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State of Fibre in SA

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By Jarryd Chatz, CEO at BitCo.

There’s no question that South Africa has lagged behind in the global connectivity sphere, especially in the arena of high-speed Fibre Internet. Right now, though, business and home consumers are enjoying a healthy period of competition, expansion and improvement for Fibre offerings. Although progress may not be as fast as initially thought, every day more and more South Africans are gaining access to broadband Fibre, allowing them to take advantage of cloud-based business solutions, streaming entertainment services and the literal world of opportunities that this kind of reliable ultra-high-speed connectivity facilitates.

South Africa playing catch-up

Already in the year 2000, Western Europe and North America were enjoying the benefits of well-developed Fibre infrastructure. Meanwhile, here in South Africa we were struggling with industry monopolies along with municipal permissions for digging and trenching so that Fibre-optic cable could be laid. With these barriers lasting all the way through to 2007, South Africa found itself on the backfoot in terms of broadband internet.

The result? In 2015, South African broadband costs were up to ten times higher than in the United Kingdomthen ranked 19th in the world for connectivity – and local speeds were five times slower. Fast-forward a handful of years though, and South Africa is gradually climbing the global rankings for broadband quality. Out of 200 countries analysed worldwide in the annual Cable.co.uk study, South Africa sat in 76th place as of 2018 (a climb of four places) and had a mean broadband download speed of 6.38Mbps (in 2017 it was 4.36Mbps), against a global average of 9.10Mbps.

We’re still behind Madagascar (24.87Mbps) and Kenya (10.11Mbps) for speed test results in Africa, but the situation is continually improving, and right now South Africa is covering ground, literally. As of March 2018, 280 000 South African homes – typically in major metropolitan areas – had Fibre, up from 191 000 the year before, and there was year-on-year growth of 112% in terms of fibre accessibility (439 000 households reached in 2017 vs. 933 000 in 2018).

The future of Fibre coverage in South Africa

With the major metros and surrounding suburbs largely saturated in terms of broadband accessibility, 2019 promises to be a year that rollout extends to other smaller urban areas, and then further into rural South Africa.

This expansion aligns with Government plans to have Fibre-optic cables throughout South Africa, as part of the “South Africa Connect” broadband policy gazetted in 2013. The ultimate objective of this plan is to have 100% penetration of affordable, high-quality broadband (at a minimum speed of 10Mbps) across the country by 2030. Truthfully, the reaching of such idealistic targets is likely to be delayed because it’s such a slow and expensive exercise. To replace all conventional copper telephone lines – which underpin popular ADSL internet access – with superior Fibre-optic cables means a rough estimated cost of R60 billion.

An unfolding present of increasing speed and falling prices

Still, even with a slower spread of Fibre coverage, South Africa consumers are expected to benefit across the board. The greater the demand for Fibre, the higher the speed will become and there are more options now than there ever have been – although most Fibre providers do not yet offer speeds higher than 50-200Mbps.

At the same time, the current price of Fibre in South Africa is likely the most expensive it will ever be, and consumers can expect it to drop in the near future. Due to high outlay and maintenance costs associated with light-transmitting fibre-optic cables, the first locations to receive Fibre coverage locally were more affluent, higher-LSM areas, where people could afford it, and infrastructure companies could more easily make back their investment. As Fibre is rolled out further in future, expanding on existing networks, and as more homes and businesses install it, it will become cheaper so that eventually even poorer rural communities will have access.

All this said, companies looking at business fibre today, as well as private individuals investigating FTTH (Fibre to the Home), should always consider the impact that factors such as line speed, capping, contention, network ownership and the nature of technical support have on costs. Service providers offering cheaper subscriptions plans may, for instance, base their pricing on the fact that their upload and download speeds are asynchronous, or the last mile of connectivity to your office or home actually isn’t fibre – in which case, your connection speed may be slower than you thought it would be.

Fibre today in South Africa is better than ever, and continually improving. For consumers to capitalise on its potential, though, it is important to settle on your needs – whether personal, professional, or a combination of both – and then shop around to best meet them. And just as important as the connectivity package itself is the service that supports it.

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Samsung clears the table with new monitor

For those who like minimalism and tidy desks, Samsung’s new Space Monitor may just do the trick, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The latest trends of narrow-bezels and minimalist designs have transcended smartphones, spilling into other designs, like laptops and monitors. 

The new Space Monitor line by Samsung follows in this new design “tradition”. The company has moved the monitor off the desk – by clipping it onto the edge of the desk.

It can be put into three configurations: completely upright, where it sits a bit high but completely off the desk; half-way to the desk, where it is a bit lower to put some papers or files underneath the display; and flat on the desk, where it is at its lowest.

