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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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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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