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SA’s female tech trailblazer
wows Barcelona

At the Cisco Live expo in Barcelona last week, a South African rags-to-riches story highlighted the role of women in tech, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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There is nothing new about women leading major global technology organisations. From Ginni Rometty at IBM to Safra Catz at Oracle, female CEOs are no longer a rarity. In South Africa, women head up the regional offices of multinational tech companies like SAP, Intel, VMware, UiPath and, soon, Microsoft.

However, there is a vast gap when it comes to men and women lower down the ranks. It is nowhere more obvious than at international and local technology conferences and expos, where male delegates outnumber women by between 10 and 20 to one.

It was no different on the show floor at last week’s Cisco Live conference in Barcelona, where the global networking giant unveiled the next generation of technologies that will connect enterprises and their customers. But there was one dramatic difference: many of the key speakers and role players at the event were women.

Karen Walker, Cisco senior vice president and chief marketing officer, and Wendy Mars, Cisco senior vice president for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia, took centre stage. But it was a South African who all but stole the show with her inspiring story.

During the main opening keynote address of the conference, the face of Ntombozuko “Soso” Motloung  flashed up on screen as an example of Cisco transforming people’s lives through technology. With the title of chief solutions engineer, Soso heads up Cisco’s networking academy in South Africa, focused on building a community of instructors who will in turn help train the next generation of aspirant technology workers.

For someone in her early 30s, her achievement is impressive in its own right. But when one discovers her background, it is nothing short of astonishing.

“The village where I grew up, you can’t find on Google maps,” she said in an interview during Cisco Live. “There was no electricity, no running water. It came into the town when I was almost finished with high school. Until then, we had to go to rivers to fetch water. We used fire to boil water and cook everything.

“The house was a shack, with a bit of mud on the inside. You would really be scared of any extreme weather conditions and when it was raining it was wet inside the entire house, so you literally had to find a dry spot to sleep. It was a communal house, everyone slept in one room. You really envied the kids who lived in brick houses.”

For many, these circumstances alone would have been enough to crush ambitions for a better live. For Soso, it was the spur.

“Those conditions were the reason why I pushed myself harder in everything I did. It seemed the only hope of us getting out of those conditions. It was pretty much unconscious: usually people started school at 7; I  started at 5. During my school career, everything I was doing was to the max, with no resources. We didn’t even have TV or radio.

“It was about you pushing yourself to the limit to get to be better, to get the marks that could get you a scholarship. I could tell no one was going to fund my education from home; my parents were unemployed and living off a government grant. You either get mediocre results and stay at home, or get exceptional results and get a scholarship.”

Even then, career prospects seemed limited to the kinds of jobs that were visible to children.

“The only careers we were exposed to were nurses and teachers, which were known as the normal careers, especially for a young girl growing up there.”

Click here to read about how Soso’s life changed by seeking out 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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