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How big data can ease transport woes

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South Africa faces some unique public transport challenges, but with the advancements of technology, such as Big Data, many of these hurdles can be overcome, writes GAVIN HOLME of Wipro.

South Africa faces some unique challenges when it comes to public transport. The reality is that public transport – in general – hasn’t yet capitalised on the opportunities presented by new technology advancements. Developments in the realm of Big Data, for instance, present tantalising opportunities to create a more efficient transport system in South Africa.

Our road-based transport challenges include:

•               High volumes of daily commuters using informal transport systems – not governed by central authorities.

•               A middle-class still heavily reliant on private transport – which causes increasing congestion, particularly on urban roads.

•               Strong expansion of other urban infrastructure (such as housing and office developments) which is not supported by the same level of investment in transport networks.

•               An emerging trend of closed-loop and localised systems – such as the Gautrain rail network in Gauteng and the MyCiti bus network in Cape Town – with no national approach of integration of payment and profile management.

•               A vehicle licensing department that remains very manual in its operations, often resulting in inefficient service levels for motorists.

Attracting commuters that are currently using private, individual cars requires more than just the penal approaches such as road tolls and emissions taxes. The trend towards better use of public transport requires transport operators to offer more attractive propositions to South Africa’s commuters and travellers.

The radical changes in the private taxi industry (the move away from traditional metered taxis, to the phenomenally popular disruptor, Uber) unfortunately doesn’t help in solving our transportation woes.

There is an answer

But, by cleverly tracking geospatial trends to understand user behaviour and congestion patterns, it becomes possible for transport operators to develop rail and bus networks that suit people’s lifestyles, and incentivises more motorists to move away from private transport.

With real-time data streamed to the right authorities – such as traffic police – it also becomes possible to minimise the impact in those ever-so-often cases where an accident causes traffic snarl-ups for kilometres. In these cases, authorities would be able to deploy resources to re-route traffic to different roads, and aid people in getting to their destinations on time, for example. As viable public transport systems emerge, technology plays a central role in ensuring that they are designed and managed in the optimal manner. Ticketing could be digitised, with alerts sent to users when there are any delays or changes to schedules. With increased interoperability between the country’s various transport networks, one would be able to use the same card or payment mechanism to travel locally in any region, and over longer distances when making long-haul trips.

This also opens up a number of exciting possibilities for digital marketing – where transport operators can partner with local service providers in a specific area to provide coupons and discounts to commuters on a particular route, for example.

Another important point is that stronger use of technology in transportation has excellent synergies with crime prevention efforts. With video technology being a firm feature of traffic management, this plays a surveillance role – detecting suspicious activity and aiding authorities by tracking vehicle license plates and other information.

Why data management is so essential

For any of these promises to become a reality, having a sophisticated system that manages huge volumes of data, and transforms it into useful insights, is absolutely critical. Data collection, warehousing, integration, and quality-control are essential facets for transport operators as they embark on their Big Data journey. Numerous examples from around the world have shown that transport operators are able to effectively develop networks of road and rail systems that improve the lives of commuters and benefit the economy at large.

In the most mature examples, predictive analytics makes it possible to know how what volumes of commuters are likely to travel on specific routes, and make capacity-planning decisions in advance. And while this might still be some way off for South Africa, it is clear that there are many advantages to capitalising on Big Data – to not only enhance the convenience for today’s motorists, but also to make transport authorities and operators more successful and profitable.

* Gavin Holme, Country Manager, Africa, Wipro Limited and Rudraksh Bhawalkar, Practice Manager, Analytics, Africa, Wipro Limited

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Rain, Telkom Mobile, lead in affordable data

A new report by the telecoms regulator in South Africa reveal the true consumer champions in mobile data costs

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The latest bi-annual tariff analysis report produced by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) reveals that Telkom Mobile data costs for bundles are two-thirds lower than those of Vodacom and MTN. On the other hand, Rain is half the price again of Telkom. 

The report focuses on the 163 tariff notifications lodged with ICASA during the period 1 July 2018 to 31 December 2018.

