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It’s World Cities Day

Cities already account for approximately 70-80% of the world’s economic growth, and this will only increase as cities continue to grow.

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In the next 35 years, the population in cities is estimated to expand by an additional 2.5 billion people, almost double the population of China. As a vital component for connectivity, public health, social welfare, and economic development, infrastructure in all its forms – basic, social, and economic – is critical for the anticipated urban growth. As a day to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanisation and contribute to sustainable development around the world, 31 October marks World Cities Day – where the spotlight on building sustainable cities comes to the fore.

“Globally, the annual investment required to cover the gap for resilient infrastructure is estimated at $4.5-$5.4 trillion,” says Riaan Graham, sales director for Ruckus Networks, sub-Saharan Africa. “And while no two cities are the same, more than than 50% of the global population – live in cities – and instrumental to achieving sustainable smart cities, is harnessing a new world of digital technology and communication to first enable a connected city.”

Building on connectivity

Connectivity is a foundational layer to Smart Cities, both for Internet access and new digital services. A great starting point for cities is to deploy public Wi-Fi. Continues Graham; “Public Wi-Fi is a great way to create a more vibrant community and also connect citizens, businesses and visitors. But the benefits of Wi-Fi don’t stop there. Cities are leveraging smart Wi-Fi for many applications that go well beyond free public access to the Internet such as e-routing traffic, monitoring air pollution, conserving water, improving public safety and encouraging more direct participation, interaction and collaboration with local government offered services.”

In fact, according to an IDC InfoBrief Smart City aspects such as networked LED street lighting can provide a 25-50% reduction in operations and energy costs, connected trash bins can yield more than 50% reduction in garbage collection costs, 20–30% cost reduction can be obtained with smart parking and smart water systems can save 40% less clean water loss due to leaks and burst pipes. Such aspects are key to building sustainable cities and managing resources and services.

Sustainability lens

Alison Groves, Regional Director, WSP, Building Services, Africa, agrees, but cautions that when planning, designing and building infrastructure within the African context, we need to be conscious that we are operating in spaces that sit at two extreme ends of the development cycle. “On one end, we have cities and urban centres that are faced with challenges to the maintaining the capacity of existing infrastructure networks. These nodes still boast long-term infrastructure planning, which includes introducing smart technologies into their city scape that will make these cities more connected, innovative and nimble in the face of future disruption. At the other end of the cycle, however, we have vast areas that are underdeveloped, geographically dispersed, remote, and with limited accessibility to-and-from the nearest urban node.”

Groves believes that to be able to support continued and future growth – of populations, industries and economies – long-term planning must be approached with a vision to compensate for both ends of the development cycle and everything in between. “As we look to build cities and spaces for rural communities that are liveable, resilient to disruptions, and futureproofed, sustainability is the way to get there.”

“Sustainability is a lens through which the planning, project delivery, and development processes focus to achieve the needs of the communities today without sacrificing capacity for future generations. A sustainability lens always includes balancing priorities across several areas, including the economy, community needs, and environmental quality, but also equity, health and well-being, energy, water and materials resources, and transportation and mobility needs,” adds Groves.

Resilience and liveability

Urbanisation, demographic shift, environmental changes and new technologies are reshaping the way city leaders are looking at sustainability as well as creating and delivering on public services to address these new dynamics, and the rise of Smart Cities is the response to these challenges. Smart cities will help address the economic and social inequality that this divide creates, by providing Internet access to all citizens.

“With robust networks in place, bridging this divide will help bring communities closer together and encourage citizens to play a more active role to local councils. Flawless connectivity will improve city infrastructure and make it possible for citizens to engage with their community, such as removing the roadblocks that complicate access to local services. We are already seeing significant foreign direct investment into such key ICT initiatives across the continent, but sustainability has to be at the heart of this if Africa is to create a resilient framework for better cities,” adds Graham.

“In Africa, resilience and liveability must be the desired outcomes sought through planning and design processes. Achieving these outcomes will require respecting and balancing local environmental, social, economic, and climate risk priorities through a robust planning and data-driven design process. And, ultimately the goal should be that we are building liveable spaces that are people-centric, integrated, connected, smart, nimble and resilient – where societies can thrive, well into the future,” concludes Groves.

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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