If big data seems to be something remote, think again: it’s becoming a big part of your health picture, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
It’s no surprise that the health industry has taken so strongly to fitness tracking devices: every day, these gadgets stream information on a level that previously was only possible from a medical checkup – which takes place only once a year, if at all.
When Microsoft entered the crowded fitness tracker market with its Band device 18 months ago, the big news wasn’t in the device itself. The real story was the launch of Microsoft Health, a wellness tracking platform powered by cloud computing. It wasn’t a first, but the entry of the software giant into an area where the early running seemed to be made by Google Fit and Apple Health was deeply significant.
For one thing, it meant that health tracking was now a priority for a company focused both on leveraging the cloud and making sense of Big Data – the ability to turn massive volumes of information into business intelligence.
It also meant that, regardless of the success of the Band, the platform would evolve to take advantage of the intensifying stream of health data being pumped out by millions of other wearable devices. For now, that market is dominated by Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin, Samsung Gear and Jawbone UP. However, a strong push from Chinese manufacturers like Lenovo, Xiaomi and Huawei is likely to change the early shape of the industry.
Even in South Africa, fitness bands or activity trackers are beginning to graduate from fad to trend to mainstream. The local market is led by Fitbit, which at one stage threatened to become the generic name for activity trackers globally. In an interview last year, US president Barack Obama said he was planning to get a Fitbit – but appeared to be talking about the category rather than the brand. He suggested he might consider an Apple Watch.
In the USA, Fitbit sells two-thirds of all activity trackers. For wearables in general, including smart watches, its share drops below half, but it still leads the market. In South Africa, it helped that it was endorsed by Discovery Health, which gave members of the Vitality wellness programme bonus points for using the device. Discovery did the same for brands like Garmin, Nike, Fitbug, Jawbone, Polar and Adidas.
In the near future, it is likely that medical insurance companies will plug into the devices as well as the platforms. Since Microsoft Health also acts as a hub for data from other monitoring platforms, like MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper, there is little reason it can’t become a catch-all health data aggregator.
Combine this kind of functionality with information collected by health practitioners – including nutritional assessments and medical check-ups – and it becomes possible to make precise connections between behaviour and health. The significance of the role of big data here is that recommendations can then be made across large populations as well as for specific individuals.
Right now, many individuals who are committed to healthy living depend heavily on health magazines that offer glib and generalised advice as silver bullets, when in fact this represents a scattergun approach. In the near future, big health data will mean that every individual will potentially have access to highly personalised diagnostics and advice.
There will be many pitfalls along this path, such as “wrist spam”, when too much data is offered, and false alerts, when people are for example wrongly warned of impending heart attacks. Privacy will become an increasing challenge, and laws will probably be passed to dictate what information health and life insurance companies may collect, how it must be stored, and how they can use that information to weight insurance premiums.
The biggest threat of all, however, is likely to be security: in the same way many hackers now make a living from stealing financial data, many will in future try to harvest health and activity data for sale to the highest bidders.
The stakes are high, with massive benefits for the main stakeholders: individuals managing their own health destinies; cloud computing companies hosting the data; practitioners providing scientifically tailored care; researchers getting the most accurate insights yet from trials; and insurance companies requiring interventions when anomalies appear. For each of these, it’s the small insights lurking in the big data that will make all the difference.
There will be many not-so-obvious stakeholders too, in particular the companies that manufacture wearable monitoring devices. Knowing what makes the biggest difference in big data will aslo depend increasingly on these small increments in data that each of us is streaming into our devices, and from there into the world.
When will we stop calling them phones?
If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.
Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?
It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.
Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.
It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.
That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.
Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti, Admyt and Kaching.
Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.
Who has time for phone calls?
The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.
The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,
This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.
That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.
Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.
Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.
Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.
More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time.
I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.
There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.
MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps
MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.
The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.
“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.
Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”
“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”
“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.