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Biometric IDs could give Africa a place in the 4IR

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Biometric IDs

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is attributed to a mélange of the digital, biological, and physical worlds, with rapidly advancing technologies at the helm such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and many more.

These technologies are already laying the ground for massive socio-economic disruptions that promise to change how people function on the day-to-day.

This has a profound meaning for the African continent, with millions unbanked, unregistered, or digitally invisible. While Africa has been left behind during past industrial revolutions, it seems this time might be different.

From a technology perspective, digital financial services, or Fintech reigns supreme in Africa, mainly due to a large number of its peoples being unbanked. However, that could change as the African governments currently attempt to rollout biometric IDs for its citizens.

According to the World Bank, Africa is home to roughly half of the estimated one billion people in the world who are unable to prove their identities. To help remedy that, the World Bank has mobilized more than $1.2bn to support ID projects in 45 countries.

Nearly every African country with a stable government now has active biometric ID programs in place or under way, according to ID4Africa, with South Africa and Nigeria’s biometric IDs among the most developed.

ID4Africa is an initiative kickstarted by the World Bank Group that conducts Identity Management Systems Analyses (IMSAs) to evaluate countries’ identity ecosystems and facilitate collaboration with governments for future work.

To date, analyses have been conducted in 17 African countries, including Botswana, Chad, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Zambia.

The eagerness of African governments to build biometric ID systems, coupled with the wealth of international funds available, makes Africa a ripe and coveted market for biometric ID providers.

According to a report by Research and Markets, the global biometrics market accounted for $17.28 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $76.64 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 18 percent during the forecast period.

“By authentication type, voice recognition is supposed to witness significant growth due to the consumer’s likes for a safer identity mechanism. Technological advancement in biometrics and the growing popularity of voice recognition biometrics in the BFSI sector will propel market growth of this segment during the forecast period,” the report highlighted.

While in Africa, the market for biometric and digital identity documents alone is estimated at $1.7 billion, according to Acuity Market Intelligence.

What are biometric IDs?

Market leader Thales defines biometric IDs as the process of comparing data for the person’s characteristics to that person’s biometric “template” to determine resemblance.

The reference model is first store in a database or a secure portable element like a smart card; the data stored is then compared to the person’s biometric data to be authenticated.

“Biometric identification consists of determining the identity of a person, with an aim to capture an item of biometric data from this person, consisting as a photo of their face, a record of their voice, or an image of their fingerprint, which is then compared to the biometric data of several other persons kept in a database,” the study by Thales explained.

While this data brings a person’s identity into the limelight, it can help via a plethora of other day-to-day functions such as increasing government support through organizations, increasing adoption of biometric authentication in banking and healthcare sector (E-banking and mobile payments), and increased security and convenience for consumers.

What’s happening on the ground?

In Liberia, biometric IDs are aiding the government’s efforts to remove ghost workers within the public sector, in an attempt to shrink the country’s expenditures.

The country formed a National Payroll Clean-up Taskforce that announced earlier in the year that no civil servant will be paid without submitting a biometric National Identification Number starting July 1st.

“We commend President George Manneh Weah for supporting our team in these painstaking efforts undertaken over the past year to streamline the Government wage bill, which had grown to US$327 million in 2018 and represented more 68 percent of our National Budget but has now been stabilized at US$297 million,” James Thompson, Acting Civil Service Agency (CSA) Director General, was quoted as saying.

The taskforce – made up of the CSA, National Identification Registry (NIR) and Internal Audit Agency and Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) – launched the E-verification Platform. The platform grants the CSA and MFDP access to the NIR’s biometric ID database to properly manage salaries.

“With the continuous political will and support of the President Weah, and the Cabinet, and the entire Liberian workforce, this unusually high compensation cost will sustainably be reduced to free up the needed fiscal space to fund investment programs and service delivery that were critical to achieving any substantive change for the citizens of Liberia,” Thompson added.

Zipping to Togo, the country’s parliament has officially given the greenlight to begin implementation of their “e-ID Togo,” the national biometric identity project.

Expected to begin in early 2021, the biometric ID scheme will look to create unique numbers for each citizen in an attempt to increase access to public services such as welfare and establishing universal public healthcare.

“The adoption of this law is historic because it lays the legal foundations of the system in Togo,” Cina Lawson, minister of posts, digital economy, and tech innovation, was quoted as saying.

In East Africa, a countrywide digital security debate has been ignited in Kenya regarding the lack of regulatory framework for the country’s biometric IDs, with activists sounding the alarm on the project’s safety measures.

The main concern is fears over the continent’s lack of a legal digital ecosystem that could see citizens, including vulnerable LGBTQ communities, being exposed to privacy abuses and breaches.

As with other disruptive technologies, biometric IDs need to be properly regulated and secured to evade exploitation efforts by malicious users.

Biometric IDs hold greater value to the economy, especially in the case of Africa; they represent the ability to elevate the continent’s economy by focusing on their human capital to pioneer the technologies accompanying the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Africa was left behind in previous industrial revolutions, but if done right, the proper implementation of biometric IDs could place the continent as a force to be reckoned with in the digital economies of the future.

Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Telecoms

India’s Reliance Industries seek controlling stake in UK’s BT Group

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Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) is assessing the possibility of bidding on British telecom titan, BT Group Plc., reported by the Economic Times.

According to the report published by the news hub on Monday, Reliance is currently planning to place an unsought offer to obtain shares into the British telco, or as an alternative, to have a controlling stake in the company. From the 419 institutional investors in the British firm, some have expressed their interest in cashing out if a suitable offer surfaces.

In parallel, Reliance is considering proposing a partnership with BT’s fiber-optic firm, Openreach, to finance and expand its plans.

Currently, BT Group’s market gap has reached a whopping $20.63 billion since November 26th. In the event of RIL taking control of the UK company, it will mark the biggest outbound merger and acquisition (M&A) related to any Indian establishment.

An outbound M&A is when a domestic company obtains or merges with a different firm in a different country. This demands notable guidance concerning the legality and issues of compliance to accommodate the other country’s demands, restrictions, and requirements to be included in the pre-merger interactions.

Analysts believe that Asia’s wealthiest man, Chairman and managing director at RIL, Mukesh Ambani, has directed his attention towards BT to further expand the company’s reach on a global scale.

It is worth mentioning that this does not mark the first time Reliance has tried to reach out for global expansion. In September, the Indian Group was outbid by a consortium of Apax and Warburg Pincus to obtain power over Netherland’s T-Mobile.

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Palestine to finally receive 4G rollout, agreement to be settled

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Israel has finally agreed to authorize 4G rollout to Palestine, as its latest initiative from the Israeli government to enhance Palestinian daily life.

While the country has already deployed 5G networks to its areas, Palestinian citizens have yet to indulge in the 4G rollout experience, as Palestinian telcos are still operating their services with 3G.

Following a closed meeting held between Israel and Palestinian telecoms, and repetitive complaints from Palestinian officials that Israel has not shown initiative to begin technical discussions until April.

Despite that no official agreement has been made, Palestinian telcos are waiting for clarification regarding the extent of bandwidth to be available, given that a previous Israeli agreement has been rejected by the telcos since Israel offered to provide a modest number of frequencies.

Even if Israel authorizes the agreement, local telecom operators will still need around six months to a year to purchase and import the required equipment for the 4G rollout in rural areas.

In 2018, the Israeli government agreed on the deployment of a 3G network for Palestinian citizens. However, the rollout was confined to the West Bank, given that Israel has not permitted domestic service providers to buy 3G equipment for Gaza, which is still operating on 2G.

The demand has risen from Palestinian to attain 4G networks, as it will heighten the country’s economy, as well as push residents from using Israel cellular networks and focus on local ones instead.

It is worth mentioning that Israeli networks deliver a much higher signal frequency reaching deep into Palestine’s region, in addition to their low-cost effectiveness and faster networks compared to the local ones.

This could potentially raise havoc for Palestine’s telcos as their pricing is too high, a factor led by Israel’s intense restrictions on network frequencies and limitations on towers infrastructure and location.

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Huawei to boost Malaysia digitization through new innovation center

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In an effort to boost Malaysia’s digitization, Chinese telecom giant Huawei seeks to accelerate the country’s digital economy transformation by building the country into a regional digital hub, Huawei said in a press release on Tuesday.

The company unveiled its newly refurbished and upgraded Huawei Customer Solution Innovation Center (CSIC) as part of a commemoration ceremony celebrating its 20th anniversary since entering the Malaysian market, the release noted.

Malaysia Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Bin Yaakob said, “The CSIC is a testament to Huawei Malaysia’s commitment to the nation’s digital transformation.”

I was informed that most of Huawei Malaysia’s employees are local. Talents are a crucial part in accelerating digital transformation for the nation, he said.

The Prime Minister added that he believes that Malaysia has the capacity and capability to achieve 100 percent digital inclusivity, especially among vulnerable communities.

“I am proud to say, in embracing the concept of Keluarga Malaysia, Huawei has taken an important role in helping the Government address this matter. I hope more corporations will come forward to follow in your footsteps,” he said.

As such, Huawei’s CSIC was designed as an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Hub and Centre of Excellence to run the industry’s open ecosystem and accelerate digital economy transformation in Malaysia.

The CSIC, which is located in Integra Tower at the heart of Kuala Lumpur, aggregates the company’s over 120 reference applications and services globally.

Huawei’s customers and partners can leverage this innovative platform to design and test technology solutions, verify new business models, and nurture innovation applications and services to both the public and private sectors.

Huawei Malaysia CEO Michael Yuan said that through the CSIC, Huawei Malaysia would continue to bring global experiences to serve the needs of the ICT industry in Malaysia and to assist local stakeholders in succeeding in their businesses.

“This center will act as a catalyst to accelerate Malaysia’s digital transformation and to capitalise on the potential of advanced technologies and assist in driving investments in the digital economy for the nation at the same time,” added Yuan.

Cloud Computing was another highlight, with Huawei working with Malaysian communication service provider Telekom Malaysia on their Alpha Edge, the only Malaysian-owned Cloud and AI infrastructure and services to enterprises and government institutions that ensures data sovereignty.

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