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Human spirit tops technology at Rio 2016

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After two weeks of Olympic madness, the games are over and South Africa has done very well. Wayde Van Niekerk broke the 400m world record, but how much technology was involved and how much was human spirit, asks LEE NAIK, MD of Accenture Digital in South Africa.

It’s over. After two weeks of intense Olympic madness, the Rio games are over and I’m left catching my breath and dissecting what happened. One of my (and most other South Africans’) favourite moments was watching local boy Wayde Van Niekerk break the 400m world record.

Provided you haven’t been living in solitary confinement, you already know the story. After a mediocre qualification, Wayde was banished to the far outside lane. Everyone agreed that he had no shot.

Except it didn’t quite work out that way. Despite “running blind”, Wayde managed to do the unprecedented and win a gold medal – something no Olympian has ever done from the outside lane – breaking a world record that previously stood for over 17 years.

What strikes me most about this story is that Wayde was effectively running against himself. With no line of sight to the other lanes, he had no competitors against which to pace himself. It’s a dilemma that should resonate for any high performer in business: How do I consistently beat my best?

And with researchers speculating we may be pushing the boundaries of what is humanly possible in sports, is there anywhere else to go from here?

Building the superhuman

In many ways, professional athletes are the perfect example of lean principles at work. With the difference between winners and losers often coming down to the tiniest of margins, their entire career is dependent on shaving off literal fractions of seconds. Teams of scientists, nutritionists, doctors and physiotherapists all collaborate on training regimes, designed to hone athletes into machines of superhuman efficiency.

Naturally, technologies that can enhance these performances play a big role in this hypercompetitive world. Innovations in everything from clothing to training techniques have always generated plenty of discussion – not all of it positive, as the controversy over the swimming bodysuits four years ago shows.

If you’ve been following the technological side of this year’s games, you’ll have heard all about the latest digital tools Olympians are using to help them get the edge. There are the omnipresent wearables that track everything from heart rate variability and skin conductivity to sleep patterns. By tracking every nuance of an athlete’s body activities, trainers can fine-tune their training regimes to account for strain, injury and overstress.

And that’s just a small taste. Look at almost any sport and you can see an example of a fascinating new technology being deployed. Gymnasts like Simone Biles use LumiWave technology in their uniforms to alleviate aches and strains, allowing them to recover faster from training. Cyclists are taking to the track wearing smart glasses that display key metrics like speed, power and distance as they ride. The Australian Sevens Rugby team instantly know when it’s time to substitute a flagging player, thanks to data-capturing GPS units sewed into their shirts.

Beyond the wearables, you have the more surprising examples. The US swim team uses BMW taillight technology to monitor swimmers’ paths underwater and measure their movements more efficiently. And with the Americans having dominated the swimming competition, it’s clearly having an impact.

So perhaps the answer to recreating Wayde’s performance in the business world lies with investing in this advanced technology? Making yourself or your business into an unbeatable digital superma

Almost… but not quite.

Tech is just the starting block

Other Sevens teams may have had more advanced technology on the pitch, but it was Fiji – a nation where plastic bottles are frequently used in the place of balls – that took home the gold. Imagination and discipline is what carried them to the podium, not high tech.

BMW’s motion tracking technology might help Michael Phelps refine his technique, but it’s the swimmer himself breaking records and winning medal after medal. And Simone Biles certainly isn’t making those incredible leaps because of what she’s wearing.

As for Wayde Van Niekerk, when asked how he made that blistering 400m run, he says he doesn’t remember a second of it. You’re more likely to read about his 71-year-old trainer than you are about his advanced training technology

Because while the tech does undeniably have an impact on how you prepare, how you build up your skills and capabilities, it comes down to the performance on the day itself to bring home the gold. Wayde did the business when it counted, and that’s ultimately what sets apart the medallists from the rest.

So for me, the biggest lesson from the Olympics is not to get so fixated on the technological side that you forget the human element. Because when the gun goes off, it is creativity, drive and the desire to excel that will win the day.

What do you think? How do you believe businesses can emulate the performance of Phelps, Van Niekerk and Biles?

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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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