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Fibre revolution comes to townships

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The fibre-to-the-home revolution that has swept suburban South Africa is about to arrive in the country’s townships, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Fibre-to-the-home is this decade’s magic ingredient for high-speed, painless and unlimited Internet access. But, until now, it has been the province of the privileged. Only the more affluent suburbs of South Africa’s cities have been afforded the luxury of the dedicated optical fibre cables that typically run in trenches along leafy sidewalks.

That is about to change.

Vumatel, the company that sparked the FTTH revolution when it won a contract to supply fibre to the suburb of Parkhurst, is at it again. This time, it plans to connect the townships of South Africa. It has come up with a low-cost alternative to wiring dense suburbs, and intends to offer uncapped high-speed broadband for a mere R89 a month.

To put that in context, the average spend on a cellphone in lower socio-economic segments is typically around R100. Fibre, coupled with in-home Wi-Fi, can replace a large chunk of cellular spend by moving voice traffic from the mobile networks to voice over WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, among other. All data use in the home would move off the expensive data services provided by the mobile operators.

With wide-scale roll-out, this could prove immensely damaging to the operators. More significantly and to the point, however, it could prove immensely beneficial to those who have previously been kept away from the largesse of high-speed, unlimited access.

The Vumatel service will offer a 100Mbps download and 10Mbps upload speed, which typically costs more than a R1000 a month in more affluent suburbs. How is it possible, then, to offer it at a mere R89 a month?

Only with a great deal of commitment to finding an affordable broadband solution for the mass-market.

“We think that the FTTH deployments as we and other operators are doing them are great for the country, because we are moving connectivity forward at a macro level,” says Vumatel CEO Niel Schoeman. “But it is clearly not addressing the information divide between the less fortunate and the leafy suburbs, and potentially exacerbates inequality in terms of information access.

“We’ve been trying to come up with a solution to address townships, to provide that abundance of information to residents of townships. We think we can do it by providing it at R89 a month for a 100Mbps uncapped service. We think that is fundamentally different to a 500MB data allocation on a prepaid service, which has been the only kind of option for connectivity.”

Vumatel will initially roll out the service in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra, with an estimated 400 000 residents in the target area.
“That is our township equivalent of the announcement that we were connecting Parkhurst. We’re going to give it a go between now and March.”

The question remains: how is such low cost possible on a business level?

On the surface, the answer lies in Vumatel’s October 2016 acquisition of Fibrehoods, a provider of aerial fibre similar to overhead telephone lines. However, that in itself would not cut the costs so radically. Until recently, Fibrehoods had also been serving wealthier suburbs.

“Clearly, to make that price point work, we need to work hard at the capital cost of deployment,” says Schoeman. “The topography of townships doesn’t lend itself to the typical buried, trenched solution, so we’ll use aerial fibre.

“The price is possible thanks to a combination of technologies , the potential number of customers per square kilometre, and the fact that it will also be potentially contended up to 20 times, meaning 20 customers will use the same 100Mbps line. So each customer is always guaranteed 5Mbps upward, but the probability of getting more like a 20Mbps service is high. Not everyone will be using the same line at the same time.”

Vumatel will also use its fibre to provide Wi-Fi in public spaces in the townships. This service will be possible, partly, thanks to corporate social investment from its 49% shareholder, Investec.
“We’ve looked at a broader Wi-Fi deployment model, but we don’t think it creates the abundance that closes the digital gap,” says Schoeman. “You can use the analogy of water: Wi-Fi hotspots create wells where people can collect water whereas, if you provide piped water to homes, you see people growing gardens and using it in an unlimited way. We want to go deep into every home, uncapped, at high speed, and see if we can make a difference.”

Unlike the suburban model, where Vumatel lays down the fibre and leaves it to Internet Service Providers to deliver access, it will initially provide access itself. It will piggyback on the Dark Fibre Africa grid that will link it to the broader Internet and undersea cables, but will acquire and distribute access and data services itself.
“We first want to see if we can make the model work rather than having to add additional margins for service providers. Our philosophy is always open access so, if it works, we will see if we can let service providers offere innovative services.”

Schoeman believes the eventual fibre market for all service providers will be as much as 35-million. He says it will be possible for Vumatel to bring fibre within reach of another 10-million people in the next couple of years, at a cost of between R2-billion and R3-billion.

“We want to see if we can kick off another catalyst event like Parkhurst, and start a storm: to see if we bring abundant connectivity to low income homes.”

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

Cars

LHI is coming to save your car from hazards

Local Hazard Information will give drivers advance warning of potential dangers lurking around the corner

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There are many times when knowing what is around the corner could be useful. But for drivers that knowledge could be critical. Now, thanks to Ford’s new connected car technology, it is also a reality.

