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Augmented reality gets ready for business

Lenovo has revealed details of an augmented reality system for businesses. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK explores the potential.

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Virtual reality (VR) gets all the attention, because it promises consumers not only a whole new world, but many new worlds. By comparison, augmented reality (AR) is the poor relation. Yet, this is where we are likely to see the real evolution, product ranges and use cases emerging in the five years.

Ironically, AR may even save VR, as it allows for several levels of immersion, from basic text overlaid on whatever one is viewing in the real world, all the way through to near-total VR.

It is this versatility of AR that is seeing it invading industries, organisations and enterprises globally. From teaching anatomy in a class to performing surgery, from repairing an aircraft engine to in-vehicle navigation, the use cases are becoming well-established. And where there are business use cases, manufacturers and developers quickly fill in the gaps identified by users.

For this reason, an AR device is being developed by Lenovo, best known for its ThinkPad laptops and Yoga two-in-one laptop-tablet combination. At the Transform 2.0 conference hosted by the Lenovo Data Centre Group in New York this month, it revealed not only a headset, but also a computing device and a software platform. At first sight, it may even appear to be a VR headset. This means that it can cover the full spectrum of AR experiences.

“I don’t think there’s a super hard line between AR and VR,” said Christian Teismann, senior vice president and general manager of Lenovo Worldwide Enterprise Business, at the event. “If you think of the AR you put over real reality, you start with 1% virtual. When you get to 100%, it’s become VR. 

“However, the use for VR is limited to experience. I don’t think for commercial applications VR has a lot of use cases, but the amount of AR overlaid on reality will vary a lot. In some cases, most reality will be augmented, in others only very little.”

Two great examples that encapsulate the issue is the use of augmented reality in cars versus its use in surgery.

“When you’re driving a car, how much augmented reality is reasonable?” asks Teismann. “It can only support you, as when your speed or turn-by-turn navigation is projected onto the windscreen in front of you. In other uses, AR becomes critical. Think of the scenario where a surgeon is doing microscopic surgery and is operating via a computer. The surgery is being done with laser technology, and you can no longer see inside the body in the same way as when you cut it open. As a result, most of the procedure will be augmented.”

Because the use cases of AR in commercial environments are so specific, he says, “It will never go to the entire extreme of virtual, because you lose the aspect of reality being part of the value proposition.”

For this reason, most VR is focused on the consumer space, and most of it is gaming or entertainment oriented. 

Continue reading to find out more about Lenovo’s AR technology.

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Rain, Telkom Mobile, lead in affordable data

A new report by the telecoms regulator in South Africa reveal the true consumer champions in mobile data costs

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The latest bi-annual tariff analysis report produced by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) reveals that Telkom Mobile data costs for bundles are two-thirds lower than those of Vodacom and MTN. On the other hand, Rain is half the price again of Telkom. 

The report focuses on the 163 tariff notifications lodged with ICASA during the period 1 July 2018 to 31 December 2018.

“It seeks to ensure that there is retail price transparency within the electronic communications sector, the purpose of which is to enable consumers to make an informed choice, in terms of tariff plan preferences and/or preferred service providers based on their different offerings,” said Icasa.

ICASA says it observed the competitiveness between licensees in terms of the number of promotions that were on offer in the market, with 31 promotions launched during the period. 

The report shows that MTN and Vodacom charge the same prices for a 1GB and a 3GB data bundle at R149 and R299 respectively.  On the other hand, Telkom Mobile charges (for similar-sized data bundles) R100 (1GB) and R201 (3GB). Cell C discontinued its 1GB bundle, which was replaced with a 1.5GB bundle offered at the same price as the replaced 1GB data bundle at R149. 

Rain’s “One Plan Package” prepaid mobile data offering of R50 for a 1GB bundle remains the most affordable when compared to the offers from other MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators).  

“This development should have a positive impact on customers’ pockets as they are paying less compared to similar data bundles and increases choice,” said Icasa.

The report also revealed that the cost of out-of-bundle data had halved at both MTN and Vodacom, from 99c per Megabyte a year ago to 49c per Megabyte in the first quarter of this year. This was still two thirds more expensive than Telkom Mobile, which has charged 29c per Megabyte throughout this period (see graph below).

Meanwhile, from having positioned itself as consumer champion in recent years, Cell C has fallen on hard times, image-wise: it is by far the most expensive mobile network for out-of-bundle data, at R1.10 per Megabyte. Its prices have not budged in the past year.

The report highlights the disparities between the haves and have-nots in the dramatically plummeting cost of data per Megabyte as one buys bigger and bigger bundles on a 30-day basis (see graph below).

For 20 Gigabyte bundles, all mobile operators are in effect charging 4c per Megabyte. Only at that level do costs come in at under Rain’s standard tariffs regardless of use.

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Qualcomm wins 5G as Apple and Intel cave in

A flurry of announcements from three major tech players ushered in a new mobile chip landscape, wrItes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week’s shock announcement by Intel that it was canning its 5G modem business leaves the American market wide open to Qualcomm, in the wake of the latter winning a bruising patent war with Apple.

Intel Corporation announced its intention to “exit the 5G smartphone modem business and complete an assessment of the opportunities for 4G and 5G modems in PCs, internet of things devices and other data-centric devices”.

Intel said it would also continue to invest in its 5G network infrastructure business, sharpening its focus on a market expected to be dominated by Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson.

Intel said it would continue to meet current customer commitments for its existing 4G smartphone modem product line, but did not expect to launch 5G modem products in the smartphone space, including those originally planned for launches in 2020. In other words, it would no longer be supplying chips for iPhones and iPads in competition with Qualcomm.

“We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property. We are assessing our options to realise the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world.”

The news came immediately after Qualcomm and Apple issued a joint announced of an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm, along with a six-year license agreement, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

Apple had previously accused Qualcomm of abusing its dominant position in modem chips for smartphones and charging excessive license fees. It ordered its contract manufacturers, first, to stop paying Qualcomm for the chips, and then to stop using the chips altogether, turning instead to Intel.
With Apple paying up and Intel pulling out, Qualcomm is suddenly in the pound seats. It shares hit their highest levels in five years after the announcements.

Qualcomm said in a statement: “As we lead the world to 5G, we envision this next big change in cellular technology spurring a new era of intelligent, connected devices and enabling new opportunities in connected cars, remote delivery of health care services, and the IoT — including smart cities, smart homes, and wearables. Qualcomm Incorporated includes our licensing business, QTL, and the vast majority of our patent portfolio.”

Meanwhile, Strategy Analytics released a report on the same day that showed Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia will lead the market in core 5G infrastructure, namely Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, by 2023 as the 5G market takes off. Huawei is expected to have the edge as a result of the vast scale of the early 5G market in China and its long term steady investment in R&D. According to a report entitled “Comparison and 2023 5G Global Market Potential for leading 5G RAN Vendors – Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia”, two outliers, Samsung and ZTE, are expected to expand their global presence alongside emerging vendors as competition heats up.

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