By SANDRO BUCCHIANERI, Chief Security Officer of Absa Group.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is an opportunity for public and private businesses as well as government to influence the development of a talent pipeline to address our current and future needs. In seizing this opportunity, we have the chance to contribute to tackling the global cybersecurity skills shortage while addressing the unemployment of our youth and, in so doing, making an impact on people and the societies in which we live.
Youth aged 15-24 are the most vulnerable in the South African labour market. Statistics SA reported that the unemployment rate among this age group was 55% in the first quarter of 2019, while Cyber Ventures estimates that the global shortfall of cybersecurity jobs will rise to 3.5 million by 2021. It is a challenge partially rooted in the socio-economic environment, the growing void between youthskills, employer needs and because the South African education system is failing to train the next generation for the digital economy.
South African youth from marginalised backgrounds are hungry for opportunities to develop skills that will result in employment. They are often unable to access tertiary education due to financial circumstances and without education their future is bleak and the cycle of poverty continues. Given the enormous need for skilled cybersecurity professionals locally and globally, we saw the opportunityto truly make a difference.
Addressing the global shortage of cybersecurity professionals is an urgent challenge. The estimated shortfall of 3.5 million jobs worldwide provides a startling statistic and a unique opportunity to make a difference. This gap must be filled to support the projected growth of the world’s cybersecurity sector over the next couple of years, but the talent pool is simply not keeping pace. In South Africa, the problem is compounded, as those who are trained in cybersecurity do not stay, as they are headhunted by global counterparts for premium packages.
Poverty and unemployment are at an all-time high. Limited access to formal education exacerbates the situation, and currently there does not seem to be a suitable solution in place to overcome this crisis. The 4IR is an exciting time for everyone, particularly the cybersecurity sector, as we are in desperate need of talent that is equipped to keep up with the industry.
To address its skills shortage, Absa has collaborated with the Maharishi Institute (MI) to set up the Absa Cybersecurity Academy. The programme is an externally focused, corporate social responsibility initiative aimed at empowering marginalised South African youth, who would otherwise not have had access to a tertiary education. The learners who participate become certified cybersecurity analysts.
The secret to the success of this programme is that we do not only focus on developing technical skills, we focus on creating a whole being through consciousness-based education. All the students who enrol in the Absa Cybersecurity Academy come from marginalised communities, 36% suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while 70% are females who have been abused in one way or another.
To make a success of the programme, we knew we had to develop each student holistically by balancing the technical, social and emotional skills required to ensure that they are not simply technically competent, but adequately prepared to succeed in the world of work.
The MI was created in 2007 with the ambition of making tertiary education accessible to South Africa’s youth by providing non-educational support to students wanting to access education through accredited educational partners. In so doing, it showcases South Africa as a leading innovator in education provision. The institute supports student learning that focuses on the student, rather than just books or information.
The partnership between Absa and the MI offers students accredited cybersecurity training, bridging courses and whole person development, including transcendental meditation and life and work-readyskills to make them “university ready”. It also includes financial support, including bursaries and work experience at MI’s call centres. Students receive a nutritious lunch daily as well as support through placement programmes, including the use of a “clothing library” for corporate interviews.
The founding principle of the academy is that everyone has the potential to be deemed “talent”. It is not necessary to have a wall hung with degrees to be a successful cybersecurity professional. Our first 24 students have just written their first internationally recognised exam, which they all passed. This is testament to not only the excellent education and training, but the holistic care for each student.
It is our job to prepare the youth for the 4IR. We need to invest in upskilling them for the future of work and to meet global cybersecurity demands. We can make South Africa and the wider African continent the hub of cybersecurity talent; we have the people, we just need to help them rewrite their futures.
Broadband gets a helping hand
Behind this week’s news that MTN fibre provider Supersonic has launched a fixed LTE service is an effort to rethink home connectivity, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
This week, MTN made its biggest play yet into the market for fibre connections to homes, but its biggest impact may well be within the home.
The mobile operator’s fibre-to-the-home subsidiary, Supersonic, launched a Fixed LTE offering on a month-to-month basis, meaning that homes in areas not yet wired for fibre can receive high-speed broadband. More important, they can get that access at rates that seem unprecedented for mobile data.
There are two differences from regular packages, however. For one thing, the SIM card that comes with the package only works in specific routers that have to remain plugged into a power supply. For another, the data allocation is split half-half between regular hours and a Night Owl timeframe: the hours between midnight and dawn.
“It just needs users to adjust their internet behaviour a little,” says Calvin Collett, MD of Supersonic. “Conducting massive mobile phone updates or downloading an entire library of Netflix content shouldn’t be prioritised during the day, but should be scheduled for Night Owl data consumption.”
The biggest benefit, aside from pricing, is that one does not have to wait for fibre to arrive in a specific area. While Supersonic’s core business is fixed-line fibre-to-the-home, it is now set to leverage its parent company’s massive mobile data network.
“MTN’s LTE network coverage sits at 95%, after billions of rand was invested in network upgrades in recent years. There is absolutely no reason why those waiting for a fibre connection shouldn’t move to Fixed LTE.”
Collett argues that consumers are far more savvy and well informed of developments in the telecoms space than observers think. They carefully investigate the products and services they choose to spend on, and are looking for the best deals available.
The result is that Supersonic has quietly built up a side business in installing what is called a Mesh Wi-Fi network, consisting of a main Wi-Fi router connected to the standardfibre or LTE or router, and a series of additional access pointscalled plumes, placed in areas of low coverage through ahome.
The plumes – small pods that plug into any power point –connect to one another to expand the network across a wide area. Where traditional WI-FI extenders lose up to half the fibre bandwidth with every extension, the plumes maintain most of the speed regardless of how far the network is extended. All the pods connected to the same router form a single network with the same network name, eliminating the complications Wi-FI extenders usually introduce.
