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Fibre set to boom in SA

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The priority for the telecoms industry this year is to accelerate deployment of true broadband services, says SUVEER RAMDHANI, CDO at SEACOM.

The telecoms industry in South Africa and the rest of the continent is on the cusp of a fibre and mobile broadband boom, as network operators scramble to meet the demand for video, cloud applications and mobile solutions among consumers and businesses.

That’s the word from Suveer Ramdhani, Chief Development Officer at SEACOM, who says that the priority for the telecoms industry this year, should be to accelerate deployment of true broadband services so that African users can benefit from the full power of the Internet.

Says Ramdhani: “In Africa, we have seen some progress in increasing Internet penetration, but the goalposts keep shifting. Many, perhaps even most, Internet connections on the continent are sub-1Mbs connections that do not meet the insatiable demand among businesses and consumers for fast and plentiful bandwidth.”

In Africa, one major factor driving demand for high-performance bandwidth, is a growing and youthful population that sees connectivity as a fundamental right, he adds. For them, broadband spells access to educational, economic and social opportunities. Mobile broadband has an important role to play, but fibre-based fixed-line infrastructure is also vitally important in connecting mobile towers and giving users affordable last-mile access to high-speed services.

Mobile-first

“Research from We Are Social indicates that 75% of web pages served to web browsers in South Africa are accessed from mobile devices,” says Ramdhani. “Across Africa, people spend most of their time online using mobile devices because of the world’s shift towards mobility and because it is the only affordable or available means of connecting to the Internet in many regions.”

However, the way that people use the Internet on a mobile device is different to how they use their fixed-line connections. They use their smartphones for social networking, messaging, entertainment and utility, while desktop users do more data-intensive tasks such as file sharing and video streaming.

Another factor is the rapid rise of video. Data from Cisco shows that video accounted for nearly 58% of data consumption in South Africa in 2015, which is expected to rise to 71% by 2020. Streaming video services such as Netflix and ShowMax will be a major reason for this growth, Ramdhani says.

In the business market, there is growing demand for cloud computing services such as those provided by Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com and a range of African service providers, he adds. Many African organisations are embracing the cloud to fast-track modernisation of their IT infrastructures.

“With the trends towards higher video consumption and cloud computing, users will need to find their way back to a fixed-line connection,” says Ramdhani. “Mobile operators will need to look at their business models and decide whether they will evolve these models to capture all of our data spend or whether they will continue to provide relatively expensive services for niche mobile use.”

Ecosystem comes together

Ramdhani says that many elements of the ecosystem have come together in Africa for a boom in high-speed Internet access. For example, an explosion in local data centres and the deployment of on-continent content caches has brought global content closer to the end-user, improving their experience dramatically.

In addition, open-access infrastructure players have reduced barriers to entry for innovative service providers, meaning that fibre to the business and home is becoming increasingly viable in African metropolitan regions. “There is fibre from city-to-city and fibre in rings around the cities, but not enough to businesses’ and consumers’ doorsteps,” says Ramdhani. “Changing this is a priority for SEACOM this year.”

SEACOM is also focusing on connecting into more countries as backhaul becomes economically viable and expanding its ring around Africa with aspirations to the West. “With such low broadband penetrations and with such high demand for data volumes, the growth possibilities are tremendous,” says Ramdhani.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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