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CES: Wearables steal the show

At CES 2020 in Las Vegas this week, wearable makers have gone all out to maximise the benefits of health tracking while keeping the devices small. BRYAN TURNER surveys the best of the best



We’ve chosen the best of wearables have been selected from the CES Innovation Awards, which select the most innovative devices showcased at CES, held in Las Vegas this week. Wearables have gone far beyond smartwatches and VR headsets, now moving into skin patches and even smart sensors that sit within the strap of smartwatches.

Garmin has produced something incredible: a smartwatch that doesn’t need to be charged by electric or battery power. The Fēnix 6X Pro Solar edition is Garmin’s answer for outdoor users who find themselves frustrated with having to charge their smartwatches: it charges via solar power. Of course, this watch is ideal for those who find themselves outside often, but is also aimed at indoor users, so it can also be charged via a wall socket. That said, it’s great to know the watch will stay topped up during a long run while using GPS.

The watch is designed with what Garmin calls Power Glass, a transparent solar charging lens that uses the sun’s energy to extend battery life. Because it’s a performance watch, it features a rugged design with a large 1.4” sunlight-readable display, which is 36% bigger than previous fēnix 5X models. Users can check the latest solar input while they wear it, so they know in real-time how much solar energy the Power Glass has received. The battery performance on the fēnix 6X Pro Solar in smartwatch mode is 21 days, plus an additional 3 days when using the solar charging capabilities.

“We are thrilled to introduce solar charging into the new fēnix 6X Pro Solar edition, giving users all of the features they’ve come to expect from the fēnix lineup with increased battery life and larger displays,” says Dan Bartel, Garmin vice president of global consumer sales. “In addition to our brand-new solar technology, we’ve built the fēnix 6 to redefine expectations, with enhanced features and design elements to appeal to adventurers of every kind.”

Other features include underwater heart rate for swimming and Pulse Ox blood oxygen saturation to support advanced sleep monitoring and altitude acclimation. A new Body Battery energy monitoring feature lets users see their body’s energy levels at different points of the day, which can help with scheduling workouts, rest times and sleep.

Visit the next page to read about a watch that can help with sleep apnea, a watch strap that measures hydration, and a chip that can give lab results just by sitting on one’s skin.

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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



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



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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