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IoT critical to smart cities

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South Africa is in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution as it becomes more and more connected. RESHAAD SHA, Chief Executive Officer, SqwidNet, believes the heart of a smart city is the Internet of Things.

Along with the rest of the world, South Africa is in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, in which the smart use of information and technology is reshaping societies. One of the most apparent ways in which this is happening can be seen is in the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), where smart, connected devices are being deployed in cities and industries globally, to gather data and glean contextual insights which are used to achieve higher levels of efficiency, productivity and utilization of scarce and natural resources.

The reach of IoT is staggering. In the near future, for example, the growing population of nations will be fed by crops that are smartly planted at the right time and in precisely the right place to produce maximum yield. Leveraging IoT, farmers will be informed via connected sensors, of the precise dosage of water, fertilizer and nutrients that the piece of cultivated land will require to produce an optimal yield in terms of volume and quality.

As the need to respond to the increasing demand for food as well as  and the effects of climate change on food security becomes a dominant concern, smart agriculture is just one of the ways in which IoT will, no doubt, prove its value.

Full steam ahead

More immediately, large metros in South Africa often face challenges with meeting citizen’s demand for electricity, dealing with water shortages and wastage, and managing other resources. Each of these challenges are only expected to grow in the years ahead due to increasing urbanisation, and in Africa this has become a significant driver behind conversations focusing on Smart Cities.

The good news is that exciting progress is already being made in South Africa, as we are seeing IoT projects underway and the development of smart cities being placed top of the agenda. Both, it should be noted, work hand in hand. In fact, IoT is essential to the success of a Smart City, as it enables the bridging of the physical world with the digital one.

Doing so enables a metro to gather real-time data from millions of objects, such as water meters, electricity meters, waste bins, traffic lights, and street lights. This forms the basis upon which contextual data can be collected, analysed, and used to manage the city in a smarter, predictive, and proactive way. A few practical examples of this include better traffic management by informing travellers of congestion; dealing with crime by leveraging sensors that detect gunshots in high crime zone areas; and smart waste management, in which metros are automatically informed by sensor-equipped bins when refuse needs to be collected.

The prime objective

Beyond the general benefits of living in a Smart City, with the greater quality of life brought about by a metro that is more efficiently managed, the burgeoning IoT industry presents some real opportunities for entrepreneurs in South Africa, particularly those businesses which enable big data to be efficiently gathered, processed, and analysed.

Job creation need not be limited to businesses in the big data space. Having smart cities in place will ensure that South Africa is ripe to attract global investment from the business sector. The most compelling advantage of smart cities is that they may very well offer an opportunity to boost South Africa’s economy, which would benefit all its citizens.

Rising to the challenge

However, before we can reap these benefits, there are some real challenges that must be addressed. The sheer volume of connected ‘things’ means the technologies make these objects smart must be available at a low device, connectivity, and implementation cost, so that substantial demands on cities’ budgets are avoided.

It is here in particular that SqwidNet, the result of a partnership between DFA and Sigfox, has an important role to play. Sigfox technology enables low-cost IoT connectivity for, among other things, water and electricity meters and city building and facilities management, which enables the deployment of smart city solutions at scale. The network now covers all the 8 metros in South Africa, and the rollout plan is currently focussed on covering all the national roads as well as moving to other cities and towns. Network coverage will exceed 85% of the South African population by  the end of the year.

Other considerations that will need to be taken into account include the power requirements for smart objects, as it is impractical for the bulk of these objects to be connected to a fixed power source. Rather, sensors will have to consume very low power, allowing them to run on a small battery for several years. The Sigfox network and device ecosystem is designed so that devices only become active when they need to send or receive a message to or from the network. As a result of this, devices can last up to 15 years or more on a battery, depending on the use case.

Finally, the network that these objects and sensors connect to also has to be cost efficient, and it is imperative that the data transmitted by smart, connected things can be delivered securely to mitigate any risks to the city and its citizens. Sigfox has security embedded at all layers of the solution. Data is encrypted from the chipset and device layer, the data in motion layer and the data storage and data at rest layers as well. In addition to this, long range base stations, cloud based operating and management systems,  and a broad range of device and chipset manufacturers and partners collectively contribute to low cost connectivity and end to end solutions and propositions to market.

International device roaming on the global Sigfox network is also addressed through roaming and clearing agreements between international Sigfox networks operators, with no additional costs to the end-user. This is a compelling proposition for asset tracking, supply chain, transport and logistics focussed IoT applications and services. Cities are also enabled to share this data across platforms, since the data protocols are non-proprietary, thus supporting the innovation and development of value-added applications and services for  analytical and contextual driven city management.

