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IoT simple as ABC

There is no doubt that the Internet of Things (IoT) can solve everyday challenges using technology, and with IDC predicting there being over 20 billion connected devices by 2020, we are seeing an emergence of more IoT technology, creating even more choice. However, when it comes to designing your own IoT solution, all this choice can be simplified.

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IoT is as simple as ABC…D. That is, Application + Backend + Connectivity + Device. This means to design an IoT solution is as simple as making four choices. Just on partners.sigfox.com alone, there are 71 applications (A), 99 backend platforms (B) and 524 devices (D)!

But what about connectivity (C)?

Recently, there have been several announcements around different network rollouts (C). How do you decide which network is most suited for you? According to Phathizwe Malinga, Managing Director of SqwidNet, deciding on the best network for your solution, like the other IoT elements, A, B and D, are dependent the problem you are trying to solve.

“There is space in the market for all different technologies,” he says. “We work with some great technology partners in the country and often when they are designing a solution, they use a combination of these technologies. For an IoT deployment to succeed, one must consider the challenge, context and the type of data that will be transmitted before deciding on the most suitable network, because each application is unique in its requirements.”

SqwidNet was launched in November 2016 as the Sigfox operator in South Africa. Sigfox today has a presence in 53 countries and covers over 1 billion people with its global network, allowing Sigfox Ready™ devices to roam at no extra cost. The SqwidNet network currently covers over 85% of the South African population, enabling millions of physical devices to be connected to the digital world.

“Each of the network technologies has their own advantages and disadvantages,” says Malinga. “Broadband, for example, is at the top end of the spectrum and it is used for communication that is data-intensive, such as sending video and images and making voice calls. The disadvantage of broadband is the high cost of data, and high data and power usage.” Just below that lies the LTE-M spectrum. It is used for powered devices like traffic lights, using less data and costs a little less, while still being high on power usage. “The mobile operators have then tried to go a little lower by creating narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT). Their focus here is strongly on connecting cities, and NB-IoT manages to get devices to use battery power, but the cost of connectivity isn’t significantly lowered.”

SqwidNet, on the other hand, operates a network that is a low-power wide area network (LP-WAN). There are currently two popular low power networks operating in this band in South Africa. “LoRA is a network that gives you the technology to deploy within a city, private residence or a mine, for example, and uses low power. The network, however, is usually run like a local area network (LAN) or Metropolitan Area Network (MAN),” he says. “Because LoRa is based on open-source principles, it means that there can be and are many connectivity providers. This means your LoRa device can only talk to the network that it’s signed up to. On the one hand, this is a nice security advantage because it means LoRa is well suited to stationary devices located in a remote town, like a mine. On the other hand, this means you cannot track assets-in-transit as soon as they leave that localised network.”

Sigfox sacrifices open-source and focuses on creating a shared economy business model. This means that ONE network provider runs a ultra wide area network across 53 countries! Malinga continues, “We operate in a very low band providing a low cost, low power network designed to extend the battery life of devices significantly, in some cases up to 15 years.”

Sigfox is an ultra-narrowband technology that operates in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical band. It is free to operate in that band, albeit sparingly, which is why it is more cost-effective.

But which is the best network to deploy IoT solutions on?

“The problem and the actual solution will determine which is the most suitable network to use,” says Malinga. “Take, for example, a self-driven car. In this case, you cannot afford to have any latency, so the most suitable technology would be 5G. The use case for a self-driving car is CONTROL. If, however, you are monitoring assets in remote areas with no access to electricity, then Sigfox would be a far more suitable and cost-effective option. The use case here is VISIBILITY.”

The IoT use cases that are out in the market vary across industries, with increasing demand in the retail, utilities, agriculture, and asset tracking fields, but essentially, they are all about control versus visibility. “The beauty of ultra-narrowband is that it extends the penetration of the signal significantly. Even when it is used in mine shafts, for example, you can use self-contained repeaters to extend the signal and ensure that any device tracking an asset is covered. This makes it much more suited to visibility,” he says. “Another key benefit of the Sigfox technology, particularly in the South African context, is that it is not jammable, so we are starting to see massive interest in the vehicle tracking space because of this feature. I do stress, however, that as your technology partner designs your IoT solution (choosing A+B+C+D), they will encounter the need for both use cases. We have seen some technology partners even mix the two use cases. An example of this is using Sigfox to detect movement, and then switching on a Wifi HD-Camera based on the alert received.”

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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