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MWC: Tech innovators prepare for next generation

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In the past, Mobile World Congress was associated with new smartphones and tablets. But this year, the dominant themes were technologies providing the basis for the next generation of mobile devices, writes NADIA GONZALEZ, Africa VP Mobile Solutions & IoT at Gemalto.

Barcelona was the scene of another festival of technology, as the world’s most influential companies, journalists and engineers travelled to Mobile World Congress (MWC). MWC tends to be associated with new handset launches, but this year’s show was about more than just devices. There were indeed notable mobile handset stories, with some iconic brands making stunning comebacks, defying beliefs they had been consigned to history. The dominant themes, however, were technologies providing the basis for the next generation of mobile devices, namely 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The year of the comeback

If you’d told someone a year ago that Nokia and BlackBerry handsets would be making a comeback, they might not have believed you. The former, once the world’s largest phone manufacturer, gave up trying to compete with Apple, Google and Samsung in 2014 to focus on networking, while the latter has rebranded itself as a cybersecurity company. However, at MWC this year HMD Global, which now owns the rights to make Nokia branded phones, released an updated version of the legendary Nokia 3310. BlackBerry, meanwhile, displayed its new Android smartphone.

With Samsung choosing not to reveal a new phone handset, and Apple and Google not making big announcements, the comeback kids stole the headlines. The question is, will the handsets sell?

Connected cars to hit the mainstream

We’ve got bad news for budding Formula One drivers; MWC17 demonstrated how drivers are going to be far less important to the functioning of a car, as the IoT and Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes over. One of our favourite innovations was the world’s first driverless supercar, capable of reaching speeds of up to 200mph. Manufactured by Robocar, the vehicle works through a combination of sensors and powerful cameras. The car’s operation is guided by algorithms, which means computer experts may decide the races of the future rather than the likes of Lewis Hamilton.

As the technology and new business models behind connected cars evolve, the Automotive Industry is transforming into what is called New Mobility. One of the big themes here is linking connected cars with the digital life of the driver or passenger, making them fully personalized. One notable development is the Virtual Car Key (VCK), 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, and we’re likely to see many more developments in this area over the year ahead.

Artificial Intelligence

AI at MWC wasn’t limited to cars, with the technology appearing in many other areas. Future handsets from many manufacturers promise more advanced versions of virtual assistants like Siri and Cortana, which will learn from their user’s habits. Elsewhere O2 announced it would be turning to AI to manage customer service, speeding up processes and cutting costs. Similarly, Samsung announced it would be using an AI bot to train retail staff in managing customer queries. Clearly, organisations are recognising AI’s ability to not only improve the user experience, but also streamline operations and enhance the customer journey.

The potential of 5G and smart cities

5G represents the next generation of telecoms standards, ushering in a new era of connectivity and smart infrastructures. While we’re still some way off the technology being widely available, at MWC we saw many announcements about IoT-optimized machine-type communication and LTE Cat NB-IoT networks, technologies which are paving the way to 5G.

One area in which 5G will play an ever-important role is Smart City technology, which can be used to improve efficiency and benefit the environment. With billions of embedded sensors, governments and companies will be able to better monitor carbon emissions and track pollution levels. At the show, AT&T and GE announced a partnership to deliver environmentally-friendly IoT technology to cities across North and Central America. Intelligent sensor nodes will power a new generation of street lighting which will be fully integrated within light poles, allowing city governments to use existing poles and equip them with energy-efficient LED lighting.

We took this a step further with a demonstration of a smart city lighting and Electric Vehicle charging solution which uses smart sensors to transform street lights into intelligent platforms. Lights can be dimmed on demand depending on need, saving 50-80% in energy consumption, but they can also be used to alert and direct drivers and pedestrians to free parking spaces or charging stations. 5G technology based on the same principles can be applied to traffic, parking, and waste, enhancing city governance, and making it more environmentally-friendly.

Of course, for the smart city to work, the underlying infrastructure needs to be intelligent and secure. To enable a functioning street lighting system, for instance, there needs to be a secure connection between the lamps and a central control system. It is a complex process, with the potential for an undetected weakness in one part potentially compromising security for the entire system. Those building critical infrastructure and solutions for smart cities need to think very carefully and holistically about the networks and systems they are connecting, whether it’s car park, traffic or waste management projects they’re looking after.

To conclude, it’s clear MWC17 wasn’t just about mobile handsets. While product announcements from Nokia and BlackBerry were the key focus for some, this year’s conference should be interpreted as one dominated by the IoT connectivity solutions of the future; 5G, smart cities and connected transport. With the show over for another year, governments and other key stakeholders will need to keep collaborating on the best ways to connect, secure and monetize their IoT strategies to find success in the years ahead.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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