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Vodacom LAA test gets 650Mbps on handset

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Vodacom has launched a Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) site on its live network at its Midrand campus and demonstrated speeds >650 Mbps using a commercial handset.

This is the first speed test on both a commercial LAA site and device in Africa and is also the fastest speed test ever achieved on a commercial LTE network and device in South Africa.

Vodacom’s LAA site is also believed to be the first time in South Africa where 4 component carrier (4CC) aggregation has been deployed on a live LTE network. The LAA site on Vodacom’s campus is configured to use a single 10 MHz carrier of Vodacom’s licensed 1800 MHz spectrum and 3 additional carriers each of 20 MHz unlicensed 5GHz spectrum. In addition to 4CC carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology was used for the 1800 MHz carrier and 256 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) was activated on all carriers.

Using this configuration it was possible to achieve a peak download speed of up to 653Mbps on OOKLA using a commercial Motorola Z2 Force handset which is also considered to be the  first commercial LAA device tested in South Africa.

Andries Delport, Vodacom Group’s Chief Technology Officer commented:

“Today’s launch of what we believe to be the continent’s first commercial LAA site and device and the impressive speeds demonstrates that Vodacom continues to lead in technology innovation and enabling new possibilities for our customers. We have managed to launch new technologies such as LAA despite the severe constraints on spectrum that we are facing in the country.  Quite crucially, the latest speeds on the LAA network show that the single biggest contributor to mobile network performance is spectrum. Although we have demonstrated impressive LAA speeds using unlicensed spectrum, Vodacom still requires access to new, licensed spectrum for the practical rollout of similar high speed LTE services across the country. Licensed spectrum is the key to making these higher speeds available to all customers as it can be deployed across our extensive outdoor site footprint and is not limited to indoor and other small area deployments as is the case with LAA”.

LAA enables operators such as Vodacom to use unlicensed spectrum while co-existing with Wi-Fi by fair sharing of the unlicensed spectrum using Listen Before Talk (LBT) Technology. Innovative technologies such as LAA enable Vodacom to improve the network capacity and speeds in important indoor hotspot areas, and in the absence of much needed additional licensed spectrum. It is less suited to wide scale coverage on outdoor macro sites due to the poorer propagation characteristics of the unlicensed 5GHz band.

Vodacom will soon begin rolling out LAA to other sites on its live network, starting with important indoor hotspots such as airports, malls and office buildings. The availability and pricing for LAA capable handsets will be communicated as the rollout has progressed.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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