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How Africa’s biggest airport went dark



Image credit: Kaihsu Tai

South Africans were shocked this past weekend when the very gateway to the country went dark as a result of a power outage. In the midst of ongoing load-shedding due to mismanagement of power utility Eskom, it was assumed that OR Tambo International Airport had also fallen victim.

The truth was possibly worse: the airport was plunged into darkness along with the whole of the surrounding Kempton Park on Sunday morning when a transformer at a nearby electricity sub-station caught fire – almost certainly due to poor maintenance by Eskom. The entire airport terminal complex went dark, although aircraft continued to be serviced and flights were only sporadically delayed. The biggest issue seemed to be that arriving passengers had to use their cellphones as flashlights to identify their baggage.

Naturally, social media was rife with theories on the cause of the blackout, and with harsh criticism of airport management for its poor communication and apparent lack or preparedness.

Airport general manager Bongiwe Pityi-Vokwana has, however, rejected the latter accusation. In a statement issued today, she implied that social media had got it wrong.

“In the context of claims on social media and incorrect information published by some media titles, it is essential to describe the events of Sunday, their causes and the airport’s emergency systems,” she said.  According to her statement, management, technical and engineering staff had completed an assessment of the circumstances that led to power disruptions.

“As a National Key Point, the airport is licensed and regulated by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). We adhere to global standards for critical infrastructure systems back-up to ensure the safety and security of passengers going through our airport.

“We have 45 generators which can operate for three days. We also have a large number of uninterruptable power supply (UPS) units that keep engineering and IT systems running when power is disrupted, giving generators the time required to start up.

“In spite of the power interruption, the airport ecosystem handled 571 flights with more than 71 000 passengers and 39 000 departing bags processed. Twenty (20) flights and 530 bags were affected by the power interruption, with delays averaged at 30 minutes for the flights concerned.”

Pityi-Vokwana outlined the sequence of events in detail:

“A total loss of power from Eskom was reported at 10.24am. Our business continuity plans were activated. Back-up generators took over and various engineering and IT systems were reset at this point, the equivalent of re-booting.

“Critical services such as fuelling, baggage handling, water supply, instrument landing system and aircraft navigational aids were not affected. The airside network comprising of airfield ground lighting systems supplied by separate UPS systems and generators, was not affected. 

“The process of restoring Eskom loads ran from 12.40pm to 13.05pm. The transition from generator to mains and back is not seamless as loads are restored in phases. Some systems require 30 minutes and more before they are again fully operational.”

A total of 15 specific systems were affected, of which around half were supplied with back-up power from generators. These were: 

  • Domestic terminal and critical systems necessary for passenger processing;
  • Airport fuelling system;
  • Airfield navigational aids;
  • Instrument landing system and aircraft navigational aids; 
  • Weather observation systems;
  • Airfield ground lighting systems;
  • Some people movers for vertical circulation and parking management systems; and
  • Emergency lighting.

The rest of the systems, says Pityi-Vokwana, were “partially affected during the interruption”. These were:

  • Vehicle parking systems;
  • People movers not on essential supply;
  • Non-emergency terminal lighting;
  • Retail outlets such as banks, restaurants and shops;
  • IT systems and some related wire centres;
  • International baggage handling system; and
  • Public address system.

The last was particularly rankling for passengers and those arriving at the airport for drop-off or pick-up. The darkness inside the buildings held the potential for accidents, crime and the like, but those caught int he darkness felt no effort was made to address such issues, or even keep the public informed.

“Every real-time disruption reveals some fresh challenges that cannot be anticipated in business continuity plans,” Pityi-Vokwana acknowledged.

As a result, she said, “As part of adapting our responses, the airport will now do three things. First, run more simulations of longer power outages to understand the impact on infrastructure; second, re-assess all systems and areas that are regarded as essential services with a view to providing additional capacity from back-up generator supply; and third, re-evaluate the synchronisation and sequencing of generators to mains power during supply restoration.”

She did not comment on the public relations damage caused by not keep customers informed, but said:  “Management of OR Tambo International Airport understands the frustrations of people at times such as this and we thank passengers and airport visitors for their understanding.”

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Second-hand smartphone market booms

The worldwide market for used smartphones is forecast to grow to 332.9 million units, with a market value of $67 billion, in 2023, according to IDC



International Data Corporation (IDC) expects worldwide shipments of used smartphones, inclusive of both officially refurbished and used smartphones, to reach a total of 206.7 million units in 2019. This represents an increase of 17.6% over the 175.8 million units shipped in 2018. A new IDC forecast projects used smartphone shipments will reach 332.9 million units in 2023 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.6% from 2018 to 2023.

