One of the great dilemmas of the smartphone market right now is the difficulty of choosing the right one for your needs‚Ä¶ and wants. Most phones are either geared to business use and come short in the entertainment and multimedia department, or they are perfect multimedia devices, leaving you out in the cold for business features. DO any phones strike a balance between the two? SEAN BACHER thinks so, after trying the new version of the Curve, South Africa’s phone flavour of the moment.
Last year saw a wave of new handset announcements from BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM). The new Pearl was punted in magazines and adverts throughout South Africa: the flagship, the Torch, was so heavily marketed, you could not walk into a store without being bombarded with images and information about its benefits.
Around the same time though, RIM quietly announced another new handset. Well, perhaps not new, but rather an upgrade of one of its most popular handsets ‚ the Curve. The Curve 8520 had set the market alight with its combination of low price, high tech and appeal to the youth market. Mention the 9300, and those with a vague knowledge of model numbers assume you’re referring to a version of the Bold.
So the Curve 9300 slipped into South Africa under the radar. This tickled my fancy though, as I wondered why BlackBerry would release a phone without creating an advance marketing build-up.
Why no hype about the phone? Was there something wrong with it? Did it not live up to Research in Motion’s own expectations?
We put it through the Gadget 5 Question User Test to answer these questions:
1. Is it ready to use?
If it’s only about making calls, you can get going immediately. If you’re switching from another BlackBerry, and want to keep your contacts, the process is by no means simple. It requires you to synchronising the old device with BlackBerry desktop software ‚ the latest version comes on a disk with the phone. However, this has become a lot simpler over time. Once the software is set up, you simply plug in the old Blackberry and select the Switch Device option. Your data is backed up and copied to the PC, you’re asked to plug in the new device, and wait for it all to be restored to the new Curve.
This entire process took no more than half an hour. It may sound like a lot, but that included transferring thousands of e-mails, previous applications re-installed, and contacts, calendar information and SMSs moved to the new device. I have yet to come across another phone upgrade that allows as seamless and complete a process: once it is all done, it all works.
There was one additional step: I had to access the mail setup option on the phone to make sure the new phone was registered with my Blackberry e-mail account.
All in all, really easy, and you now have your data backed up on your PC as well.
2. Is it easy to use?
I have always found the BlackBerry easy to use. Although Rim continually upgrades the operating system (OS), the changes are mainly functional and the general interface doesn’t change radically.
While it may ship with an older version, the phone is compatible with the new BlackBerry OS 6, by far their best operating system yet. To upgrade, you download the OS package from RIM’s site and install it on your phone through the desktop software ‚ again long-winded, but fairly simple. In the process, your data is once again backed up and restored with the new OS.
If you are moving from a different brand, it may take a while to get used to the layout. A tutorial on the phone quickly takes you through the essentials. Then, as with any phone, it’s about trial and error. However, with the current popularity of the Curve among teenagers and their parents, tips, tricks and advice will be almost on tap.
Among the useful aspects of the Curve are two easy-access buttons on the side of the phone. By default, one is set to launch the camera application, which comes in handy when you need to take quick snaps for Facebook or Twitter (both applications are available free from the Blackberry Application World). The other launches the phone’s voice control option, which is irritating when you accidentally push it and a disembodied voice tells you to ‚Say a command‚ in an alien accent. Thankfully, these can be customised to suit your preferences.
3. Does it operate as advertised?
A lot of phones fall short here, often claiming long battery life or amazing Internet functionality, never before seen on a phone. However, the Blackberry Curve scores full points here. Its browser works well and is seamlessly integrated with applications like Facebook and Twitter.
It’s arena of market leadership, however, has always been the way it handles e-mail. It amazes me more and more everyday. I use a Gmail account, and the BlackBerry synchronises easily with it. And sometimes, it is way ahead of the game. I can be sitting in front of my PC with my Gmail account open and hear my phone beep to alert me that I have new mail ‚ even though there is no sign of it in my Gmail inbox, despite refreshing it several times.
The Curve’s battery life is also reasonable by current smartphone standards ‚ which of course does not say terribly much. A full battery will last an entire work day of intensive use: I constantly read, reply and compose emails, and am always checking my Twitter feeds. The battery has not yet let me down when I’ve been out for the day.
Incidentally, the BlackBerry web site ‚ www.blackberry.com ‚ offers endless advice on how to get the most out of your battery. One trick I picked up along the way is to make sure my network options are set to both 2G and 3G. If it is set to 3G, the phone continually scans for a 3G network and, in some cases, this could drop your battery usage time by half.
An application that I have grown to love to the point where I can’t imagine my life without is the Blackberry Messenger or BBM. Using it on a device like the Pearl is rather frustrating due to the shrunken keyboard. But the application works wonderfully when you have a full QWERTY keyboard at your disposal, as you do with the Curve 9300. The application is responsive, is endlessly more reliable than SMSs and costs less than a fraction of the cost of a phone call ‚ or nothing at all if included in a BlackBerry Internet Service package.
