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SA joins the dots for the Smart City

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The concept of a smart city is a grand vision of an urban future, seemingly unattainable in South Africa, but the dots are beginning to be joined, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

What do public Wi-Fi in Tshwane, smart meters for utilities in Johannesburg, and an app for public transport in Cape Town have in common?

All mark the beginnings of the evolution, in South Africa, of the smart city. This is both a concept and a strategy that sees data and communications technology used to coordinate transport, public safety and access to services. The goal of the strategy is simple, yet enormously challenging: sustainable economic development in order to improve quality of life in the city.

But this is not merely an ideal: it is a necessity.

“By 2050, close to eight out of 10 South Africans will be living in one of the country’s cities,” says Mark Walker, head of Africa at the International Data Corporation (IDC). “The growth of cities goes hand in hand with growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but it increases traffic and pollution, which in turn decreases growth. Technology is the magic sauce that drives efficiency, and addresses constraints of resources and budget.”

Walker points out that the use of technology as a means to enable service delivery, to communicate with the population, and for citizens to voice commentary, has already become invaluable. Over the next 10 to 15 years, the changing nature of the urban population will make it critical.

In response to the emerging need, the IDC has worked with global storage giant EMC to develop a smart cities maturity model geared to the needs and constraints of African cities.

“Cities are fundamental to the economic development,” says Jonas Bogoshi, country manager of EMC Southern Africa. “The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development identified the fact that cities are cardinal for socially, economically and environmentally sustainable societies.”

The big challenge is that the rate of urbanisation is faster than the rate of economic growth, says Bogoshi.

“You have to look for solutions, otherwise you will decay. You have to look for partners, otherwise we will all fail.”

The ultimate goals for Smart Cities, says Walker, are very clear.

“Where smart cities are successfully implemented, as in Singapore and Dubai, we see very strong, coordinated and integrated initiatives taking place, and we see a definite increase in economic growth. Some of that is based on efficiency, but a lot comes from the creation of new value streams and innovation. However, operational efficiency is key to that growth.”

While it appears that the smart city is all about technology, a crucial element of smart city strategy is that the citizen must be at its core.

“The citizen is what really counts,” says Walker. “If it is not delivering the services the citizen requires, you’re wasting money. The key performance indicators must be designed from the citizen up.”

The IDC/EMC model is broken up into five stages of smart city maturity, with Stage 1 labelled Ad Hoc and comprising “Technology-enabled project successes; proof of concept and business case via return on investment from pilot projects.”

Most South African initiatives are still at this stage, with free Wi-Fi experiments in cities like Tshwane, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Bloemfontein being the prime examples.

However, elements of Stage 2, labeled Opportunistic, can also be seen in projects that take advantage of emerging capabilities to meet immediate needs. The roll-out of 92 000 smart meters for measuring utility use remotely in Johannesburg and the use of apps like WhereIsMyTransport to coordinate access to public transport in Cape Town are among a variety of examples that lie between Stage 1 and 2.

In Stage 3, such projects must become Repeatable, based on proven success, return on investment and improved efficiencies. In Stage 4, the city moves to a Managed model of smart services delivery.

The two key questions that city managers and decision-makers must ask at this stage are:

  • Have you developed cross-departmental work groups for service delivery beyond emergencies, events and disaster management?
  • Have you developed outcomes-focused metrics by which processes, staff, and outcomes are measured to ensure that goals are being met?

Finally, in Stage 5, or the Optimised stage, the city is required to create a centralised team that takes charge of continuous improvements in process as well as refining and improving on methodology for governance and measurements.  Only very few cities in the world, such as Singapore, are on the edge of Stage 5.

“In South Africa we are somewhere between stage 1 and 2,” says Walker. “A lot of initiatives labelled Smart City are very point-based, project-based, and constrained by budget and scope, involving only a few stakeholders. Often, it is coordinated at departmental level only rather than across a city or region. The Gautrain is a good example, where traffic is being managed in a smart way, but why aren’t they working with the City of Joburg and with the Gauteng province as a whole?”

For now, he says, it typically takes three to five years to move from stage 1 to 2, and 15 years to go from Stage 1 to 5 – if an integrated plan is in place. The longer a city waits before it begins planning, of course, the longer it will take to get to the ultimate goal of the smart city.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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