The internet of things is the latest slice of jargon to populate the vocabulary of technology companies the world over, but how is Africa utilising this emerging technology?

Traditionally Africa has played catch-up to the rest of the world when it comes to technology but as Ericsson head of government and industry relations, Shiletsi Makhofane explains to us, the internet of things is bringing innovation right to the forefront of technological development in Africa and its facilitating innovative solutions to African problems.

“We are working with a company in Rwanda that is looking at automating the transport system. We are also working with a company in South Africa that is developing an app that would be able to automate the mini-bus transport system so that the commuter and the taxi-driver have greater interaction,” says Makhofane.

Ericsson runs an annual competition where it looks for startups that are providing innovative solutions to African problems. This week the firm awarded a prize to Illuminium Greenhouses, a startup from Kenya that employs the internet of things in agriculture.

The iHub based startup embeds sensors in the soil that read how much moisture there is. When the sensors detect that water is needed they trigger an irrigation system which then provides the exact amount of water needed. What’s more is that system can be solar powered. It’s incredibly fascinating and you can check out a brief explanation about the tech in the video below.

These are just a few examples of how the internet of things is inspiring a technological revolution in Africa and as Makhofane puts it, this revolution brings with it a wealth of possibilities for Africans.

“In terms of solving challenges, Africa has a big opportunity. Africa has a number of challenges that other markets do not have. We have the chance to look at these challenges and solve issues within the areas of connectivity and agriculture,” Makhofane tells us.

Those are, of course not the only solutions. Sensors can be used to measure air quality, determine whether water is being wasted due to leaks and energy management.

But what the internet of things really breeds is an opportunity for willing startups to look at the challenges that rural communities are facing and solving them such as Illuminum is.

It’s not just startups that have an opportunity though. As Makhofane points out, the infrastructure that is needed to run the internet of things is shaping how operators shape their networks.

“There is more and more realisation that these networks are starting to mean a lot. Governments are starting to push to connect the rural areas and in more condensed areas such as cities you’re seeing operators looking at new ways to use the network,” says Makhofane.

This is just the start of what is to come and but it is ultimately reliant on broadband coverage becoming more widespread. While the inspiration is there, solving problems requires input not just from startups but from government and the private sector to empower these startups to solve the problems their communities face.