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Spectrum is red herring in WOAN debate

MD of Internet Solutions, SAKI MISSAIKOS, explores the local telecommunications industry and highlights lobbying efforts, challenges and benefits to a fair marketplace, which should promote competitiveness to reduce the cost of data and services, increase access to the Internet and stimulate economic development.

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Between 1999 and 2004, Telkom’s monopoly of access to crucial international bandwidth and high-speed ADSL lines meant they could freely charge ISPs excessive fees. And they did. Inevitably, this left them with no choice but to pass costs on to their customers,.

We demanded a competitive market, and aggressively lobbied to have Telkom’s wholesale and retail divisions separated to end its monopoly. Under those conditions, we believed that South Africa’s economy and its citizens could not fully realise the benefit of the Internet.

It was a long, tough battle, and it was a great day – I remember it very well –  when in 2012 the Competition Commission ruled that Telkom was engaged in ‘bullying’ and ‘anti-competitive’ business practises.

Does industry not want a competitive, fair and level playing field?

To my frustration, both in and outside the context of the wholesale open access network (WOAN) debate, it appears that our local telecommunications industry is working against what should be the bedrock of our industry – a competitive, fair and level playing field.  Companies with vested interests in their smaller monopolies are cocooning themselves in legal posturing, adopting a protectionist stance for short-term financial gains.

South Africa’s Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are nervous about the WOAN model proposed by government and are vocal in their opposition. The irony is that the conventional MNO is starting to sound like and resemble our old fixed line operator.

Arguably, what the MNOs are trying to protect are new business models that establish themselves as ISPs. This is a natural evolution of a telecommunications landscape once dominated by ‘voice’ services that are history compared to the demand for Internet connectivity and data.

The era of wireless communications

As we continue to communicate for work and play in a new era of wireless communications, the market must open up.  Indeed, it is vital that Internet access is unbundled from other value-chain activities.  It happened with Telkom, and now it must happen in the mobile space.

I have no doubt that this will stimulate opportunities for new competitors, deliver better pricing, and usher in a more competitive, fairer marketplace.  The winners will be South Africa and South Africans.

Achieving the outcomes of the ICT policy white paper

Let’s stop being side-tracked by the obsession with spectrum.  In a country like South Africa, the communication needs of wide-spread rural communities and more densely-populated cities means that newer technologies like 5G cannot simply take over from legacy wireless systems like 3G and even 2G. They will still exist alongside for many years to come.

Any qualified engineer in the industry will tell you that there’s enough spectrum.  The key is how we use it – or indeed abuse it.

If more competition – to reduce the cost of data and services, increase access to the Internet and stimulate economic development – really is government’s aim, as stated in the 2016 ICT policy white paper, then a WOAN is not the answer.

After all, no matter who or what kind of enterprise holds a monopoly, network monopolies bring high prices.  This is a barrier to access for many South Africans, and negatively impacts the economy and society.  The fundamentals of economics dictate that competition reduces abuse of market dominance, and produces exactly the price and service results that government wants.

A WOAN is not the answer, but many WOANs may well be.

I propose that MNOs are compelled to completely separate their wholesale and retail businesses as a first step towards achieving the desired outcomes detailed in government’s ICT policy white paper.  This wholesale / retail divorce has sound precedence that should not be ignored.  At a wholesale level, there’ll be full price transparency, and all ISPs will be able to compete fairly at a retail level.

By compelling MNOs to fully separate their wholesale and retail businesses, we achieve several positive outcomes:

  1. Industry entrants and existing players that do not own their own infrastructure can build their businesses on the investments made by others, increasing the depth of the market and providing consumers – be they individuals who still want voice services or large enterprises wholly dependent on fibre – with all the benefits of more competition and choice;
  2. Entities that own infrastructure still profit from their investments, encouraging further development of the industry and maintenance of South Africa’s network, which, when compared to much of the continent, is far superior;
  3. A WOAN controlled by a government- or industry-body could be launched in parallel with leftover spectrum.  This will create a comparative environment that allows all the industry to evaluate the viability of the model for our market;
  4. There is reduced opportunity for any industry player to ingratiate itself with the body managing the WOAN for spectrum or any other market advantage; and
  5. Allocation of spectrum to those operators that want it – through application or auction – will not be delayed because of a prolonged industry consultation that must precede any significant policy shift.

The commercial interests of South Africa’s MNOs and ISPs are not at odds with government’s ideals of accessible, affordable, quality internet connectivity and communications services for all citizens.

We all share these ideals, but they are only achievable in a commercially-sound business environment. Regulation must be formulated in the interests of consumers and within a legislative framework that prevents market abuse and eliminates barriers to entry. It must embrace, encourage, and stimulate competition, which gives local, even neighbourhood, operators an opportunity to thrive if they develop compelling product and service offerings that perhaps national service providers cannot.

