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SA needs IoT standards

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It is critical that South African companies taking the first step to the Internet of Things fully explore the possibilities of the technology. This is because the decisions they make now will determine the cost and longevity of the solutions developed in the future, writes ECKART ZOLLNER, Head of Business Development the Jasco Group.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will, as it grows, automate and inform an increasing number of operations, applications and processes. With no dedicated infrastructure in place for IoT – i.e., to send, receive or transport IoT signals – it is critical that first movers in South Africa begin to more fully explore the possibilities. The decisions they make now may well impact the cost and longevity of the solutions they are developing, and help determine the robustness of the foundations the country puts in place for IoT.

In South Africa, IoT presents a huge opportunity in key sectors, but uptake and development of IoT-driven solutions is still low outside of security, vehicle and asset tracking, and point of sale applications. In addition, the capacity to implement change is lacking – simple solutions, such as tracking of dustbin collection and emptying, is slow to happen because organisations battle to put in place the skills and technology processes needed. Clearly, more knowledge and awareness is needed in sectors to keep pace with opportunity – along with a sense of urgency.

IoT is coming. Are you ready?

The slow pace of change in South Africa is likely to change quickly in the next few years as communication capabilities are built into more and more devices, the IoT cloud grows exponentially, and disruptive solutions with better value propositions begin to emerge to oust incumbents in various sectors. Quite simply, customers want better services and cost efficiencies, and IoT-driven applications and solutions offer exactly this.

First movers are already preparing for this future, but they need to focus on more than the development of the IoT solution and the integration of IoT to existing or new processes; they need to now take a careful look at the long-term implications of making use of IoT.

IoT signals vary from a field device sending tiny bits of information every few seconds or minutes, to devices that broadcast a signal every few hours or days. These are tiny bits of data, but for the IoT solution to work, the network that the data is sent along needs to be 100% reliable.

There are few dedicated IoT network solution providers in South Africa.  The major telcos all offer their own solutions. But GSM is expensive for IoT, and with high congestion on most networks and limited remote coverage, it’s not nearly as reliable as it needs to be. In addition, GSM is power hungry, requiring more bandwidth to move data. IoT data is characterised by small bursts of a few bytes of data. Thus, using GSM networks, the battery technologies used in field devices, which ideally need to last two to five years or more, are quickly depleted. This will add to the cost of the solution.

Find dedicated IoT network providers

In Europe, the Unite States and elsewhere, dedicated networks with new topologies are being developed for IoT. These networks are geared to low power devices and low volumes of data, and feature a mesh of repeater stations the ensure 100% throughput.

There are some options in South Africa. The globally defined Industrial Scientific and Medical (ISM) band which is also available in South Africa is open for use upon registration but investment in developing such a network is not insignificant. As the IoT data payload is still low, this is not a very lucrative or attractive market yet and there are few players champing at the bit to offer these services.

At present, because network choices are limited, companies offering IoT solutions select their own channel partners and mandate use of these networks. Thus, when customers sign up for the service they may not have a choice of networks. Similarly, organisations developing proprietary solutions are currently making use of whatever network provider solutions they can find, without fully investigating their options or understanding the long term impacts that network choices may impose – in terms of costs and management of devices.

What South Africa needs is a set of reliable dedicated IoT network providers that guarantee data throughput and conform to global standards. With IoT standards developing in China, the US and Europe, it will be important for South Africa to make a choice in terms of standards, not default to the one most commonly used by operators.

Choosing an IoT network provider – top three considerations 

Key requirements for companies making use of IoT network providers include the following:

•             Be specific in terms of defining requirements and needs

o             Is national or defined geographic coverage needed

o             How often will data need to be sent and received

o             What connect and control specifications are in play

•             Ensure the network provider is flexible

o             Can they adapt to your IoT application to, for example, easily connect more devices, send more data more or less frequently, improve reporting?

o             Do meet and incorporate key IoT standards

•             High service levels are critical

o             Does the network service provider have a network reserved and dedicated to IoT that offers high stability?

In South Africa, commercial applications of IoT are limited, but the opportunity and advantage that IoT presents across sectors is seeing a number of proprietary solutions emerge. If you are gearing to make use of IoT, consider your options carefully. Be aware of the limitations and challenges and make use of solution providers that are flexible, established and experienced, and demonstrate their understanding of IoT technologies. IoT technology is an emerging field but it’s going to be one that plays a big role in our digital future.

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Epic Games brings a
Nite-mare to Android

Epic Games’ decision to not publish games through Google Play inadvertently opens a market to Android virus makers, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, decided to take the high road by skipping Google Play’s app distribution market and placing a third-party installer for its games on its website. While this is technically fine, it is not recommended for the average user, because allowing third-party installers on one’s smartphone opens up the possibility of non-signed and malicious software to be run on the smartphone. 

