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SA ICT leads region but global rank falls

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South Africa has seen a drop in its global ranking for information and communications technology, despite being described as being at the forefront of the region.

South Africa has dropped from 88th place in global ICT development index (IDI) to 92, according to the ninth edition of the annual Measuring the Information Society Report. The report was released this week by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the United Nations Specialized agency for information and communication technology (ICT).

This is despite the fact that the report states that South Africa is at the forefront of the region’s technological development with the latest broadband technologies and wide coverage.

“This has been enabled by a suitable regulatory framework and a competitive private sector-driven market,” says the ITU. “Cost remains an issue due to significant duplication in backbone networks, with a need to move to a cost-based open access regime.”

However, South Africa lags behind Mauritius (72) and Seychelles (90) in the IDI rankings.

Globally, says the ITU,  concurrent advances in the Internet of Things, big data analytics, cloud computing and artificial intelligence will enable tremendous innovations and fundamentally transform business, government and society – ultimately serving to improve livelihoods around the globe.

“This revolution will unfold,” the report states, “over the coming decades with opportunities, challenges, and implications that are not yet fully known. To harness these benefits, countries will need to create conditions supportive to the deployment of next-generation network and service infrastructures. They will also have to adopt policies that are conducive to experimentation and innovation, while mitigating potential risks to information security, privacy, and employment.”

“This year’s report shows that ICTs have the potential to make the world a better place and contribute immensely to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “However, despite the overall progress achieved, the digital divide remains a challenge which needs to be addressed. This is important because information and communication technology and the digital economy have the potential to transform the lives of billions of men, women and children. The digital revolution can transform nations — entire continents – but only if digital resources are accessible. This report will help to support countries to do just that.”

“It is my hope that this report will be of great value to the ITU membership, particularly for  policy-makers, the ICT industry and others working towards the building of an inclusive global information society,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, which produces the report each year. “Fully harnessing the economic and social benefits of the digital revolution requires efficient and affordable physical infrastructures and services, more advanced user skills, and internationally comparable benchmarks and indicators to support enabling public policies.”

SUMMARY OF REPORT FINDINGS:

ICT development index – country ranking

The ITU ICT Development Index 2017 (IDI 2017) featured in the MIS report is a unique benchmark of the level of ICT development in countries across the world. Iceland tops the IDI 2017 rankings. It is followed by two countries and one economy in the Asia and the Pacific region, and six other countries in Europe, which have competitive ICT markets that have experienced high levels of ICT investment and innovation over many years.

The IDI has up to now been based on 11 indicators. However, recent developments in ICT markets have led to the review of those indicators. As a result of that review, in 2018 the index will be defined by 14 indicators that should add further insights into the performance of individual countries and the relative performance of countries at different development levels.

Measuring ICT development

The latest data on ICT development show continued progress in connectivity and use of ICTs. There has been sustained growth in the availability of communications in the past decade, led by growth in mobile cellular telephony and, more recently, in mobile-broadband. Growth in fixed and mobile-broadband infrastructure has stimulated Internet access and use. The number of mobile-broadband subscriptions worldwide now exceeds 50 per 100 population, enabling improved access to the Internet and online services.

In spite of the rapid expansion of ICTs, there are substantial digital divides between countries and regions. However, there has been registered progress in ICT growth by least developed countries, in terms of connectivity as well as the use of the Internet. Globally, more than half of households worldwide now have access to the Internet, though the rate of growth appears to have fallen below 5 per cent a year. There has also been significant progress in terms of bridging the gender digital divide across the regions.

Emerging ICT trends

The Internet of Things will greatly expand the digital footprint. In addition to connecting people, organizations and information resources, it will also connect objects equipped with digital information and with sensing, processing and communication capabilities. This ubiquitous infrastructure will generate abundant data that can be utilized to achieve efficiency gains in the production and distribution of goods and services, and to improve human life in innovative ways.

