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Veterans prepare for high-tech to move into high-gear

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If we thought the technology revolution was slowing down, fasten those seat-belts. You ain’t seen nothing yet, industry veterans tell ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The dizzying speed of technology advance over the past 30 years, driven first by the advent of the personal computer, followed by the Internet and then by smartphones, was merely the curtain-raiser for the coming decade.

This view was expressed by one industry executive after another in interviews at last week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. And these were no start-up upstarts. These were industry veterans who had been instrumental in some of the landmark products and services that built the information technology industry we know today.

Pat Gelsinger, CEO of cloud computing giants VMware, was the first chief technology officer at Intel and architect of the original Intel 486 processor. As one-time head of Intel Labs, he led many of the research projects in the 1980s and 1980s that would help speed up the pace of high-tech change.

“We are at the dawn of a re-acceleration of the technology industry overall,” he said in an exclusive interview at MWC. “The next decade will see more change and new technology than in the last 20 or 30 years.

“An accelerating crescendo of technologies is coming together: cloud, mobile, big data, robotics, analytics, 3D printing, and more. It will bring together a reinforcing set of innovative activities.

“In the next decade, 75 per cent of the world’s population will have a persistent connection to the Internet with some smart device. Today it’s already 40 per cent. Soon, you’ll be able to touch half the world’s population.”

These devices, he said, will come into their own once intelligence is added.

“I can put intelligence into everything for almost zero cost, so while there are more people than machines connected today, in the next few years there will be twice as many machine-connected intelligent devices as human-connected intelligent devices. It will transform supply chains and our quality of life.”

Emerging markets, including South Africa, may well have “some of the greatest opportunities we have collectively over next decade,” he says. “Would someone in Ethiopia or Zambia be able to buy a $700 iPhone and $100 service? Of course not. But in markets where the price of phone is $20 and a service less than $10, we see rapid innovation around affordable access to core technologies, basic financial services, crop information, trading information.”

Gelsinger offered a fascinating vision of a future that is already possible.

“Tomorrow morning your smart device will wake you, and tell you: ‘last night you had a heart irregularity, so I’m waking you early and uploading your biometrics to the medical cloud, I’m running comparisons of your pattern with everyone in your DNA group. I’ve made a doctor’s appointment and loaded the directions into your self-driving car. I’ve moved your regular coffee order to a different Starbucks on your revised route, and made it decaffeinated because you’re seeing the heart doctor.’

“None of that is unreasonable to implement, but the results are life-changing.”

These sentiments were echoed by Frank Kern, chief executive officer of Aricent, a global technology services company with more than 12 000 staff focused on software and hardware innovation. He spent 30 years with IBM, including heading up its core consulting division, Global Business Services. He came out of retirement to take up the challenge of the future.

“This is the most exciting time yet,” he says. “Before, I was just in the boring old computer industry.

“I was around when IBM did a lot of interesting stuff. We created a services business, I ran the consulting business, and in 2009 I created an analytics practise with 9 000 people, worth $25-billion.

“But today is the most exciting time of all. It’s a time when you have a combination of an explosion of sensors, accelerating of communications, combined with the software capabilities of AI, and now we are designing the user interface of the future, the customer experience of the future.”

Aricent owns a renowned strategy and design company, frog, which was responsible for the design of several Apple computers, along with hardware for numerous global organisations. The parent company has also been in research and development of software for 25 years, with a strong focus on telecommunications, and taking a leading position in 5G, AI and autonomous vehicle software.

“We are able to see and participate in multiple trends going on, and all are accelerating at same time. It’s not only one thing right now; it’s all these things that, together, are creating this exciteme.”

Gelsinger puts it neatly into perspective.

“All of this gives me an almost child-like enthusiasm. I’ve been in the technology industry for 37 years. If you ever used a microprocessor or a USB drive, I helped do all of them. But, in many cases, the next decade is as exciting as the last three decades. Because so many of these things will become life-changing and business-changing.”

  • 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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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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