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Can cables cross the chasm?

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Is there such a thing as too much bandwidth? Yes, if you’re trying to sell yet another undersea cable connecting Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Can you have enough bandwidth? Not if you are ultra-connected and hyper-networked. But for the first time, it looks as if Africa may soon have too much international bandwidth.

Until a year ago, it was expected that the total international capacity on undersea cables for sub-Saharan Africa would peak at around 22 Terabits per second (Tbps) – more than ten times what was available just two years ago. Even at that stage, large question marks were placed over the role, use and impact of this capacity.

Since then, several more cables have been announced, this time connecting Africa to South America, and potentially doubling the already unprecedented capacity available. Of the newly proposed cables, only one has declared its capacity intentions, which has been put at 12Tbps, while one of the others has been claimed could go as high as 40Tbps. Even with only the smaller cable, it takes total capacity to 35Tbps.

Right now, eight undersea cables serve sub-Saharan Africa. Until 2008, there were only two: the SAT3-SAFE cable managed by Telkom, serving West and Southern Africa, and the Atlantis 2 cable, linking Cape Verde to Brazil.

Then came the great cable roll-out of 2009-2011, which has resulted in five new cables switched on by this year, namely the MainOne, Glo1 and ACE (Africa Coast to Europe) cables in West Africa, the TEAMS cable on the East Coast, and the EASSy cable down the East Coast to South Africa.

May 2012 sees the switch-on of the massive 5.12Tbps West Africa Cable System (WACS), which runs down the West coast of Africa and lands at Yzerfontein near Cape Town. The ACE cable was initially intended to be around 2.6Tbps, but plans were quickly upgraded to 5.12Tbps when WACS announced its intentions.

Is that enough capacity for you? Not for some.

In April 2011, eFive Telecoms announced they would build a South Atlantic Express Cable (SAex) cable linking South Africa to Angola, and from there to Brazil and the United States. A mere R3-billion is required for a cable proposed to have a 12.8Tbps capacity.

Then, in November 2011, an almost identical cable route was announced by WASACE Cable Company Worldwide Holding, but with even greater ambitions. The cable would link South Africa, Angola and Nigeria, to Brazil, then on to North America, and finally to Europe.

The proposed cost, $2-billion, will create a cable with a claimed capacity of 40Tbps, and is due for completion ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Not surprisingly, many question whether it will ever evolve from its initial incarnation as a mere PowerPoint presentation.

Even if it does, however, it will not take Africa into a new era of connectivity, nor of unlimited access and capacity.

To start with, total capacity should not be confused with capacity in use. The industry term for used capacity is lit fibre, as opposed to dark fibre, which is unused capacity that has not been switched on. At this stage, well under 1Tb of the potential 22Tb capacity serving Sub-Saharan Africa is in use.

The real benefits of this massive capacity do not lie in the capacity itself, but in the fact that it provides competition, which in turn forces down prices: it provides redundancy, which means we are not at the mercy of the elements or criminal activity when one line breaks: it improves latency, which means less of a signal delay for applications that need instant interactivity: and it entirely removes the traditional bottleneck of lack of international options.

Author Geoffrey Moore, in a groundbreaking analysis of technology life cycles, warned about a Chasm that products and services have to cross from early adopters to the mass market before they enter a true growth phase. Many fall into the chasm because they cannot meet expectations.

Cable capacity in Africa is in the process of crossing that chasm, and there should be no surprises when some of the operators, consortia or projects suddenly vanish without a trace.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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A device to start reinventing yourself – today

A new fitness device, coupled with a new starting date for new year’s resolutions, could be the real route to reinvention, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK as he tries the Fitbit Versa 2.

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Forget about New Year’s Resolutions that began on January 1. By now, that’s probably what you’ve done anyway. By the end of January, eight out of ten people are likely to have failed to maintain their resolutions. That means the gyms are getting less crowded, friends and colleagues are becoming less painful about brief obsessions, and the media has stopped trying to make you feel guilty.

But there is another reason 1 January was an appalling date to start trying to improve yourself. Not only were you likely to be in recovery mode, but you were also firmly in holiday mode, with little incentive to get out of bed on the day. It also meant that, as you and your body emerged from vacation inertia, it remained inordinately difficult for several weeks to get motivated. And that translates into January and February being recipes for failure of resolve.