In June, malware researchers at ESET warned Android gamers that malicious fake versions of the Fortnite app had been created to steal personal information or damage smartphones. A malware researcher demonstrated how the fake applications works in the Tweet below.

While the decision to bypass Google Play was a bold move on Epic Games’ part, it has been a long time coming for app developers to move their premium apps off Google’s Play Store. The two major app distributors, Google Play and Apple’s App Store, take a 30% cut of every purchase made through their app distribution platforms. 

The App Store is currently the only way to get apps on a non-modified iOS device, which is why Epic Games had no choice for Fortnite to be in the App Store. On the other hand, Android phones can install packages downloaded through the browser, which makes the Play Store almost unnecessary for the gaming company. 

The most interesting part of this development is that Google is not the “bad guy” and Epic Games is no saviour to other game developers. Epic Games is a company with a multi-billion dollar valuation and has resources like large-scale servers to distribute and update its games, a big marketing budget to ensure everyone knows how to get its games, and server security to protect against malware. 

Resources of this scale allow the game company to turn a cold shoulder to Google’s Play Store distribution and focus on its own, in-house solution. 

That said, installing packages without the Google Play Store must be done carefully, and it is essential to do homework on where a package is downloaded. Moreover, when a package is installed outside of the Google Play Store, a security switch to block the installation of third party apps must be turned off. This switch should be turned back on immediately after the third party package is installed. 

This complex amount of steps makes it less worthwhile to install third party apps, in favour of rather waiting for them to reach the Play Store.

From a consumer perspective, ESET recommends not installing packages outside of the Google Play Store and to ignore advertisements to download the game from other sources.

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How to take on IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming, whether you like it or not and organisations today will look to platforms and services that help them manage and analyse the streams of data coming from connected devices, says RONALD RAVEL, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa.

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Today, we are witnessing an explosion in IoT deployments and solutions and are moving towards a world where almost everything you can imagine will be connected. While this opens the door to many possibilities it also comes with its own challenges such as privacy and security.

The Internet has become an integral part of everyday life; it has been a free for all on a daily basis. IoT is a difficult concept for many people to wrap their minds around. Essentially, nearly every business will be affected.

Managing vast quantities of data across increasingly mobile workforces can be tremendously beneficial if done well, but equally can be cumbersome and ineffective if not managed properly. This is why technologies such as mobile edge computing are becoming increasingly popular, helping to increase the prevalence of secure mobile working and data management in the age of IoT.

Unlocking IoT

The evolution of IoT, despite rapid and ongoing technological innovation, is still very much in its fledgling stages. Its potential, though, is demonstrated by the fact that by 2020, Bain anticipates a significant shift in uptake, with roughly 80 per cent of adoptions at that point to have progressed to the stage of either ‘proof of concept’ or extensive implementation. This means that technological innovation in IoT for the enterprise is progressing at a similarly fast rate with many of these solutions being developed with utilities, engineering, manufacturing and logistics companies in mind.

Processing at the edge

For IoT to be adopted at the rate predicted, technology which does not overwhelm current or even legacy systems must be implemented. Mobile edge computing solves this. Such solutions offer processing power at the edge of the network, helping firms with a high proportion of mobile workers to reduce operational strain and latency by processing the most critical data at the edge and close to its originating source. Relevant data can then be sent to the cloud for observation and analysis, thereby reducing the waves of ‘data garbage’ which has to be processed by cloud services.

A logistics manager can feasibly monitor and analyse the efficiency of warehouse operations, for example, with important data calculations carried out in real-time, on location, and key data findings then sent to the cloud for centrally-located data scientists to analyse.

The work of wearables

The potential of IoT means it not only has the scope to change the way people work, but also where they work. While widespread mobile working is a relatively new trend in industries such as banking and professional services, for CIOs in sectors where working on the move is inherent – such as logistics and field maintenance – mobility is high on the agenda.

Wearables – and specifically smart glasses – have started to gain traction within the business world. With mobile edge computing solutions acting as the gateway, smart glasses such as Toshiba’s assisted reality AR 100 viewer solution have been designed to benefit frontline and field-based workers in industries such as utilities, manufacturing and logistics. In the renewable energy sector, for example, a wind turbine engineer conducting repairs may use assisted reality smart glasses to call up the schematics of the turbine to enable a hands-free view of service procedures. This means that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert and have additional information sent through, thereby saving time and money by eradicating the need for extra personnel to be sent to the site.

The time is ripe for organisations to look to exploit the age of IoT to improve the productivity and safety of their workers, as well as the end service delivered to customers. In fact, Toshiba’s recent ‘Maximising Mobility’ report found that 49 per cent of organisations believe their sector can benefit from the hands-free functionality of smart glasses, while 47 per cent expect them to deliver improved mobile working and 41 per cent foresee better collaboration and information sharing. Embracing IoT technologies such as mobile edge computing and wearable solutions will be an essential step for many organisations within these verticals as they look to stay on top of 21st century working challenges.

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