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IAB takes on SA censors

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The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has engaged the Film and Publications Board (FPB) with regards the latter’s recently gazetted Draft Online Regulation Policy and has met with FPB CEO, Themba Wakashe, to discuss the IAB’s concerns.

The Draft Policy, as currently tabled, has potentially far-reaching implications for free speech in South Africa, and doesn’t address a large number of operational challenges the FPB will face in attempting to implement and enforce it against the backdrop of an increasingly digitally-enabled and –active population.

The FPB’s policy has attracted criticism and controversy, with a number of commentators calling into question its constitutionality, lawfulness and practicality.  At its core, the policy requires the pre-classification, prior to publication, of any “film, game or certain publication” according to the FPB’s guidelines, and explicitly includes within its scope user-generated content distributed via social media platforms. The definitions of “film” and “certain publication” are broad enough to cover video or content in almost any form (including news and current affairs content).

The FPB has further purported to grant itself vague and extensive censorship powers via a provision that requires that, “with regard to any other content distributed online, the Board shall have the power to order an administrator of any online platform to take down any content that the Board may deem to be potentially harmful and disturbing to children of certain ages”.

Anyone who publishes – or facilitates the publication of – content, be it Google, Apple and Facebook, South Africa’s ISPs and news media, and even individual bloggers and small businesses operating from bedrooms and basements, stands to be caught in the FPB’s wide net.

The IAB is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the growth of digital business in South Africa, and represents over 200 of the country’s largest and most influential online publishers, brands, digital advertising and media agencies, and educational institutions, all of whom create and publish content in some form or another. Notable members include Google, Vodacom, Nedbank, Woolworths, OLX, takealot.com, the 24 Group, Mail and Guardian, eTV, eNCA, BBC, SABC Online, Independent Online, Times Media, Kagiso Media and Caxton. The Draft Policy threatens not only the individual freedom of expression currently enjoyed by digitally-active South African businesses, but also poses an obstacle to the growth and health of the country’s burgeoning online industry.

“We absolutely share some of the FPB’s concerns relating to unfettered access of children to harmful and dangerous content on the internet”, says Andrew Allison, Head of Regulatory Affairs at the IAB, “but we disagree with the manner in which the FPB is proposing to address this. The overwhelming majority of content disseminated via digital media is not harmful, and the mechanisms contained in the Draft Policy are unduly onerous and excessive”.

The IAB will be making formal submissions to the FPB regarding the Draft Policy before the given deadline of 15 July 2015.

Allison adds, “Notwithstanding our issues with the Draft Policy, we have expressed our willingness to cooperate with the FPB in addressing our shared concerns, and are committed to working with them, and with other stakeholders and interest groups, to develop workable, fair and constitutionally-sound solutions”.

Since 2014, the IAB has been working with the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and Press Council on a proposed revision of the Press Code and upgrades to the current Press Council to create a voluntary, self-regulatory body that will promote and demand high standards and quality of editorial content from local publishers, irrespective of the medium (print, online or otherwise) via which it is communicated.

Allison concludes, “We believe that this augmented Council will responsibly and properly address the majority of concerns that the FPB’s Draft Policy is trying to tackle. As a collective of industry players across various sectors, we know that we are best placed and equipped to deliver a standard of content in South Africa that fairly balances our constitutionally-enshrined freedom of expression with our shared desire to protect our children from harmful material”.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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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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