This is why the new date for kicking off New Year’s resolutions should be 1 March. By then, you are fully back in the swing of adulting, the world has stopped pressurising you to change yourself, and you can set your own pace. This also means that you can tackle your resolutions step by step, rather than going for the big bang approach.

This revelation came to me as I began exploring the functionality of what is arguably the best fitness monitoring device on the market. The Fitbit Versa 2 looks good, works well as a smartwatch, and has tremendous functionality onboard. But use it in tandem with the Fitbit app, and it becomes the wellness assistant that your doctor could never be.

First, those looks.  Aesthetically, the Versa 2 has a far better design than the original Versa 1, opting for a more square design and a better AMOLED display instead of a regular LCD display. This makes it far easier to read the screen in brighter daylight conditions, and helps the smartwatch save battery life by not illuminating every pixel. It offers customisable watch faces, from a community-based library. Want your watch to display Van Gogh’s Starry Night? It’s yours, with a few clicks.

The body is made of aluminium, which gives a nod in the right direction to those who prefer a smarter looking smartwatch. This places it in the league of the most expensive smartwatches, while still retailing at less than half the cost –  under R4,000 compared to the Apple Watch starting at R9,000.

Visit the next page to read more about the functionality of the Versa 2.

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Mobile World Congress canning sends shockwaves

The cancellation of Mobile World Congress forces industry to rethink strategies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The technology industry has just witnessed unthinkable: the cancellation of one of the world’s biggest trade shows, barely 10 days before it was due to kick off.

Just hours after show organisers GSMA insisted the show would go on, the CEO of GSMA, John Hoffman, issued a statement announcing its canning.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” he said. “The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.”

The cancellation comes as numerous heavyweight exhibitors pulled out due to fears of COVID-19, the coronavirus. These included Ericsson, Intel, Amazon, Nvidia, Sony, ZTE, Cisco, Amdocs, and Facebook. Others, like TCL, Xiaomi, Huawei, and Samsung all announced they had scaled down their activities.

GSMA initially insisted that, with 2,800 exhibitors, it had enough safeguards in place to ensure the event would go on. However, it appears to have pre-empted a bandwagon of further withdrawals.

The cancellation will force numerous major industry players to rethink their launch strategies. Few seemed to have contingency plans in place, with Ericsson and Sony notable exceptions.

Ericsson, the first major exhibitor to withdraw, included in its announcement last Friday, 7 February, that it would showcase the company’s portfolio and innovations in local events.

“Ericsson will take the demos and content created for MWC Barcelona to customers in their home markets with local events called ‘Ericsson Unboxed’,” it announced.

Sony said its press conference would still take place at the scheduled time of 8:30am Central European Time on February 24, but “as a video via our official Xperia YouTube channel”.

Other exhibitors may well turn to similar strategies, but smaller businesses that had hoped MWC would put them on the map will have to pursue traditional marketing strategies. Those that had hoped to showcase breakthrough technologies or demonstrate the possibilities of 5G, for example, will have to look to alternative events.

ShowStoppers, a major preview event and media attraction at MWC every year, had announced on Tuesday it would still go ahead, but had no option in announcing its cancellation a day later. However, it runs the event at most major tech expos, and will have the opportunity to pull exhibitors into other regional shows.

“We will continue to collaborate with GSMA,” said ShowStoppers partner Steve Leon. “We look forward to connecting journalists with our partner companies as they launch new products and technologies at ShowStoppers events planned for MWC Los Angeles 2020, IFA 2020 in Berlin, CES 2021 in Las Vegas, and, of course, MWC Barcelona 2021.”

IFA, held in Berlin every year at the end of August, is the world’s biggest tech expo by attendees, although not by floorspace. However, it is likely to be given a massive boost this year as it attracts many of the launches that would have been confined to MWC. The Los Angeles MWC event, due in October, is tiny by comparison, drawing just over 20,000 attendees, and is unlikely to take up the slack. 

Visit the next page to read about the knock-on impact of the cancellation and to see who is the big winner of MWC being cancelled.

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