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OTT regulation will protect profits, not customers

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The CEO of Cell C, JOSE DOS SANTOS, hits out at MTN and Vodacom for trying to have services like WhatsApp and Facebook regulated in South Africa.

MTN and Vodacom have declared war on consumer interests. The infamous duopoly wants to limit how we use Internet services like WhatsApp – and it has nothing to do with fairness, competition or the future of South Africa. To the contrary, it is all about maintaining their stranglehold on a vital artery feeding our country’s economic and social future.

The two mobile networks have now successfully lobbied Government to investigate potentially regulating Over-The-Top (OTT) services, like WhatsApp. I suppose it was inevitable, given their views of OTT applications, Vodacom, for example, believes: “You have these [OTT] players which are getting huge benefit out of an industry without making any investment” and “Operators need to continue making a return.”

MTN has been less diplomatic.  Former MTN South Africa CEO Ahmad Farroukh was quoted as saying that MTN was not prepared to spend billions of dollars building networks just so that OTT players can get a “free ride”.  His successor, Mteto Nyati agrees.  “You have to regulate them because clearly they’re making a huge amount of revenue on top of the infrastructure that the operators have paid for. Somehow they have to contribute towards the building of this infrastructure”.

Suddenly they are concerned with “levelling the playing fields” – only now when they face competition.

Regulation itself is not necessarily a bad thing and South African telecoms regulation could definitely use a little modernisation. We need to ask serious questions about privacy, consumer rights and infrastructure sharing to reduce costs. But in this case, that is not Vodacom or MTN’s aim. Instead they are hoping to confuse the issue, rather than sticking to clear, reasonable arguments.

Regulation would impose new costs. Costs that will either prompt OTT players to withdraw their services from South Africa or push up prices for the consumer, the very consumer that already pays for the data to use those services.

It is not hard to imagine the motivation of MTN and Vodacom, as both have historically resisted any attempt to “level the playing field” in the mobile industry. They have fought number porting and the elimination of interconnect fees. These are companies that have shown no interest in the welfare of the customers who keep them in business.

We believe that OTT services encourage consumers to participate more. The more they participate, the more they spend. Cell C is still a business and must make money. But good companies adapt and change to create new opportunities for themselves and their customers. Bad companies manipulate the system to only get what they want – the customer doesn’t matter.

I invite South Africans to interrogate the motivations of companies that would support this kind of regulation.

Connectivity is key to the welfare of a 21st century nation. These platforms empower individuals and communities.  They allow people to connect and be part of a global community. Now think of all the conversations we have every day on Facebook, WhatsApp, Google Talk, Skype, WeChat and more. Consider the many services such as Gmail, Office 365, Sage Accounting and so on that allow small business to start and flourish.

OTT regulation will force extra costs on those services or force their withdrawal. It will hurt consumers and small companies. It will disadvantage everyone – everyone except the networks whose only interest resides in protecting their revenues.

Cell C has proven that by opting for partnerships instead of bullying, you can work alongside OTT services to the benefit of everyone. We offered free WhatsApp services for a year, during which Cell C customers did not spend any data to send messages. Since we have transformed this into a low R5-per-month offer and opened our free services to include Facebook.

As a consequence we have not lost customers. We have grown and those customers have grown as well. They are more connected and informed, but without needing to pay more for the privilege. No, not privilege. It’s a right. It is not fair that those with a voice are only those who can afford to have one.

As I said in the beginning, regulation of the telecommunication space is a conversation that should happen. But what MTN, Vodacom and their collaborators are trying to do is not address the big issue. They simply want to protect what they have and they are happy to sell the consumer out in order to get that.

As it stands, Cell C does not support OTT regulation in South Africa, because the only losers will be the people whose money make us all successful businesses in the first place.

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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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Buy 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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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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