This growth can be attributed to an uptick in demand for used smartphones that offer considerable savings compared with new models. Moreover, OEMs have struggled to produce new models that strike a balance between desirable new features and a price that is seen as reasonable. Looking ahead, IDC expects the deployment of 5G networks and smartphones to impact the used market as smartphone owners begin to trade in their 4G smartphones for the promise of high-performing 5G devices.

Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, says: “In contrast to the recent declines in the new smartphone market, as well as the forecast for minimal growth in new shipments over the next few years, the used market for smartphones shows no signs of slowing down across all parts of the globe. Refurbished and used devices continue to provide cost-effective alternatives to both consumers and businesses that are looking to save money when purchasing a smartphone. Moreover, the ability for vendors to push more affordable refurbished devices in markets in which they normally would not have a presence is helping these players grow their brand as well as their ecosystem of apps, services, and accessories.”

Worldwide Used Smartphone Shipments (shipments in millions of units)

2018 Market
2023 Market
North America39.022.2%87.226.2%17.4%
Rest of World136.877.8%245.773.8%12.4%

Source: IDC, Worldwide Used Smartphone Forecast, 2019–2023, Dec 2019.

Table Notes: Data is subject to change.
* Forecast projections.

Says Will Stofega, program director, Mobile Phones: “Although drivers such as regulatory compliance and environmental initiatives are still positively impacting the growth in the used market, the importance of cost-saving for new devices will continue to drive growth. Overall, we feel that the ability to use a previously owned device to fund the purchase of either a new or used device will play the most crucial role in the growth of the refurbished phone market. Trade-in combined with the increase in financing plans (EIP) will ultimately be the two main drivers of the refurbished phone market moving forward.”

According to IDC’s taxonomy, a refurbished smartphone is a device that has been used and disposed of at a collection point by its owner. Once the device has been examined and classified as suitable for refurbishment, it is sent off to a facility for reconditioning and is eventually sold via a secondary market channel. A refurbished smartphone is not a “hand me down” or gained as the result of a person-to-person sale or trade.

The IDC report, Worldwide Used Smartphone Forecast, 2019–2023 (Doc #US45726219), provides an overview and five-year forecast of the worldwide refurbished phone market and its expansion and growth by 2023. This study also provides a look at key players and the impact they will have on vendors, carriers, and consumers.

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Customers and ‘super apps’ will shape travel in 2020s



Customers will take far more control of their travel experience in the 2020s, according to a 2020 Trends report released this week by Travelport, a leading technology company serving the global travel industry.

Through independent research with thousands of global travellers – including 500 in South Africa – hundreds of travel professionals and interviews with leaders of some of the world’s biggest travel brands, Travelport uncovered the major forces that will become the technology enablers of travel over the next decade. These include:

Customers in control

Several trends highlight the finding that customers are moving towards self-service options, with 61% of the travellers surveyed in South Africa preferring to hear about travel disruption via digital communications, such as push notifications on an app, mobile chatbots, or instant messaging apps, rather than speaking with a person on the phone. This is especially important when it comes to young travellers under 25, seen as the future business traveler, and managing their high expectations through technology.

Mobile takeover

With the threat of super app domination, online travel agencies must disrupt or risk being disrupted. Contextual messaging across the journey will help. Super app tech giants like WeChat give their users a one-stop shop to communicate, shop online, book travel, bank, find a date, get food delivery, and pay for anything within a single, unified smartphone app. Travel brands that want to deliver holistic mobile customer experiences need to think about how they engage travellers within these super apps as well as in their own mobile channels.

Retail accelerated

In the next year, research shows, we will see an accelerated rate of change in the way travel is retailed and purchased online. This includes wider and more complex multi-content reach, more enriched and comparable offerings, more focus on relevance than magnitude, and an increase in automation that enables customer self-service.

“How customers engage with their travel experience – for instance by interacting with digital ‘bots’ and expecting offers better personalised to their needs – is changing rapidly,” says Adrian Roodt, country manager for Southern Africa at Travelport. “We in the travel industry need to understand and keep pace with these forces to make sure we’re continuing to make the experience of buying and managing travel continually better, for everyone.”

Read the full 2020 Trends report here: 2020 Trends hub.

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