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Narrowband IoT hits SA

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At AfricaCom in Cape Town this week, MTN and Vodacom will both demonstrate solutions using the Narrowband Internet of Things .

Both Vodacom and MTN have announced major initiatives for building out Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) networks and services in South Africa. MTN is first over the start line, however, joining forces with Huawei to launch a Smart Water Metering solution. They say it’s “the first Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) solution in Africa”, and is designed to help MTN develop NB-IoT services to explore new markets.

The Smart Water metering solution enables the automated collection of utility meter data, addressing the issue of manual meter reading leading to high labour costs and missing or inaccurate data. Through sensors installed in water meters, customers can identify water pipeline leakage earlier. Household water meters will automatically report data on a regular basis, reducing fault probabilities and the operating expense.

Powered by Huawei’s NB-IoT technology, the sensor array is designed to serve as a diagnostic spine that underpins network management. The data gathered can be used to control waste water flows from each property, identify faults across the network and improve health and safety outcomes.

“NB-IoT is viewed by the industry as the answer for enterprise applications in a range of different areas, from utility meters to sensor monitoring to asset-tracking,” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology and Information Officer of MTN. “Now we’ve succeeded in the commercial trial of smart water metering, lots of services will be available to bring us a better connected Africa.”

He mentions wildlife tracking, smart farm, and smart parking, among other.

“The number of cellular IoT connections in Africa will grow seven-fold over the next three to four years, and NB-IoT will be a key driver for this trend,” says Jacky Chen, Managing Director of Huawei MTN Key Account Group. “Together with our partners, Huawei is applying ground breaking NB-IoT innovation to solve core challenges around IoT applications.”

NB-IoT will make IoT more efficient to connect objects requiring a long battery life and are located in hard-to-reach areas. This Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology will connect more objects to the Internet of Things. Generally, the global IoT market is expected to be worth trillions of dollars by 2020.

MTN and Huawei will showcase the live Smart Water Metering Demo and other IoT services at AfricaCom 2016, running in Cape Town from November 15 to 17.

Vodacom has also commenced its Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network build, which it plans to commercially launch in major metropolitan areas across South Africa in 2017. It has already begun the process of upgrading various components of its network to support NB-IoT.

The company reiterates that a key characteristic of LPWA devices is power efficiency, resulting in devices being deployed in-field with batteries which could last up to many years. NB-IoT networks run on existing licensed spectrum, ensuring integrity of the communications channel as well as the delivery of data from the device to the end point.

“In investing in its network for NB-IoT, Vodacom will enable South Africans to participate in developing new solution sets for the Internet of Things,” says Vodacom Business Chief Officer Vuyani Jarana. “We look forward to working with the broader IoT industry to nurture an ecosystem of developers, engineers and entrepreneurs for NB-IoT applications. This will push the boundaries of what is possible as well as bring services to the market that will genuinely transform lives and businesses in South Africa for the better.”

A large portion of Vodacom’s network will only require a software upgrade to support the technology, which means that deploying NB-IoT across Vodacom’s existing base stations will be a relatively quick roll-out, driven by geographic deployment and based on demand.

New services enabled by NB-IoT will include the next wave of connected things, including environmental monitoring devices and smoke detector alarms.

NB-IoT also opens up new possibilities for Cloud technology as increasing volumes of data are extracted from the field, requiring additional process and storage capacity.

Jarana says: “This reaffirms the link between IoT and Cloud to deliver transformational business and socio-economic outcomes. Smart cities will no longer be a concept, but a reality when you combine the traditional Vodacom mobile and fixed line IoT connectivity stack, with the new NB-IoT offering.  The economics for connecting millions of things in a city becomes viable with this new access technology.”

In September, Vodafone Spain and Huawei announced the successful completion of the first over-the-air connection on a live network using NB-IoT.

Vodacom will also showcase its NB-IoT network and application capabilities through a live demonstration at AfricaCom in Cape Town this week.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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