“The traditional Wi-Fi router has replaced the dial up connection, and we’re all happy about this – the infamous dial up tone is ingrained in the brains of anyone over the age of 30,” says Collett. “Wi-Fi revolutionised our way of life as the router gave us access to the internet without directly connecting to a modem.
“We’ve moved forward, transitioning from ADSL to fibre. While fibre allows for high speed internet access, it is still connected to your Wi-Fi router. Naturally, the further you move away from the hub, the poorer your internet connection will be. Those dead spots around the house can become frustrating when your Wi-Fi signal shows 1 bar and it takes 5 minutes to load a single web page. Mesh Wi-Fi is the solution.”
Collett says he specifically researched a product that looked good, offered app-based management and required no cables. His research led him to Silicon Valley, and the result is the Supersonic Plume Mesh network system.
The drawback is that installation can be complicated for the non-technical consumer. To plug the gap, so to speak, Supersonic sends out technicians who conduct a Wi-Fi sweep of a home and advise how many Plume devices will be needed for 100% coverage. Based on this the technicians make a recommendation for an optimal “smart Wi-Fi”solution. Once installed, though, the network can be monitored and managed from a Supersonic App.
We tried it out and found it was a tale of two experiences. The initial experience was frustrating, as the pods tried to find each other. This is a necessary evil, it seems, as the Plume Mesh network optimises itself over a period of several days. That means the experience at the edge of the network can be very poor at the time of installation. After a few days, however the network was flying.
With a 100Mbps line, the experience next to the main router was around 105 Mbps, both up and down. That in itself was something of a marvel. But the biggest impact was felt at the furthest point from the router: where a Wi-Fi extender had previously delivered speeds of below 10Mbps, download speeds of 80Mbps became not only commonplace, but almost taken for granted.
One of the most useful features of the Plume Mesh is the level of monitoring offered through the Supersonic app. One can observe exactly what devices are connected to which pods – each is given a name, typically of the room, that is visible only through the app.
The biggest surprise of the plume solution is that it has not become a standard solution for Wi-Fi networks everywhere. In an era when we have become deeply dependent on a decent Wi-Fi signal, it has become a necessity rather than a luxury. As a result, home connectivity should be taken far more seriously than merely fobbing consumers off on low-performance extenders.
MTN seems to have taken this message to heart, rethinking its own approach to home usage.
“Internet access has become the third utility behind electricity and water,” says Collett. “Our goal is to ‘own the home’ but not just by connecting a bunch of devices to a central point. It’s really about how these devices can pioneer habitual change in the home that’s convenient and saves valuable time and money.”
Click here to read about SuperSonic’s pricing.
Location data key to transforming SA’s transport system
Location technology can transform South Africa’s transport system – but don’t expect to see self-driving cars on our roads any time soon. What’s more relevant is the need for the public and private sectors to work together more closely to unlock the significant social and economic benefits that more efficient transport and mobility systems would bring to the country, including less congestion and fewer road accidents.
That was the message from Michael Bültmann, Managing Director, in charge of international relations atHERE Technologies, a global leader in mapping and location platform services, at an event hosted by the international law firm Covington & Burling in Johannesburg last week, to discuss how digitization could support better mobility, safety and integration in South Africa.
“Society needs to solve some fundamental challenges, and relevant location data can play a key role in creating a better future for mobility in South Africa. If we know where the goods and people are, and how and why they move, we have the basis for a system that matches demand and supply far more closely, and uses our transport infrastructure more efficiently,” saidBültmann.
“But no company, government or individual can do it all themselves. It’s all about collaborating. If we get real-time data use right, it would have a profound effect on the way the entire economy works: less congestion, fewer accidents, more efficient use of vehicles and public transport, less air pollution, greater quality of life, and potential savings of billions of rands in fuel, time and safer roads.”
Speaking at the event, the CSIR’s Dr Mathetha Mokonyama said that despite the billions of rands pumped into the country’s mass public transport network in recent years, 90% of commuter seats available are still provided by either cars or taxis.
“We have the right to dignity. If you want to see indignity, look at people getting up at 2am to get unreliable transport to a job that only pays R3500 a month. In our country, access to transport is critical for people to make a living, and our focus as a country should be to implement an equitable and just transport system that caters to all sectors of society,” he said.
“It was a pleasure to support the event that brought together so many viewpoints on the question of the effective use of data and location intelligence to enhance the mobility of goods, people and services,” said Robert Kayihura, senior advisor in Covington’s Johannesburg office. “While the harmonization of regulatory regimes around the continent will take time, a key takeaway from our discussions is the critical need to build a shared vision of the future through consistent public-private dialogue and collaboration in order to accelerate and ensure the sustainable and safe digitization of Africa.”
Paul Vorster, the chief executive of the Intelligent Transport Society of SA (ITSSA), said the effective sharing of data between metros, government and the private sector would ‘go a long way’ to improving the efficiency of existing transport infrastructure.
“The starting point is to improve what we already have. Once we know what we have – that is, data – we can start solving real problems, like knowing where the demand and supply are. But to do this, metros will need to learn from each other, and they often face political hurdles in the process,” he said.
Bültmann said increasing levels of urbanisation across the world were creating the need for cities to better predict, manage and plan future urban movement. Combining and analysing data from different, complementary sources could help South African cities to improve urban planning, relieve congestion and curb pollution for better quality of life.
The event was also attended by Presidential Investment Envoy Phumzile Langeni, the National Planning Commission’s Themba Dlamini; SANRAL’s Alan Robinson; and Dr Rüdiger Lotz, the Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy. The guests were welcomed by Witney Schneidman, the head of Covington’s Africa practice and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1997-2001) in the U.S. Government.