Since its inception in 1993, Internet Solutions has been championing a fair and competitive market and we are not going to stop.  We believe that it is not only our duty, but also the duty of the entire telecommunications industry to fight for the right of South Africa to enjoy all the social and economic benefits of the Internet that come about when it is accessible and affordable to all.

I am not convinced that a WOAN can give South Africa these things, but WOANS can.

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The myths of microwaves

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We all know microwaves make cooking a breeze and it helps save those minutes, we rarely have enough of these days. However, some people do have those lingering doubts about whether microwaving food destroys nutrients or that it emits harmful radiation. However, the truth is a lot more comforting and positive.

“The microwave makes life so much easier,” says Tracy Gordon, Head of Product – Home Appliances at Samsung South Africa. “It’s human-centred technology at its most helpful. The Samsung Hotblast for example, has revolutionary functions, which are tailor-made to create fast, tasty and healthy meals in minutes.”

A recent article by Harvard Health Publishingclaims stated that “microwave ovens cook food using waves of energy that are remarkably selective, primarily affecting water and other molecules that are electrically asymmetrical. Microwaves cause these molecules to vibrate and quickly build up thermal (heat) energy.” The article debunks two common myths about microwaving food.

Myth 1: Microwaving kills nutrients

Whether in a microwave or a regular oven, some nutrients, including vitamin C, do break down when exposed to heat. However, the fact is, cooking with a microwave might be better when it comes to preserving nutrients because it takes a shorter time to cook. Additionally, as far as vegetables go, cooking them in water robs them of some of their nutritional value because the nutrients seep out into the cooking water,” states the report by Harvard Health Publishing. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), food cooked in a microwave oven is as safe and has the same nutrient value, as food cooked in a conventional oven.

Myth 2: Microwaving food can give you cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that microwaves do not make food radioactive. Microwaves heat food but they do not change the chemical or molecular structure of it. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that microwaves pose a health risk to people when used appropriately, the organisation added.

With those myths well busted, it’s comforting to know one can make full use of the convenient kitchen appliance. And when the time comes to use a microwave to heat up a tasty meal in no time, one can trust the Samsung Hotblast to do the job. The HotBlast has multiple air holes blowing out powerful hot air, which reduces cooking time. Samsung claims the Slim Fry technology ensures that food is perfectly crisp on the outside and delicious and juicy on the inside. Additionally, this versatile microwave has a wider grill, making it easier to brown food fast and evenly. The turntable is wider, measuring 345mm, making it possible to prepare bigger portions of food. And with its Eco Mode power, it significantly reduces energy consumption with its low standby power. Its intelligent features and stylish design makes it very useful and as we now know – a safe, healthy way to enjoy a meal.

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New BMW 3-series ushers in autonomous future

The new BMW 3-series is not meant to be an autonomous car, but it is so close, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers.

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It was not meant to be a test-drive of an autonomous vehicle. But the Driving Assist button on the steering wheel of the new BMW 330i was just too tempting. And there I found myself, on Sir Lowry’s Pass near Cape Town, “driving” with my arms folded while the vehicle negotiated curves on its own.

Every 10 seconds or so, yellow or red lights flashed to alert me to put my hands back on the wheel. The yellow lights meant the car wanted me to put my hands on the wheel, just to show that I was in control. The red lights meant that I had to take over control from the artificial intelligence built into the vehicle.

With co-driver Ernest Page, we negotiated a major highway, the bends of Sir Lowry’s pass, and the passes of Hell’s Heights (Hel se Hoogte) above the Cape Winelands.

As the above video of the experience reveals, it can be nerve-racking for someone who hasn’t experienced autonomous driving, or hasn’t been dreaming of testing it for many years. For this driver, it was exhilarating. Not because the car performed so magnificently, but because it tells us just how close true autonomous driving really is.

There was one nervous moment when the autonomous – or rather, Driving Assist – mode disengaged on Hell’s Heights, but fear not. A powerful sense of responsibility prevailed, and my hands hovered over the steering wheel as it took the curve. Assist disengaged, and the car began to veer towards the other side of the road. I quickly took over, and also sobered up from the giddiness of thinking I was already in the future.

In reality, Driving Assist is part of level 2 of driving autonomy, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. A presentation on the evening of the test drive, by Edward Makwana, manager of group product communications at BMW Group in South Africa, summed up the five stages as the driver having Feet Off, Hands Off, Eyes Off, Mind off, and finally, only being a Passenger.

However, the extent to which the hands-off mode of Driving Assist mimics self-driving, and easily shows the way to eyes-off and mind-off, is astonishing.

Click here to read about the components that make the Driving Assist work.

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