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Nokia is back in town

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If ever there was an unforgettable name in technology it was Nokia, Now the phone brand is back, and hoping the good memories will restore a proud name. By ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It is rare for a standard Android phone to make headlines. But then, it’s even more rare for a near-abandoned brand to return to worldwide adulation.

When the brand name is Nokia, however, it should be no surprise that its comeback is given the reception of a mythical hero returned from the battlefield. It’s hard to believe that it is only 14 months since Microsoft released the last of the Nokia Lumia phones running the Windows operating system.

The Lumia 650, launched in February 2016, turned out to be the epitaph for Nokia’s Windows era. Just three months later, Microsoft announced it was selling the Nokia feature phone business and the rights to the Nokia brand to Chinese device manufacturer Foxconn and a new Finnish company called HMD Global.

The selling price of $350-million made a mockery of the $7.6-billion Microsoft had paid to acquire Nokia in 2014. However, the Finnish credentials of the brand’s new stewards, and the fact that it was run by Nokia veterans, gave loyal fans hope.

It may not be a Star Wars sage, but the new episode in Nokia’s history could well be termed A New Hope. The series officially opened in South Africa last week, presided over by HMD Global’s CEO, Arto Nummela, and its president, Florian Seiche.

It was an emotional event for former Nokia country manager Shaun Durandt, now HMD general manager for Southern Africa, and former marketing head Patrick Henchie, now HMD product head for Sub-Sahara Africa. The latter spoke passionately about how “Nokia has always been about democratising technology”.

“You trusted that Nokia, that durability,” he said. “It didn’t matter what price you paid for the device, you were proud to walk around with that Nokia.”

HMD announced that the Nokia 5 would be available in South Africa by mid-July, and the Nokia 6 a fortnight later. The entry-level smartphone, the Nokia 3, arrived in the first week of June, while the “reimagined” 3310 feature phone has been available in limited numbers for the past month.

The smartphones all have one massive differentiator over almost any other phone widely available in South Africa: it runs the pure form of Google’s Android operating system (OS), as opposed to most other brands imposing their own “skins” on the OS. These skins usually come with a wide range of apps, widgets and adaptations that combine into what is known as bloatware: arbitrary software that unnecessarily uses up storage space on the phone and slows it down.

“What is common throughout all our devices? They’re made for everyday life,” said Nummela in an interview after the launch. “The phone market has moved on, and you can’t do today what you did then. We are keeping everything as simple as possible.

“When you have such a massive software build on top of what Google has built, it erodes the longer you use it. Then you have severe ageing issues and performance is completely different from day one to nine months later. We are trying to fix that issue with Google and (processor manufacturer) Qualcomm, so that your performance will stay constant.”

Nummela made a startling commitment: that the phone OS would be upgraded every time Android was upgraded, for at least the first two years of any of the new phones’ lives. Until recently, only Apple guaranteed that new OS releases would be compatible with old iPhones. It has now limited that backward compatibility, even as brands like Samsung introduce OS upgrades to current phones.

“We are committing to a promise that every time Google does an update between OS releases, we will provide those to consumers. Google releases security updates whenever there are anti-virus updates – we will do those monthly.

Then there are feature updates, being the OS updates, which occur annually.

“We will also do new releases with any new functionality that is available for the phone. Regardless of the price point, all consumers will get those updates.”

The one limitation is that, when OS updates require hardware changes for some features to work, those features will not be available for previous models. But Nokia guarantees nothing will be left out of current hardware releases.

“When you buy the device, the starting point is the very latest OS. It’s a service promise that your phone will always be fresh.”

He was adamant that this did not make Nokia devices mere Google phones. The Nokia heritage, he said, was a key aspect of the phone.

“We are focusing on those things that make a phone better: battery life, and reliability.”

The point was reiterated by Florian Seiche, who cut his teeth in the industry as co-founder of HTC’s smartphone business: “What consumers are looking for all ties in to the original Nokia brand promise of ease of use and reliability. In the past this meant something, so we try to listen to what Nokia represented to consumers.”

But is customer loyalty enough? There’s more, Seiche pointed out.

“The market has changed a lot and it is a very mature smartphone market, and many brands have had bold plans, investing and then disappearing, because the market is dynamic and changing. The advantage of Nokia over those is that we’ve been in this business for so long, building up relationships with channel partners, that they associate that trust with us. We also don’t have to invest so much in awareness, so we can focus on conversion and highlighting what is new.”

Will we see a sequel in which the likes of the Apple and Samsung empires strike back? As far as die-hard Nokia fans are concerned, it won’t matter. They have already fast-forwarded to the return of the phone world’s Jedi.

Nokia 3310 (2017 edition) Technical Specifications 

•       System: Dual band 900/1800 MHz

•       Available in dual SIM variants (microSIM)

•       Software platform: Nokia Series 30+

•       Dimensions: 115.6 x 51.0 x 12.8mm

•       Weight: 79.6 g (including battery)

•       Display: 2.4’’ curved window colour QVGA (240*320)

•       Connectivity: micro USB, 3.5mm AV connector, Bluetooth 3.0 with SLAM

•       Camera: 2Mpxl camera with LED flash

•       MicroSD card support up to 32GB

•       LED torchlight

•       Standby time: up to 31 days

•       Talk time: up to 22.1 hours

•       MP3 playback up to 51 hours

•       FM radio playback up to 39 hours

•      R699-R749

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Nokia 3 Technical Specifications

•       Available in single SIM variant

•       OS: Android Nougat

•       CPU: MTK 6737, Quad-core 1.3Ghz

•       RAM: 2 GB LPPDDR 3

•       Storage: 16 GB internal user memory[iii] with MicroSD card slot (support up to 128 GB support)

•       Form factor: Touch monoblock with capacitive system keys

•       Display: 5.0” IPS LCD HD (1280 x 720, 16:9), sculpted Corning® Gorilla® Glass, Polariser, 450 nits

•       Camera: Primary camera: 8MP AF, 1.12um, f/2, flash, Front facing camera: 8MP AF, 1.12um, f/2, FOV 84˚ display flash

•       Connectivity & Sensors: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, BT 4.2, GPS/AGPS, FM/RDS, NFC, Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer (G-sensor), E-compass, Gyroscope, Micro USB (USB 2.0), OTG, 3.5mm ADJ

•       Battery: Integrated 2630 mAh battery[iv]

•       Audio: Single speaker

•       Dimensions: 143.4 x 71.4 x 8.48 mm (camera bump: 8.68mm)

•       EMEA Networks: GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 WCDMA: Band 1, 2, 5, 8 LTE: Band 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40

•       Network speed: LTE Cat. 4, 150Mbps DL/50Mbps UL

•       Price: R2,199

nokia3

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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