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MWC: Four technologies stealing the show

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Four key technologies could steal the show at Mobile World Congress, writes REMI DE FOUCHIER, mobile solutions specialist at Gemalto.

We’re at Mobile World Congress (MWC) to hear about cutting edge developments across the increasingly complex and diverse mobile landscape. The theme of this year’s show is The Next Element, so here are the four biggest next elements we’re expecting to see:

  1. Stronger commitments on 5G

We all know that 5G is on its way. Many organisations are working hard to bring the technology to the masses, with the UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, committing £740m to its development in the UK last November. While over in the US, AT&T and Verizon have begun trials. But as yet no firm promises regarding full-scale commercial launch have been made by anyone.

We’re expecting this to change at the show, with operators making stronger commitments that truly fulfil the entire promise of 5G. This means a revolutionised network that offers ubiquitous connectivity and network slicing – which allows operators to spin up autonomous, customised, isolated networks on demand for their business partners – not simply further discussion about testing new radio technology, which is just an evolution.

As part of this, we hope to see greater elaboration of use-cases for 5G beyond consumers’ smartphones and enhanced mobile broadband use cases. The improved reliability and ultra low-latency that 5G provides will have a huge impact on a big number of industries and governments and MWC should provide the forum to further the conversation. Security and standardisation will both be critical parts of this discussion, for the market to realize its business potential.

We’ll also see many more structuring partnerships being announced between device manufacturers, IoT players, infrastructure providers, systems integrators and cloud providers as the IoT ecosystem continues to develop with the promise of 5G and the flexibility introduced by this revolutionised, virtualised, sliced network core.

  1. Consumerisation of biometrics  

Last year saw MasterCard introduce “selfie” payments, marking a shift in both corporate and consumer trust in biometrics. We believe that the forthcoming year, starting with some big announcements from payment and hardware organisations at MWC 2017, will see wider consumerisation of biometric solutions. Smartphones will ship with several sources of biometrics, including heart beat detection, iris scanning and veins network mapping. OLED display makers will announce on-screen fingerprint readers as the desire for bezel-free displays on smartphones grows.

And of course, along with the hardware developments, so too must standards follow. We expect FIDO to announce standards, or at least a roadmap for standards, for biometrics on Android devices. It will be interesting to see how easy OEMs make it for developers to access all of these APIs, so that third-party apps can use them without compromising security.

  1. Network-proof connected cars

In recent years MWC has become a showcase for connected car technology and mobility applications, too. Last year’s event was the launch pad for Qualcomm and Mercedes-Benz’ self-driving car, and revenues from the sector are predicted to quadruple in the run up 2020. Both, the technology and new business models are evolving and are transforming the Automotive Industry into what is called New Mobility.

The big theme on New Mobility is to link connected cars with the digital life of the driver or passenger. Car IDs to be linked with the digital IDs of the end user. The Virtual Car Key (VCK) is a first example where the key as part of a digital Car ID will need to be securely stored on the end user mobile device. Opening a car and starting the engine is a crucial element of any comprehensive mobility app.

This year’s MWC is where we’ll start to see applications that will offer and end2end management of the end user ID and its storage into connected car. We will see concepts of further elements of the end user’s ID such as his very personal data plan that can be seamlessly used for infotainment applications in the vehicle. Secured and aimed for providing great user experience.

  1. Improved on-demand connectivity

The IoT ecosystem requires devices – whether for consumers or for industry – to be able to access connectivity on demand. eSIM and Remote SIM Provisioning will be the key to connecting to the cellular network the surge in consumer devices (think fitness trackers, personal drones, VR headsets, smart watches etc), but will also play a key role in enabling the Industrial IoT. For example, imagine a rent-a-car company that wants to switch the connectivity service provider of its entire fleet in one go.

However, this requires interoperability and common standards across devices. Huge progresses have been made in the past months for industrial IoT with multi players testing done by GSMA. Our products and solutions successfully completed these testing demonstrating the strength and depth of our commitment to the development of the M2M and IoT markets.

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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