4. Is it innovative?
The Blackberry Curve is much faster than its predecessors, especially in terms of boot-up speed. It operates fluidly, has a decent camera built in and comes with the typical functions you would need to use it as both a business and multimedia device. Many other brands lose the plot here ‚ with most of them scoring full marks in the multimedia department but scoring zero on the business end or vice-versa. A phone needs to be perfectly balanced and the Curve comes close.
One limitation of the Blackberry is its internal memory, in this case 256MB. But after using the phone for several weeks and installing numeorus applications from the Blackberry App World, I have yet to run into problems. The phone has not frozen on me once, as have most others, nor has there been any other type of random behaviour I’ve come to expect from phones.
If you do run out of space, the Curve supports up to 32GB of external memory via mini SD cards.
The innovation lies not in the features as such, but in the way they all combine into a superb package.
5. Is it value for money?
At a price of around R4 500, depending on your operator, the new Curve is not the cheapest smartphone available, but it is a long way away from being one of the most expensive ‚ and some of its more expensive counterparts offer only half the functionality of the 9300.
A reliable communications device that provides a superb balance between fun and business.
¬∑ Follow Sean Bacher on Twitter on @seanbacher
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Prepare for Wi-Fi 6
From traffic to healthcare, the applications of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard are set to transform how we connect.
20 years ago, with the release of 802.11b, Wi-Fi began its conquest of the world networking scene in earnest. Wi-Fi can easily be called out as one of the most popular technologies of the last two decades. Just as mobile telephony and mobile internet, it has become a part of everyday life. And with the advent of IoT and the introduction of 5G, the time has come for the new standard – Wi-Fi 6.
Beyond being significantly faster than the previous generation, Wi-Fi 6 delivers up to four times greater capacity. Latency is vastly improved, allowing for near real-time use cases. Wi-Fi 6 is also easier on connected devices’ batteries.
So what impact will Wi-Fi 6 have on business in the coming years?
Digitisation, mobility and IoT are driving the need for connectivity. By 2022, more IP traffic will cross global networks than in all prior ‘internet years’ combined up to the end of 2016. In other words, more traffic will be created in 2022 than in the 32 years since the internet started. In 3 years, 28 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, many of which (robots, production lines, medical devices) will communicate over a wireless network. Against this background, it is easy to understand why we need a redesigned wireless standard that is more responsive to present and future challenges.
Wi-Fi 6: The business impact
“In the first phase, we expect the new wireless standard to gain a significant foothold in the B2B field, where it brings important innovations,” said Garsen Naidu, Country Manager, Cisco South Africa. “We will see it, together with other technologies, penetrate significantly into manufacturing, into the logistics industry. The technology is also more effective in high-density settings like large lecture halls, stadiums and conference rooms, so we are likely to see significant penetration in these settings too. And, with its extremely low latency, Wi-Fi 6 also promises to open up new opportunities in AR/VR, healthcare, and self-driving vehicles. ”
Ever since the launch of the Internet, every leap in network speed has had a major impact on technological innovation: 4G has brought along the age of smartphones, whilst 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will transform the business world. According to Cisco experts, these two technologies – 5G and Wi-Fi – will be widely adopted at the same time, complementing each other.
A short history of Wi-Fi
In 1999, half a dozen technology companies, including Aironet, which was later acquired by Cisco, formed the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance. The standard announced that year, 802.11b, which gained significant commercial traction, was the first to emerge under the ‘Wi-Fi’ brand. As such, 1999 marks the year in which Wi-Fi really began.
Solutions that carry the official Wi-Fi logo work consistently with the IEEE 802.11 data transfer standard. These solutions are certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which guarantees compatibility between various wireless devices. In addition, networking manufacturers have done a lot to improve compatibility. Launched as early as 2002, Cisco Compatible eXtensions is a free licensing program that has enabled other vendors’ Wi-Fi products to be securely deployed on Cisco wireless networks.
Subsequent developments in Wi-Fi technology included managing interference and increasing data stability. Cisco is supporting these with the Cisco Flexible Radio Assignment and Cisco CleanAir technologies. The latter is capable of identifying and graphically displaying radio interference, identifying the source of the problem, and directing users to other, less crowded, channels.
Challenges of the present and opportunities for the future
One of the most widespread business applications of wireless technology is office Wi-Fi. Using Wi-Fi, employees can move freely and access the network from anywhere where there is a hotspot. Wi-Fi-based analysis and location services are also becoming increasingly popular. And with the spread of IoT, Wi-Fi is becoming ubiquitous, and is today found everywhere from agricultural fields to production lines.
“We see promising business opportunities and a wide range of new applications. At the same time, with hundreds and thousands of new devices connecting to wireless networks, IT teams are facing increasing complexity. So we need to rethink IT architectures from the ground-up,” added Naidu.
Much of this need to rethink network architectures is driven by the enormous growth in wireless connectivity.