Final word

If South Africa wants to keep its position as the gateway to Africa, our cities, the services it provides and the lifestyle it creates for citizens must be nothing less than the global standard that is being set by leading cities around the world. Considering the predicted growth of the continent, it is easy to see why developing smart cities in South Africa now is not only a necessity but also a smart investment in the country’s future. For more information on SqwidNet, or IoT please visit http://www.sqwidnet.com

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Huge appetite for foldable phones – when prices fall

Samsung, Huawei and Motorola have all shown their cards, but consumers are concerned about durability, size, and enhanced use cases, according to Strategy Analytics

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Foldable devices are a long-awaited disrupter in the smartphone market, exciting leading-edge early adopters keen for a bold new type of device. But the acceptance of foldable devices by mainstream segments will depend on the extent to which the current barriers to adoption are addressed.

Major brands have been throwing their foldable bets into the hat to see what the market wants from a foldable, namely how big the screens should be and how the devices should fold. Samsung and Huawei have both designed devices that unfold from smartphones to tablets, each with their own method of how the devices go about folding. Motorola has recently designed a smartphone that folds in half, and it resembles a flip phone.

Assessing consumer desire for foldable smartphones, a new report from the User Experience Strategies group at Strategy Analytics has found that the perceived value of the foldable form does not outweigh the added cost.

Key report findings include:

  • The idea of having a larger-displayed smartphone in a portable size is perceived as valuable to the vast majority of consumers in the UK and the US. But, willingness to pay extra for a foldable device does not align with the desire to purchase one. Manufacturers must understand that there will be low sell-through until costs come down.
  • But as the acceptance for traditional smartphone display sizes continues to increase, so does the imposed friction of trying to use them one-handed. Unless a foldable phone has a wider folded state, entering text when closed is too cumbersome, forcing users to utilize two hands to enter text, when in the opened state.
  • Use cases need to be adequately demonstrated for consumers to fully understand and appreciate the potential for a foldable phone, though their priorities seemed fixed on promoting ‘two devices in one’ equaling a better video viewing experience. Identification and promotion of meaningful new use cases will be vital to success.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXIP and report author said: “As multitasking will look to be a core selling point for foldable phones, it is imperative that the execution be simplified and intuitive. Our data suggests there are a lot of uncertainties that come with foldable phone ownership, stemming mainly from concerns with durability and size, in addition to concerns over enhanced use cases.

“But our data also shows that when the consumers are able to use a foldable phone in hand, there is a solid reduction of doubt and concern about the concept. This means that the in-store experience may more important than ever in driving awareness, capabilities, and potential use cases.”

Said Paul Brown, Director, UXIP: “The big question is whether the perceived value will outweigh the added cost; and the initial response from consumers is ‘no.’ The ability for foldable displays to resolve real consumer pain-points is, in our view critical to whether these devices will become a niche segment of the smartphone market or the dominant form-factor of the future. Until costs come down, these devices will not take off.”

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New exploit exposes credit cards on mobile phones

Check Point Security has found that handsets using Qualcomm chipsets that hold credit and debit card credentials are at risk of a new exploit.

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Now it’s more important than ever to update your phone.
Check Point security has found a vulnerability in mobile devices that run Android, which allows credit card details to be accessed by hackers.

Mobile operating systems like Android offer a Rich Execution Environment (REE), providing a hugely extensive and versatile runtime environment, which allows apps to run on the device. However, while bringing flexibility and capability, REE leaves devices vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is designed to reside alongside the REE and provide a safe area on the device to protect assets and to execute trusted code. Qualcomm makes use of a secure virtual processor, which is often referred to as the “secure world”, in comparison to the “non-secure world”, where REE resides. 

But Check Point “fuzzed” a “hole” into this secure world 

In a 4-month research project, Check Point researchers attempted and succeeded to reverse Qualcomm’s “Secure World” operating system. Check Point researchers leveraged a “fuzzing” technique to expose the hole. Fuzz testing (fuzzing) is a quality assurance technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. It involves inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the test subject in an attempt to make it crash.

Check Point implemented a custom-made fuzzing tool, which tested trusted code on Samsung, LG, and Motorola devices. Through fuzzing, Check Point found 4 vulnerabilities in trusted code implemented by Samsung (including S10), 1 in Motorola, 1 in LG, but all code sourced by Qualcomm itself. To address the vulnerability, the runtime of Android needs to be protected from both attackers and users. This is typically achieved by moving the secure storage software to a hardware-supported TEE.

Check Point Research disclosed its findings directly to the companies and gave them time to patch vulnerabilities. Samsung patched three vulnerabilities and LG patched one. Motorola and Qualcomm responded, but have yet to provide a patch, and there is no confirmation of a release date yet.

Check Point Research has urged mobile phone users to stay vigilant and check their credit and debit card providers for any unusual activity. In the meantime, they are working with the vendors mentioned to issue patches.

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