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Digital divide not bridged by broadband alone

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Although broadband can contribute to solving certain problems within developing markets, as an enabler of innovative new technologies, it is only a small component of the solution, writes ECKART ZOLLNER, Head of Business Development, The Jasco Group.

It is evident that telecommunications and connectivity within developed countries is continually gaining impetus, becoming more advanced and utilised.  On the other side of the spectrum, developing countries naturally lag behind, however, we are seeing the digital divide shrinking in some areas. The reality is that the rate of change within the developed world is beginning to reach a plateau while the developing world is catching up on technology. This is not to say that all of the challenges within the developing world have been addressed, and many of these issues remain. However, while broadband connectivity can contribute to solving certain problems within the developing market, as it is an enabler of innovative new technologies, it is only one small component of the solution.

In Africa, including countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, there has been a significant amount of investment into developing and rolling out broadband infrastructure. From the initial connection of undersea cables to the continent by international players to the metro rings aimed at connecting cities, the market has now moved on to the last mile. The race is on to connect lucrative customers, and many providers are focusing on connecting entire suburbs as well as business, private homes, estates, retail centres and more. Driving the accelerated pace in the rollout of fibre and broadband connectivity is a growing adoption and acceptance of cloud-based solutions, as enterprises strive to reduce IT spend while still maintaining access to leading-edge technology. This increased demand from big business in turn helps to broaden customer reach of fibre technology and reduce the price, making it a more affordable solution for a wider proportion of the market.

In South Africa in particular, this process is assisted by a fairly open and deregulated market, which enables healthy competition to develop from numerous service providers. However, while access to broadband connectivity in terms of the infrastructure is becoming less of a challenge, the African market still faces a number of other challenges. By its very definition, the developing world often faces wider issues, including political instability, poverty, poor healthcare and education services for the majority of citizens, and a lack of economic activity, all of which need to be addressed. While broadband can assist in contributing to the solution in a number of these areas, it is only a small part of the solution.

Broadband can assist in the acceleration of economic activity, but this requires effective political governance, free and open market policies, effective regulation and a good understanding of best practices. The old model of state owned monopolies that still exists in many developing nations is not conducive to rapid broadband development, which may be hindering developing nations’ ability to take advantage of next-generation technology. In addition, broadband development requires significant investment, which many economies cannot undertake by themselves. It is therefore essential for developing nations to foster a climate that attracts foreign investment, in order to enable the development of the infrastructure that is needed to fully bridge the digital divide.

While the digital divide may not be getting deeper, it still exists, particularly within the geographic imbalance of broadband distribution in the majority of African countries. More speed is not necessarily the answer, but more pervasive access is certainly a step in the right direction. However, it is also important to bear in mind that technical literacy and skills development are essential components of addressing this challenge as well. Broadband, like any other technology, is not a magic wand, simply an enabler and a necessary platform. Opportunities still need to be developed, which requires support from government for innovation and entrepreneurship. While broadband can help to connect providers of services with a far larger market, and connect suppliers, markets and information crucial for success, it is by no means a silver bullet. Technology is a supporting tool, but ultimately people lie at the heart of innovation and support and leadership is needed to drive this.

Whilst Broadband can become the bright light to accelerate change and economic progress, it is the political and regulatory fundamentals that need to follow global best practices to allow broadband deployment to flourish. Countries that have committed to the correct governance models with effective law making and regulation are already starting to show leadership in the adoption and deployment of broadband and subsequent innovation.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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