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The monitor sits on a weighted hinge at the edge of the desk, providing sturdy adjustment to its various height configurations. It also swivels on a hinge at the point where the arm connects to the display. This provides precise viewing angle adjustment, which is great for showing something on screen to someone who is standing.

Apart from form factor, there are some neat goodies packed into the box. It comes with a two-pin power adapter, with no adapter box on the midpoint between the plug and the monitor, and a single cable that carries HDMI-Y and power to prevent tangling. 

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However, it’s slightly disappointing that there isn’t a Mini Display Port and power cable “in one cable” option for Mac and newer graphics card users, who will have to run two cables down the back of the screen. Even worse, the display doesn’t have a USB Type-C display input; a missed opportunity to connect a Samsung device to the panel.

A redeeming point is the stunning, Samsung-quality panel, which features a 4K UHD resolution. The colours are sharp and the viewing angles are good. However, this display is missing something: Pantone or Adobe RGB colour certification, as well as IPS technology. 

The display’s response rate comes in at 4ms, slightly below average for displays in this price range. 

These negatives aside, this display has a very specific purpose. It’s for those who want to create desk space in a few seconds, while not having to rearrange the room. 

Final verdict: This display is not for gamers nor for graphic designers. It is for those who need big displays but frequently need to clear their desks.

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Can mobile fix education?

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By Ernst Wittmann, global account director for MEA and country manager for Southern Africa, at TCL Communications

Mobile technology has transformed the way we live and work, and it can be expected to rapidly change the ways in which children learn as smartphones and tablets become more widely accepted at primary and high schools. By putting a powerful computer in every learner’s schoolbag or pocket, smartphones could play an important role in improving educational outcomes in a country where so many schools are under-resourced.

Here are some ways that mobile technology will reshape education in the years to come:

Organisation and productivity

For many adults, the real benefit of a smartphone comes from simple applications like messaging, calendaring and email. The same goes for schoolchildren, many of whom will get the most value from basic apps like sending a WhatApp message to friends to check on the homework for the day, keeping track of their extramural calendar, or photographing the teacher’s notes from the blackboard or whiteboard. One study of young people’s mobile phone use in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa confirmed that many of them got the most value from using their phones to complete mundane tasks.

Interactivity

One of the major benefits smartphones can bring to the classroom is boosting learners’ engagement with educational materials through rich media and interactivity. For example, apps like Mathletics use gamification to get children excited about doing mathematics—they turn learning into a game, with rewards for practicing and hitting milestones. Or teachers can set up a simple poll using an app like Poll Everywhere to ask the children in a class what they think about a character’s motivation in their English set-work book.

Personalisation

Mobile technology opens the doors to more personalised and flexible ways to teach and learn, making more space for children to work in their own style and at their own pace. Not very child learns in the same way or excels at the same tasks and subjects – the benefit of mobile phones is that they can plug the gaps for children seeking extra enrichment or those that need some additional help with classroom work.

For example, teachers can provide recommended educational materials for children who are racing in ahead of their peers in some of their subjects. Or they can suggest relevant games for children who learn better through practical application of ideas than by listening to a teacher and taking notes. 

In future, we can expect to see teachers, perhaps aided by algorithms and artificial intelligence, make use of analytics to track how students engage with educational content on their mobile devices and use these insights to create more powerful learning experiences. 

Access

South Africa has a shortage of teachers in key subjects such as mathematics and science, which disproportionately affects learners in poor and rural areas. According to a statement in 2017 from the Department of Basic Education, it has more than 5,000 underqualified or unqualified teachers working around the country. Though technology cannot substitute for a qualified teacher, it can supplement human teaching in remote or poor areas where teachers are not available or not qualified to teach certain subjects. Video learning and videoconferencing sessions offer the next best thing where a math or physical science teacher is not physically present in the classroom.

Information

Knowledge is power and the Internet is the world’s biggest repository of knowledge. Schoolchildren can access information and expertise about every subject under the sun from their smartphones – whether they are reading the news on a portal, watching documentaries on YouTube, downloading electronic books, using apps to improve their language skills, or simply Googling facts and figures for a school project.

Take a mobile-first approach

Technology has a powerful role to play in the South African school of the future, but there are some key success factors schools must bear in mind as they bring mobile devices into the classroom:

  • Use appropriate technology—in South Africa, that means taking a mobile-first approach and using the smartphones many children already know and use.
  • Thinking about challenges such as security – put in place the cyber and physical security needed to keep phones and data safe and secure.
  • Ensuring teachers and children alike are trained to make the most of the tech – teachers need to take an active role in curating content and guiding schoolchildren’s use of their devices. To get that right, they will need training and access to reliable tech support.

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