Big data analytics will extract useful knowledge from this flow of digital information. It will drive better understanding and predictions of ICT developments, as well as improved management and policy decisions. Making sense of proliferating information requires a workforce with appropriate analytical, computational, methodological skills and a high-capacity ICT infrastructure.

Cloud and other architectures will likely lower the entry barriers to scalable computing resources. They are starting to deliver flexible and on-demand computational services over the Internet, lowering the fixed-cost of ICT infrastructure, to the benefit of small- and medium-sized organizations. Realizing their full potential will depend on the availability of reliable fixed and mobile broadband connectivity.

Artificial intelligence will aid humans to make better decisions. In order to achieve this goal, each algorithm needs to be tailored carefully to existing data and the objectives pursued. This requires considerable human expertise in machine learning and large datasets to train algorithms.

All of these advanced ICTs contribute to realizing the critically important United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). Promising applications already exist in areas such as manufacturing, precision agriculture, government, education, health care, smart cities and smart transportation. As part of broader initiatives, ICTs can contribute to achieving  each of the 17 SDGs.

Harnessing the benefits of advanced ICTs requires appropriate infrastructures, services and skills. Networks will have to support diverse quality-of-service demands from applications and users while delivering robust and ubiquitous connectivity. This will require the roll-out of wireless Internet of Things platforms, and relying on network virtualization and improved fiber connectivity. Moreover, it will require the development of advanced ICT skills among users.

Advanced ICTs raise important concerns over next-generation digital divides. Network operators and users will have to adapt their business models to take advantage of the opportunities of the digital transformation. Thus, policy makers and regulators are called upon to create conditions facilitating entrepreneurial experiments and innovation.

Policy will also have to mitigate challenges to information security, privacy, employment and income inequality. Specific local and national needs also need to be taken into account. In many parts of the digital economy, low entry barriers can empower local entrepreneurs to develop innovative business models adapted to local conditions. It will be important to facilitate the development of culturally sensitive human-centered algorithms and applications.

Reliable and meaningful measurements of the deployment and use of advanced ICTs are critical. Fully harnessing the potential benefits of this progress requires reliable and meaningful metrics that go beyond existing data. This will require strong efforts of collaboration among various stakeholders and the development of new approaches to harvest information directly from digital infrastructures and applications.

Regional comparisons

There are considerable differences between geographic regions in the levels of ICT development as demonstrated by the IDI 2017. There is also significant variation in the experience of individual countries within each region – with these differences mainly associated with levels of economic development.

The average value for Africa in the IDI 2017 is 2.64 points. Mauritius, ranks in the upper half of the global IDI distribution. The region includes two of the three countries, which achieved the most dynamic improvements in their IDI value over the year – Namibia and Gabon.

The United States and Canada top the IDI 2017 ranking in the Americas region. The majority of countries in the region fall within the two middle quartiles. The most significant improvements in the Americas region were recorded by middle-ranking countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Arab States region is also very diverse in terms of IDI 2017 performance. This region includes a number of, high-income economies, including three countries Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. The strongest improvements in this region were seen in middle-income countries, whose average value rose by more than twice that of countries at the top and bottom of the regional distribution.

Seven economies in the Asia and the Pacific region have IDI 2017 values above 7.50 points and rank within the highest quartile, including the Republic of Korea which is ranked second overall. Six countries improved their IDI values by more than 0.40 points, led by the second most dynamic country in IDI 2017, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), only one country in the region, Belarus, is in the top quartile of the IDI 2017 ranking. The most dynamic countries in terms of IDI value were those at the bottom of the regional rankings – Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Europe has the highest average IDI 2017 value among world regions (7.50 points). As many as 28 of its 40 countries rank within the highest quartile. The most substantial improvements in value were recorded by Cyprus and Turkey.

Country profiles

This year’s report features – for the first time – country profiles highlighting the ICT market structure and the latest developments in 192 economies worldwide. Each profile includes an overview of the policy and regulatory initiatives undertaken as well as the current status of network roll-out and service uptake. These profiles are presented in Volume II of this year’s report.

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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