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Can you take the weather with you?

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The technology for forecasting the weather has been getting more and more local in recent years. Now it’s personal, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Crowded House, one of the rock sensations of the late 20th century, sang the lyrics, “Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you,” they weren’t referring to a gadget. But their song about the effect of one’s attitude on one’s environment is an apt metaphor in a world of smartphones, apps and gadgets that can monitor every element of the human and natural elements.

For a few years now, we’ve had a semblance of carrying the weather with us, thanks to apps like AccuWeather, which have become a standard feature on smartphones.

Two years ago, a company called Netatmo took the concept a step further, when they launched a personal weather station at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It comprised two tubular devices, one for indoor and a weatherproof one for outdoor monitoring, with the two connecting to each other and to a smartphone or computer via Wi-Fi.

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It’s surprising that, for a weather-obsessed country like South Africa, it has taken so long for the device to arrive here. It’s now being distributed locally by the Core Group, meaning it will be available in all iStores. Eventually, all electronics outlets should stock it.

The big question will be, of course, whether it does much more than AccuWeather. Will consumers be able to justify a gadget costing more than R2500, when they can instead have a free app that does the job reasonably well?

The answer lies in how much more Netatmo offers, and how easily it does so. We ran it through the Gadget Five-question User Test to answer these and other questions consumers will have before reaching for their wallets.

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  • Ease of use

It’s easy enough to set up, although it requires a number of steps, some of which don’t quite live up to the ease-of-use promise. For example, the outdoor module requires batteries to be fitted into a decidedly unfriendly battery compartment, which uses screws to be fitted in place. A lot like they used to do in the mid-20th century. However, the ease of set-up, either via a downloadable application on a computer or an app on a smartphone, more than makes up for this. The two modules integrate seamlessly with a home Wi-Fi network. Once set up, the app and application deliver vital statistics seamlessly and without further intervention.

  • General performance

The weather station begins monitoring the environment the moment set-up is complete, and starts delivering data on aspects of the home and its immediate surrounds that might never have been considered before. From actual humidity level to what the humidity probably feels like to noise levels to carbon dioxide concentration in the home, it is almost a case of too much information, but that would be a matter of the needs, interests and benefits that the user perceives.

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  • Add value to your life

Whether the weather and environment in tiny detail adds value is a question of how much data you want about the world around you. This will become very much a matter of what kind of data personality you are. Those who love activity monitors like the Fitbit are the most likely candidates, as it will add yet another layer of data on all the health and activity information being monitored, collected and analysed.

From a weather forecast and monitoring point of view, the device will come into its own for anyone with specialist weather or temperature monitoring needs. It would be exceedingly useful for all the South African restaurants that serve red wine at room temperature due to their lack of understanding of what the term actually means for wine (it’s in fact average European room temperature, 16 degrees, rather than any temperature to which a room is heated). More likely, though, it would be used for people looking for an extra edge in keeping a cigar or wine collection in perfect conditions. Serious gardeners may also find it gives them an extra edge. No doubt, there are numerous specialist purposes that will see the device succeed in niche markets.

  • Innovation

The level of innovation in the device lies in the extent to which it integrates environmental measurements that cannot be offered or matched by local weather stations. Carbon dioxide levels in the air inside the house and the noise level in the environment are the two key variables that will enter the user’s life once the Netatmo Weather Station is activated. Of course, that also means the user has to learn what terms like ppm (particles per million, in reference to carbon dioxide levels) and db (decibels) really mean.

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My home showed a measure of 315ppm, compared to a general carbon dioxide concentration level in the Earth’s atmosphere reaching 400ppm this year, according to NASA. 350ppm is regarded as an upper safety level, which suggests the air is cleaner indoors than outdoors. So much for convincing the kids how much healthier it is to be outdoors!

More seriously, what it does reveal is that so-called greenhouse gases are not evenly distributed. If someone regards these measure as important, the Netatmo will help them make key decisions about their living and working environments.

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  • Value for money

The Netatmo Weather Station for Smartphone is not cheap. In the USA it retails for between $140 and $170, so that a poor Rand exchange rate means it makes for a seriously expensive set of devices in South Africa. However, for those who already are inveterate gadget geeks, or have strong professional or hobbyist reasons for having this kind of data at their fingertips, it is well worth the investment.

In summary, not only can you now take the weather with you, but your entire environment.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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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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