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How cloud transforms all

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Companies of all types are shifting to cloud computing and are therefore being forced to change their way of working. DR WERNER VOGELS, Chief Technology Officer, Amazon.com believes this disruption has lead to new ideas and innovations all the way from start-ups to government organisations.

Organisations from the Public Sector to the Private Sector are undergoing a fundamental shift with the advent of cloud computing.  The shift is disrupting the traditional way of working and the old way of thinking. As the cloud continues to level the playing field for organisations, both large and small, we are seeing fast adoption that has helped to unleash great ideas and innovations from start-ups to enterprises to government organisations.

Transforming industries

Over the last few years we have seen that cloud is becoming a catalyst for changing industries as organisations are able to access vast amounts of compute resources on demand in order to help them innovate. Globally, we are seeing industries like Oil and Gas being transformed as organisations, like Royal Dutch Shell, use the cloud in order to help with oil exploration. The financial services sector is being transformed as institutions like Aviva, the largest insurance company in the UK, use the cloud for calculating insurance premiums and the consumer goods industry is being transformed as organisations like Unilever use the cloud in the research and development of new products.

In the Public Sector this transformation is happening at an equally rapid pace. Researchers are using AWS to speed up science, using the vast compute resources at their fingertips to run more experiments, at a lower cost. Non-Profit Organisations, such as Cancer Research UK, are using the cloud to stop paying for computing power they aren’t using meaning they can focus more of their resources on the important work. We are also seeing cities and governments using AWS to transform the lives of citizens. Through Smart, and Collaborative, City initiatives, such as those we are seeing in Cities as diverse as Chicago in the US, Peterborough in the UK and Paris in France, local governments are innovating with the cloud to enable citizens to enjoy higher standards of living.

This transformation isn’t just happening at the global level, it is also happening at the local level here in South Africa. South African organisations were amongst the earliest adopters of cloud services when AWS launched in 2006. Customers based in South Africa are using AWS to run everything from development and test environments to big data analytics, from mobile, web and social applications to enterprise business applications, public sector and mission critical workloads. AWS now counts some of Africa’s fastest growing businesses as customers including, Entersekt and PayGate as well as established enterprises such as MiX Telematics and Medscheme.

A great example of a South African company that is transforming the travel sector is Travelstart. Started in 1999, Travelstart has grown to become Africa’s largest travel booking website offering flights, hotel bookings, car rental, vacation packages and a range of insurance services. The company operates in more than 15 countries across Africa and the Middle East. By using the cloud to rapidly grow their business, and expand to the Middle East, Travelstart is able to take on the world’s largest companies in their field while also increasing their reliability and levels of customer service. Using AWS Travelstart has been able to rapidly grow their Middle Eastern business while reducing downtime by 25%.

Incubating innovation

We are also seeing tremendous rise in entrepreneurial activities in South Africa and across EMEA. Many start-ups are driving hard to innovate and get their product in the hands of customers at break-neck speeds.

For example, with millions of smart phone users worldwide, and multitude of applications, mobile developers and the businesses they serve need scalable infrastructure to develop and host the backend services.  With the cloud, mobile developers are no longer worried about managing infrastructure resources, which is often either not their core competence or they simply don’t want to spend time on it.  They are now able to focus on building sophisticated, scalable products and accelerating their time to market.  In addition, mobile developers are able to leverage the cloud for fast, complex processing of their application services before delivering the presentation layer across multiple form factors and devices to ensure great user experience.

A local Cape Town example of a company that has offloaded the managing of infrastructure to the cloud so they can focus on delivering customers a great experience is music streaming platform, NicheStreem. Using AWS, NicheStreem has launched their business focusing on niche music genres for music lovers catering for tastes as diverse as Afrikaans music and Naija Gospel. Their first app, called Liedjie, caters to Afrikaans music. Since launching in December 2015 the app now has streamed tens of thousands of tracks to thousands of registered users. By offloading their heavy lifting of managing infrastructure to the cloud, the team at NicheStreem can focus more of their resources on delivering music lovers the best choice in niche music, not on running datacenters.

The reason we are seeing success stories, like NicheStreem, in Africa is because cloud computing gives businesses of any size access to storage, compute, database and many other technologies on a pay as you go basis from anywhere in the world. This is democratising the business world by giving small companies access to the same vast amounts of technology that were only in the realms of the world’s largest organisations in the past. Having immediate access to technology infrastructure is also allowing researchers to turn their ideas into businesses quicker, and at a lower cost, than was previously possible. We are seeing this come from South Africa with a great example being Hyrax Biosciences.

Developed at the South Africa National Bioinformatics Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Hyrax Biosciences has developed HIV drug testing technology in the cloud. Starting as a research programme, the company developed an AWS based technology called Exatype which rapidly and accurately tests HIV drug resistance. Traditionally it costs $300 to $500 to do a single resistance test but, with the AWS based system, Exatype can do this at a fraction of the cost.  The reason this is important is currently 10% of patients on antiretroviral treatment, to combat HIV, do not respond to the drugs provided to them because of drug resistance. Exatype solves this problem by showing clinicians which drugs would be most effective for each individual patient to increase response and improve treatment. By using the cloud Hyrax Biosciences was able to take their research from idea to business in a short amount of time and at a fraction of the cost it would incur before.

Whether it is Travelstart, NicheStreem or Hyrax Biosciences, I’m excited with the innovation we see coming from South Africa. I look forward to see the cloud continue its rapid growth in the country and look forward to see more South African start-ups expand their businesses around the world.

Dr Werner Vogels, Chief Technology Officer, Amazon.com will be in South Africa in July and will be delivering the keynote address at the AWS Summit in Cape Town on July 12. To register for the event visit the AWS Summit web page at: http://aws.amazon.com/south-africa/summit-cape-town/

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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.

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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.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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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.

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