“It seeks to ensure that there is retail price transparency within the electronic communications sector, the purpose of which is to enable consumers to make an informed choice, in terms of tariff plan preferences and/or preferred service providers based on their different offerings,” said Icasa.

ICASA says it observed the competitiveness between licensees in terms of the number of promotions that were on offer in the market, with 31 promotions launched during the period. 

The report shows that MTN and Vodacom charge the same prices for a 1GB and a 3GB data bundle at R149 and R299 respectively.  On the other hand, Telkom Mobile charges (for similar-sized data bundles) R100 (1GB) and R201 (3GB). Cell C discontinued its 1GB bundle, which was replaced with a 1.5GB bundle offered at the same price as the replaced 1GB data bundle at R149. 

Rain’s “One Plan Package” prepaid mobile data offering of R50 for a 1GB bundle remains the most affordable when compared to the offers from other MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators).  

“This development should have a positive impact on customers’ pockets as they are paying less compared to similar data bundles and increases choice,” said Icasa.

The report also revealed that the cost of out-of-bundle data had halved at both MTN and Vodacom, from 99c per Megabyte a year ago to 49c per Megabyte in the first quarter of this year. This was still two thirds more expensive than Telkom Mobile, which has charged 29c per Megabyte throughout this period (see graph below).

Meanwhile, from having positioned itself as consumer champion in recent years, Cell C has fallen on hard times, image-wise: it is by far the most expensive mobile network for out-of-bundle data, at R1.10 per Megabyte. Its prices have not budged in the past year.

The report highlights the disparities between the haves and have-nots in the dramatically plummeting cost of data per Megabyte as one buys bigger and bigger bundles on a 30-day basis (see graph below).

For 20 Gigabyte bundles, all mobile operators are in effect charging 4c per Megabyte. Only at that level do costs come in at under Rain’s standard tariffs regardless of use.

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Qualcomm wins 5G as Apple and Intel cave in

A flurry of announcements from three major tech players ushered in a new mobile chip landscape, wrItes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week’s shock announcement by Intel that it was canning its 5G modem business leaves the American market wide open to Qualcomm, in the wake of the latter winning a bruising patent war with Apple.

Intel Corporation announced its intention to “exit the 5G smartphone modem business and complete an assessment of the opportunities for 4G and 5G modems in PCs, internet of things devices and other data-centric devices”.

Intel said it would also continue to invest in its 5G network infrastructure business, sharpening its focus on a market expected to be dominated by Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson.

Intel said it would continue to meet current customer commitments for its existing 4G smartphone modem product line, but did not expect to launch 5G modem products in the smartphone space, including those originally planned for launches in 2020. In other words, it would no longer be supplying chips for iPhones and iPads in competition with Qualcomm.

“We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property. We are assessing our options to realise the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world.”

The news came immediately after Qualcomm and Apple issued a joint announced of an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm, along with a six-year license agreement, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

Apple had previously accused Qualcomm of abusing its dominant position in modem chips for smartphones and charging excessive license fees. It ordered its contract manufacturers, first, to stop paying Qualcomm for the chips, and then to stop using the chips altogether, turning instead to Intel.
With Apple paying up and Intel pulling out, Qualcomm is suddenly in the pound seats. It shares hit their highest levels in five years after the announcements.

Qualcomm said in a statement: “As we lead the world to 5G, we envision this next big change in cellular technology spurring a new era of intelligent, connected devices and enabling new opportunities in connected cars, remote delivery of health care services, and the IoT — including smart cities, smart homes, and wearables. Qualcomm Incorporated includes our licensing business, QTL, and the vast majority of our patent portfolio.”

Meanwhile, Strategy Analytics released a report on the same day that showed Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia will lead the market in core 5G infrastructure, namely Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, by 2023 as the 5G market takes off. Huawei is expected to have the edge as a result of the vast scale of the early 5G market in China and its long term steady investment in R&D. According to a report entitled “Comparison and 2023 5G Global Market Potential for leading 5G RAN Vendors – Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia”, two outliers, Samsung and ZTE, are expected to expand their global presence alongside emerging vendors as competition heats up.

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