their preferred light and temperature settings. So well made is the system that if a guest plays a song in one room, hidden speakers continue playing the song anywhere else in the house they move into. The art on the walls is on computer screens and the lights go on ahead and go off behind as one walks in the house.

Bill Gates has had a smart home since 1995, but the rest of the world is catching up as technology becomes more affordable and fibre optic cables enable faster internet to reach more homes.

Now, ordinary-looking energy-saving bulbs the type that the Kenya Power and Lighting Company was handing them out to customers in 2013 can be remote-controlled

When Alex opens the Google Home app on his phone and presses a few icons, the bulb changes colours. From very dimto a bright blinding shade.

Alex, who prefers to be identified by one name,trades in a variety of smart gadgets which are connected to the internet and can be controlled remotely.

“One thing that I believe in is that you have to make technology work for you,” he says, and before he sells any item, he has to test it himself.

The bulbs he sells are WiFi-enabled and are controlled by a mobile.

With a simple voice command, he can switch the bulb on or off, change its colour and temperature.

And when Alex is away from home, even as far as Moyale where he travels for business, he’ll run the app remotely or issue a voice command to switch the lights on or off as a security measure.

Google Home can also be used to connect other devices, such as speakers, TV, music players and cameras, enabling the user to enjoy their music and monitor their dwellings remotely.

The launch of the 5G network in the major urban centres of the country, Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii and Kakamega, and to more than 150 areas in nine towns across Kenya in the next 12 months, by Safaricom in partnership with Nokia and Huawei, is also bound to come with faster internet.

The latest sector statistics from the Communications Authority of Kenya show that there are currently 43.7 million internet/data subscriptions in Kenya, slightly less than the country’s population, with more than 90 per cent of these using mobile phones.

This increased access to the internet has piqued the interest of Kenyans in IoT as well. Apart from individual businessmen like Alex, who started importing the smart bulbs because of increased demand from his customers, established businesses have begun to take notice. This year, Securex Agencies, a regional security provider for technology-driven security solutions across East Africa launched a kit ‘Rafiki by Securex’ retailing at Kshs 6,500 that enables users to access their home security from anywhere using their home Wi-Fi connection.

The kit works by connecting motion detectors and sensors through WiFi to an app on the user’s phone that they can then use to access the system and receive alerts when doors or windows, wherever the sensors have been placed, are opened.

Users also have the ability to purchase additional security accessories that suit their different needs, such as door contact sensors, motion sensors, cameras, and even smart lighting.

Costs for setting up a smart home can be rather steep, and uptake therefore low.

However, as the technology becomes widely available and Kenyans get more access to global e-commerce, these costs may gradually come down.

On the utility side, companies like Upepo Technology are pioneering the installation of smart meters to stem losses of water provided by service providers.

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