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5G is a great enabler, but beware of its challenges

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By JACQUES VISSER, head of wireless at Vox

Digital transformation is rapidly changing the way in which we live, work, and play, and upcoming 5G technology will be crucial in providing the level of connectivity that will improve user experiences and expand broadband wireless services beyond mobile internet.

5G will stand on three primary pillars namely massive type communication, enhanced mobile broadband and ultra-reliable low latency communications. The biggest challenge is whether we will succeed in providing it at an affordable price to a broad base and beyond the already well-serviced metro areas. 

With its very low latency communication, the technology enables business use cases such as remote access for high availability sites, and mission-critical applications like medical equipment, augmented reality, Internet Protocol TV, and even connected self-driving cars. For the consumer market, this benefit will be especially appealing to gamers.

In addition, 5G is being seen as a true enabler of the Internet of Things, with applications in healthcare, retail, energy and utilities, industrial automation, intelligent buildings and infrastructure, and public safety and surveillance. 

We are optimistic that fixed-wireless “5G” services will be launched by late 2019, enabling operators to provide broadband services with the use of radio spectrum. With its high throughput, businesses – especially smaller ones that are more nimble – are likely to be the first adopters, with fixed-wireless 5G being used to link their internal corporate networks using solutions such as Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN).

However, home users with dozens of connected devices – with family members surfing the web, streaming HD videos, playing online games, and making online voice and video calls – are unlikely to shift away from their existing fibre connections any time soon. As such, 5G is not going to replace fibre, but rather complement it, by giving users a high-speed, low-latency broadband connection even when they are on the move. In addition, business users can make use of multiple connection types – and even service providers – to ensure redundancy.

Getting from concept to mainstream

The industry is still waiting on a decision from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) on what spectrum will be allocated for the use of 5G, but we are hoping that a decision will be made by the end of the year. 

While the 5G standards have yet to be finalised, there are only a limited number of bands which can be used, and a number of operators around the globe – and in SA – are already running trials. The most prominent band options currently under consideration are so-called low band below 2GHz, middle band 2GHz to 6Ghz and high band above 6 GHz.

Comsol Networks performed a proof of concept in Soweto on their 5G deployment in 2018, and achieved more than 1GBps throughput speed using the 28GHz spectrum, while Rain has recently announced at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona that they would roll out their 5G network in mid-2019. As a reseller of wireless connectivity services, Vox is monitoring these developments closely, and will seek to be involved once commercial services are launched.

It is expected that the Minister of Communications will provide the government’s policy guidelines with regard to the allocation of spectrum soon. This is a critical requirement to plan Mobile Network Operator (MNO) networks for 5G and to expand broadband services on 3G in rural areas. It is well known that some of the state-owned enterprises like Eskom and Transnet are in possession of fibre infrastructure running through rural areas, and there is an expectation from service providers in South Africa that the government will make this unproductive fibre available to provide broadband services in those areas. 

The required end-user devices will start appearing before long too; at the MWC, several manufacturers unveiled their 5G compatible smartphones and consumer premises equipment, which will become available in the market later in the year.

What can hold back widespread deployment?

There are still some major hurdles to the widespread deployment of 5G in South Africa, the biggest of which is the coverage area. Due to the frequencies being used, each base station can only cover a small area as compared to existing cellular technologies, meaning that there has to be a considerable investment in the rollout of additional base stations.

In addition, having a higher throughput needs to be matched with a backhaul link of similar capacity; with each 5G base station requiring up to a 10GBps connection, coverage will be restricted to areas with the fibre connectivity required to receive and transmit such large volumes of data.

It is likely that 5G coverage will initially be limited to areas where there is both a concentration of users, and the availability of fibre networks for backhaul – meaning city centres and other dense urban areas. Currently, it is not financially feasible for this technology to be deployed to smaller towns or rural areas.

Despite these challenges, there is a reason to be optimistic: South Africa ranks among the top 25 countries in the world in terms of quality of GSM networks, primarily as a result of having multinational telecommunications providers investing substantially in the country. Similarly, one can expect that the local commercial 5G networks, once up and running, will be of a world class standard too, ensuring that local users get to benefit from high-bandwidth, low latency connectivity that will fuel South Africa’s growth in the digital age.

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The Outer Worlds creates a twist on lone hero RPGs

With The Outer Worlds being released just under a month ago, BRYAN TURNER played it extensively to shell out exactly what makes it so special.

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The Outer Worlds makes it difficult to turn the console off. It took a while to pinpoint exactly what makes it so more-ish. Eventually, it became clear that it’s not one aspect, but rather several facets that make this game great. We’ve separated this game into its parts.

