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IoT a connectivity key for developing world

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A recent report from ITU and Cisco has identified the Internet of Things (IoT) as a major global development opportunity that has the potential to improve the lives of millions and accelerate progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Recently launched at the Pacific Telecommunications Council annual meeting in Hawaii, Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development outlines how IoT could have a major impact in areas such as grassroots delivery of health care and education, positively transforming communities within a time frame that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago.

The joint report argues that strong demand for IoT technologies has created a huge array of IoT devices that are readily available, affordable and scalable for developing countries, providing an ideal platform to energize growth in emerging economies and improve people’s quality of life significantly – all with minimal investment.

The IoT concept refers broadly to the growing number of devices – from computers and smartphones to simple sensors and RFID chips – that are connected to the Internet and able to communicate with other devices, often without the need for human intervention. IoT is already extensively deployed in stock and inventory systems, fleet management, environmental monitoring and many industrial processes.

The ITU/Cisco report points to evidence of IoT already having an important impact on health, education and livelihood programmes (such as agricultural productivity) in developing countries. It cites three prime drivers that, if supported, could create an ‘IoT revolution’ in the developing world:

Availability:

  • IoT devices are already common, cheap and easy replaceable in developing markets. Basic infrastructure to support IoT (Wi-Fi, Internet cafés, etc.) is already in place in many developing communities, with near-ubiquitous basic mobile connectivity (95% global 2G coverage, according to ITU’s latest statistics) and growing levels of 3G coverage (89% of the world’s urban dwellers – but only 29% of rural inhabitants).
  • IoT devices are increasingly being used in rugged, remote and inhospitable environments. ‘Extreme conditions’ operating parameters are now being built into IoT specs as more and more devices are required to operate outside in varying conditions and climates – making them well-adapted for challenging environments.

Affordability:

  • IoT R&D costs continue to be absorbed by strong demand in developed world markets, and there is little cost associated with ‘tweaking’ IoT devices for the developing world. The report also notes that in many cases, more complex developed world infrastructure is not required or necessary for developing markets; ‘core IoT’ is readily available and provides a digital backbone to build upon.

Scalability:

  • IoT devices are designed to be scalable. Many devices already offer very simple ‘plug & play’ functionality and do not require skilled technicians for installation or maintenance. Reduced and alternate power supplies (such as solar) can maintain sensors and networks where there is no consistent electricity supply, making them ideal for countries struggling with irregular or unavailable grid power. Finally, IoT devices also tend to be highly flexible, offering short- or long-term solutions and expansion at the household’s, the community’s or the country’s ‘own’ speed.

“The Internet of Things is one of the most exciting areas of our fast-evolving ICT industry, offering huge potential for disruption and transformation. In the context of global development challenges, this means we have the potential to surmount long-standing hurdles in basic services like health care, both quickly and affordably. IoT could prove the long-awaited new approach that will help turn-around developing economies and greatly improve millions of people’s day-to-day lives,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

“The Internet of Things is one of the defining and transformative technologies of our time,” said Dr Robert Pepper, VP Global Technology Policy at Cisco. “The ability to impact millions, if not billions, of lives in the developing world for the better and prevent another digital divide is within our grasp and is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. Let’s act now to prevent a two-tier world of the connected and the unconnected.”

Interconnectedness will be the key to increased usage, the report stresses. Thanks to the efforts of international standards-makers like ITU, global interoperability between devices is now increasing, making operating and synchronizing a variety of formerly incompatible devices both possible and practical. To accelerate global collaboration on IoT development, last year ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector set up a new ITU-T Study Group, Study Group 20: IoT and its applications, including smart cities and communities, to address the standardization requirements of IoT, with an initial focus on IoT applications in smart cities.*

Machine-to-machine (M2M) information flows across networks will soon greatly outstrip human-generated digital information. ITU’s flagship regulatory report Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2015 identified M2M communications over mobile cellular networks as the fastest-growing ICT service in terms of traffic. ITU estimates that over one billion wireless IoT devices were shipped in 2015, up 60 per cent from 2014 to reach a predicted installed base of 2.8 billion. As many as 25 billion networked devices are predicted to be connected by 2020, with market revenues for IoT expected to grow to USD 1.7 trillion by 2019, making IoT the largest device market worldwide.

Among a shortlist of recommendations that includes government support for tech start-ups, ICT incubators and local data centres, the report urges developing world governments and businesses to seize the IoT opportunity and develop the policies and regulatory frameworks that will create an enabling environment for IoT deployment. IoT is a featured topic at the ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators, the world’s largest global gathering of the ICT regulatory community, currently being held at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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