Local Hazard Information (LHI) marks a significant step on the journey towards a connected transport infrastructure by helping drivers prepare for and potentially avoid dangers on the road. When drivers ahead encounter sudden tailbacks, accidents or spilled loads, the driver behind – and possibly out of sight – is given advance warning. This could also apply to everything from freak hailstorms, to sudden flooding, or even landslides.

The triggers for the system come from what is happening in the cars ahead. It could be that airbags have been activated, hazard warning lights are flashing, or windscreen wipers are in operation. Previous traffic incident alert systems have relied on drivers to input information in order to generate alerts. LHI works autonomously, without the need for any driver interaction, to generate information and issue warnings.

Hazards are only displayed – via the dashboard display – if the incident is likely to impact on the driver’s journey. LHI is designed to be more beneficial to drivers than hazard information from current radio broadcasting systems, which often deliver notifications not relevant to them.

Already featuring as standard and free of charge for the first year on the new Ford Puma, LHI technology is being rolled out across more than 80 per cent of Ford’s passenger vehicle line-up by the end of this year. Crucially, the benefit will not be limited only to those travelling in Ford vehicles. Information sent can be used to alert drivers of other manufacturers’ vehicles, and vice-versa.

“What makes Local Hazard Information different is that it is the cars that are connected – via the Internet of Things. There is no reliance on third party apps. This is a significant step forward. Warnings are specific, relevant and tailored to try to help improve your specific journey.” Joerg Beyer, executive director, Engineering, Ford of Europe

How it works

Sensors monitor activities including emergency braking, fog lights and traction control to detect adverse weather or road conditions. Data from these activities is then computed to determine the hazard location and whether a traffic incident has occurred.

The vehicle automatically provides updates through a secure connection to “the cloud” using the Ford Pass Connect modem. Ford’s technology partner HERE Technologies operates the central cloud-based platform that collates information from multiple vehicle brands, governed by a business-to-business agreement.

The more cars are connected to the network, the greater the efficiency of the system. When many vehicles generate the same warning, others in the vicinity receive incident information from the cloud via the cellular network, enabling drivers to reduce speed or take appropriate action.

Additional information is sourced from public authority incident databases and traffic reports to provide drivers with further advance warnings including approaching vehicles driving on the wrong side of the carriageway, animals or people in the road ahead, and roadworks.

The on-board modem will be connected at the time of vehicle delivery. Customers may choose to opt in/opt out of certain data sharing.

Local Hazard Information data provided by HERE Technologies.

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Bundesliga plans to “revolutionise football viewing”

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Germany’s Bundesliga football league has selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its official technology provider to deliver more in-depth insight into every live broadcast of Bundesliga games and enable personalised fan experiences. 

Bundesliga says it will use AWS artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), analytics, compute, database, and storage services to deliver real-time statistics to predict future plays and game outcomes. It will also use the technology to recommend personalised match footage across mobile, online, streaming, and television broadcasts.

Using AWS technology, Germany’s premier national football league will build new cloud-based services that automate processes, increase operational efficiency, and enhance the viewing experience for the league’s rapidly growing global fan base. By developing a new, next-generation statistics platform on AWS, using Amazon SageMaker, a fully managed service to build, train, and deploy ML models, Bundesliga will offer fans real-time predictions on when a goal is likely to be scored, identify potential goal-scoring opportunities, and highlight how teams are positioning and controlling the field, based on live data streams and historical data from over 10,000 Bundesliga games. Bundesliga also plans to leverage AWS ML services, such as Amazon Personalize, an ML service to create real-time and individualized recommendations, to offer fans personalized game footage, marketing promotions, and search results based on their favourite teams, players, or matches.

Using other AWS ML services, including Amazon Rekognition, an intelligent image and video analysis service, Bundesliga will build a cloud-based media archive that will automatically tag specific frames, from its more than 150,000 hours of video, with metadata such as game, jersey, player, team, and venue, so that the league can easily search historical footage and surface pivotal plays for in-game broadcasts, in more than 200 countries. This archive will enable Bundesliga to search across its entire history of football footage to provide a more enhanced viewing experience for fans and automate the current manual process of searching and tagging match highlights.

“We are extremely excited to be working alongside AWS to develop the next generation of football viewing experience,” said Christian Seifert, CEO of Bundesliga. “Innovation means challenging the status quo. Working closely with AWS, as one of the most innovative technology companies in the world, significantly enhances the investment we’ve made in innovation over the past two decades, all of which contributes to us being able to deliver a world-class football experience for our fans.”

“As the league with the highest average number of goals per game, and the highest stadium attendance globally, the Bundesliga is one of the most entertaining sports leagues in the world,” says Andy Isherwood, Vice President and Managing Director EMEA, Amazon Web Services, Inc. “We are thrilled to work with the Bundesliga and help them use cloud technology to give football fans around the world a more engaging match day experience and look forward to helping them leverage our deep portfolio of ML and AI services so they can deliver even greater insight into the world’s favourite game.”

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