Wi-Fi has driven growth in general IT use, which in turn has led to the need to provide and run bigger and more complex networks with a greater variety of endpoint device types on them. This complexity ‘feedback loop’, driven in no small part by Wi-Fi, requires that new solutions are developed to deal with this complexity.
Cisco has pioneered in this area, using AI, machine learning, and machine reasoning, via products such as Cisco DNA Assurance to eliminate manual troubleshooting and reduce the time spent resolving service issues.
The latest Wi-Fi 6 developments introduced earlier this year make a consistent, efficient and seamless wireless connectivity experience a reality.
Getting London wired
Ruckus Wireless has been selected by Telef√≥nica UK, which operates the O2 brand, to supply high-capacity small cell products for high-speed wireless services being deployed throughout London.
Already deployed throughout the busiest, iconic areas in central London, such as Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Leicester Square, Regent Street and Oxford Street, Ruckus SmartCell 8800s have initially been deployed to provide free, fast and reliable Wi-Fi to anyone.
Within a single, low-profile design, the SmartCell 8800 is the first carrier-grade, modular multi-radio system to integrate patented adaptive antenna array technology supporting multiple licensed and unlicensed radio technologies including: high-speed dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, small cell 3G/4G radios and 5GHz wireless backhaul. This gives Telef√≥nica UK the flexibility to easily and economically offer high-speed Wi-Fi and cellular services in specific locations when needed.
‚”For O2, it’s all about us providing customers with fast and reliable connectivity where they need it,‚” said Derek McManus, chief operating officer for Telef√≥nica UK. ‚”Our vision is for Wi-Fi to be simply another access layer to our mobile core. Customers don’t really care about the underlying technology: they care about getting connected, fast and reliably. The introduction of small cells helps us to support these requirements and completely complements our mobile strategy by letting us push capacity closer to users in locations where it makes the most sense.‚”
‚”In telecoms there is now a mad race to the lamppost, and the first one there wins,‚” said Selina Lo, president and CEO of Ruckus Wireless. ‚”A big barrier in small cell deployment is simply securing the physical locations with the requisite power and backhaul to support small cells. Once physical assets secured, it becomes important for operators to exploit them with as much technology as they can. This means multi-function, carrier-grade products that are simple deploy, unobtrusive and massively scalable. SmartCell is one of those products and O2 is one of those operators taking a lead in this race.‚”
After extensive evaluations of wireless suppliers, Telef√≥nica UK selected Ruckus and its SmartCell system. ‚”It all really boiled down to who had the best Wi-Fi for carriers and the most forward-thinking strategy to integrate Wi-Fi within existing and future cellular infrastructure,‚” said McManus.
‚”Such partnerships prove that industry players are starting to see the benefits Wi-Fi is bringing to their services,‚” adds Michael Fletcher sales director for Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa. ‚”We are likely to continue to see more industry players embracing this transformation globally, and hopefully locally as well as operators look for solutions to cater for their growing customer base.‚”
Beating the Backhaul Dilemma
‚”A major challenge with small cell deployments is how to reliably backhaul traffic from potentially thousands of small cell nodes without breaking the bank,‚” said Robert Joyce, chief radio engineer at Telef√≥nica UK.‚”
Telef√≥nica UK effectively eliminates this problem by meshing traffic over highly reliable 5GHz Wi-Fi mesh links between nodes using Ruckus Smart Mesh technology. Smart Mesh uses advanced self-organising network (SON) principles with Ruckus-patented adaptive antenna arrays (BeamFlex) and predictive channel management techniques (ChannelFly). Combined these technologies create highly resilient, high-speed Wi-Fi mesh backbone links between nodes that automatically adapt to changes in environmental conditions.
Thought by many to not be possible, Smart Mesh has demonstrated to deliver reliable backhaul for licensed cellular and unlicensed Wi-Fi traffic in both line of sight and non-line of site environments.
‚”Ruckus Smart Mesh technology is proving to offer a cost-effective, reliable and flexible alternative to conventional approaches,‚” said Joyce. ‚”With Smart Mesh, we are running fiber to just one of every five nodes. This has proven to be a huge benefit in reducing capital and operational expense with the added bonus of reducing the time to market.‚”
Big Improvements with Small Cells
Small cells represent a new architectural approach for injecting much needed capacity into service provider networks. Small cells are miniature base stations that combine licensed and unlicensed radio technology with wireless backhaul to deliver lower powered wireless signals much closer to mobile users. This results in better signal coverage, improved voice quality and higher data performance.
Small cells enable operators to provide a premium quality mobile signal where it was never previously economic, such as indoor environments and remote outdoor locations. They also enable operators to meet the burgeoning demand for mobile data, by multiplying the data capacity of the macro network at a fraction of the cost.
With the Ruckus SmartCell system, mobile operators gain a capacity boost from LTE small cells, cutting costs and complexity by co-locating and combining them with Wi-Fi access points, sharing site-lease agreements and backhaul. The integration of Wi-Fi and LTE small cells within the cellular core also helps operators optimize network utilization across the radio access network, providing a further improvement in performance, and creating a seamless experience for subscribers.
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