It comes as no surprise that Obsidian Entertainment, the makers of Fallout New Vegas and Star Wars: Knights of the Fallen Empire, was behind The Outer Worlds. It blends two distinct flavours of gaming – the chaos of Fallout with the intergalactic travel from Star Wars. This makes The Outer Worlds feel familiar but fresh at the same time.

At first, the game felt similar to the Fallout RPG series, particularly Fallout New Vegas, where the player is conveniently more powerful than the other players that exist in the world into which they venture. In Fallout, worlds are generally lawless, and players must navigate their character towards the alignment or “good or bad status” they want the player to be. The plot has scenarios that only a certain type of alignment can be, whether the character is the Restorer of Faith or the Architect of Doom.

The Outer Worlds follows a similar kind of style, but replaces the wasteland with a picture of the far future. Players start off as a passenger who gets unfrozen on a ship that holds a few of Earth’s brightest minds. The main campaign goal is to help unfreeze the other passengers. Instead, players are found in a hyper-capitalist world where workers are extremely disposable. Enormous companies go by names like “Auntie Cleos” but set extremely oppressive policies to keep their workers in line. From this, one can tell that dark humour is rife throughout this game.

These kinds of immersive RPGs, naturally, pack so many side quests into their world that it’s easy to forget the player’s main objective. These side quests are very reminiscent of the Fallout series, because they feature many ways of getting the job done, whether it be fighting, convincing or sneaking. One can even have companions, which present players with even more quest lines.

Not everything is a remix of other games. Companions have a direct effect on a character’s skill set, because the main characters are not always skilled in what players need. For example, we brought along Parvati in a quest where we needed more support with engineering skills, which is a skill we neglected to level up in the main character.

There’s also the ability to have a special combat skill, which becomes very handy in situations where there are many enemies around. Of course, it not only buys players time, but delivers more damage to opponents. Some special combat skills even stun non-targeted opponents, which really helps.

Gear and perks have also been designed from scratch, and it shows. It’s far more intuitive than we’ve seen in other RPGs so far and it makes for a much better experience that saves time on upgrading gear and perks so players can actually play the game.

I’m a huge fan of the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or VATS, as Fallout players know it. The system allows players to target various limbs or parts of the opponent with precision aim, ensuring a better shot. While The Outer Worlds doesn’t use this, it features a slow-motion aiming system which can be considered an equivalent.

The travel system allows for travel from planet to planet, and they’re all distinctly mapped. While many are filled with enemies and marauders in empty wastelands, there are also major cities. The art style and careful attention to detail with the colour make this contrast distinguishable.

One of our biggest compliments is the completeness of this game. Many games have recently shipped glorified beta versions of their games because they’re pressed for time. The Outer Worlds, however, didn’t present a single bug within 20 hours of gameplay.

Overall, it’s a very enjoyable game, and fans of the Fallout, Star Wars RPGs, and Mass Effect series’ should definitely take a look at what The Outer Worlds has to offer.

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FNB takes shot at Bank Zero

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With expectation building for the launch of Bank Zero by legendary banker Michael Jordaan, his previous employer seems to have taken a strategic shot with the launch of its latest service. 

FNB has launched Easy Zero, a fully-fledged digital bank account with a card to allow customers to transact easily without paying a monthly fee. The mobile account was formerly known as eWallet eXtra.

The revamped digital account will now have a branded FNB bank card, providing customers with free card swipes, cost-effective transactional and ATM cash withdrawal fees. The card now gives customers more options to access their money. In addition, customers will also get free prepaid purchases and free cash deposits of up to R1,500 per month.

FNB Easy CEO Philani Potwana said: “We are aware of the day-to-day financial pressure that our consumers face, and Easy Zero is a direct response to their needs. The account is in line with our strategy to broaden financial inclusion to the unbanked and underbanked. We believe that the ability to operate the account digitally will allow customers to operate it at virtually no cost or minimal cost depending on transactional behaviour.

“We see Easy Zero being a digital bank account of choice for customers who do not have regular income or have limited banking needs. This is partly the reason debit orders are not allowed on the digital account as customers in this segment have limited debit orders. However, for those customers that have a need for debit orders they can still use our competitively priced Easy PAYU and Easy Smart Bundle accounts.”

Through Easy Zero, customers will be able to send money to anyone with a valid SA cellphone number, and skip the queues to pay people and accounts. Easy Zero account holders can also view their bank account balance and transaction history on their mobile phone at any time, from anywhere.

“The success of our digital account, with over 140,000 active customers, shows that anyone who owns a mobile phone can be banked in minutes using a mobile device,” says Potwana. “This showcases our ability to adapt to the ever-changing consumer landscape to cater for the needs of customers through platform innovation. ”

FNB is also offering Easy Zero digital account holders a toll-free number (0800 079 599) where easy customers can call for help on any of their banking needs. To open an Easy Zero account, dial *120*277# on a mobile phone and follow the prompts.

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