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AR, VR, return to growth

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The worldwide augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headset market returned to growth after a year of decline as global shipments during the first quarter of 2019 (1Q19) reached 1.3 million, up 27.2% from the same quarter last year. The overall AR/VR market has begun to grow again thanks to a surge in shipments of standalone head-mounted displays (HMDs) and tethered HMDs that helped to offset the decline in the low-end, screenless viewer segment, according to the International Data Corporation (IDCWorldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker.

VR headsets represented 96.6% of the combined AR/VR market during the quarter with strong volumes from top companies such as Sony, Facebook, HTC, Pico, and 3Glasses. The top five vendors captured 65.1% of the total VR headset market.

“Facebook has promised to bring VR to the masses and it took its latest steps toward realizing this vision with new standalone and tethered headset releases during the quarter,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile Device Trackers. “The company’s new $399 standalone Oculus Quest began shipping this quarter and has enjoyed positive reviews, and its new Rift S offers an updated take on its pioneering tethered headset. These products, along with other new offerings from companies such as HTC and Valve, should position the VR market for solid growth through the rest of the year.”

While AR market volumes remain low, there is clear momentum here as well. Top AR headset makers included Epson, Lenovo, Vuzix, Google, and RealWear during 1Q19.

“Enterprise AR is evolving quickly and many companies are actively looking for hardware solutions they can use to improve existing business processes and drive new ones,” said Tom Mainelli, group vice president, Consumer and Devices Research at IDC. “Vendors shipping robust, ready-to-use products today are seeing increased traction and we expect their volumes to increase notably through the rest of this year. We have also seen new product announcements from players large and small that should help drive increased momentum and shipments when these products begin shipping later this year.”

IDC anticipates the growth trend established in the first quarter will continue as global shipments for AR/VR headsets are forecast to reach 7.6 million units in 2019, up from 5.9 million in 2018. Much of this growth will occur in the commercial segment, which will consume roughly one of every three headsets shipped in 2019.

IDC expects standalone and tethered headsets to drive the VR market growth. Standalone VR headsets will capture 38.2 % of the VR market in 2019, up from 26.6% in 2018. Tethered VR headsets will have a share of 46.1% this year, versus 44.1% last year. Finally, screenless viewers will decline to 15.7%, down from 29.3% last year.

Standalone will play an even larger role in AR for 2019, where IDC expects it to capture 53.9% of the market, up from 47.8% last year. Tethered and screenless viewers will capture 27% and 19.1% in 2019, respectively. While the tethered segment is small today, IDC expects it to play a larger role in the future, as it’s likely the first truly consumer-oriented products will use this form factor down the road.

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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