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Two Microsoft data centres go live in South Africa

Microsoft now operates its cloud services in two data centre regions: Johannesburg and Cape Town.

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In a move that it says will drive digital transformation in South Africa, Microsoft yesterday announced that its new enterprise-grade data centres had gone live. They would form part of a multi-million-dollar investment to create economic opportunities for South Africa through an Equity Equivalent Investment Programme (EEIP).

At the opening of the data centres, Yousef Khalidi, corporate VP of Azure Networking at Microsoft, announced that Microsoft Azure is now available from Microsoft’s new cloud regions in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“The combination of Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure with the new regions in Africa will increase economic opportunity for organisations in Africa, as well as connect businesses across the globe through improved access to cloud and internet services,” said Khalidi. “In addition, the availability of Microsoft’s cloud services delivered from Africa will mean local companies can securely and reliably move their businesses to the cloud while meeting compliance requirements.” 

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Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, said bringing data centres onto South African soil would advance the fourth industrial revolution.

“Our people cannot be scared because we are talking about the fourth industrial revolution,” she said. “It is a necessary disruption. We will prepare South Africans by making sure we enhance our skills and equip our citizens with the tools to cope in this revolution.”

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With this announcement, Microsoft has become the first global provider to deliver cloud services from data centres on the African continent. The company has announced 54 cloud regions worldwide, which is more than any other global provider.  Amazon Web Services currently has 19 AWS Regions, as it calls them, with Cape Town set to become a new region early next year.

Azure is the first of Microsoft’s intelligent cloud services to be delivered from the new data centres in South Africa. Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity solution, is anticipated to be available by the third quarter of 2019, and Dynamics 365, the next generation of intelligent business applications, anticipated in the fourth quarter.

Newly appointed Microsoft South Africa managing director Lillian Barnard revealed that the Microsoft EEIP has evolved to include investment in technology solutions in agriculture and digital transformation in manufacturing – just two sectors where key government priorities and Microsoft focus areas overlap.  

Microsoft’s EEIP is also funding skills development among South Africa’s young software developers, making them more employable.

“The evolved EEIP demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to digital transformation, skills development and experiential learning, as well as the enablement of innovation and technological advancement in South Africa,” said Barnard. “It economically benefits the country and demonstrates that we are investing in the right initiatives to ensure the inclusion, diversity and success in the digital economy.” 

Barnard said both the evolved EEIP and the new Microsoft datacentres were indicative of how important South Africa was for Microsoft. 

“We are already seeing great examples of how Microsoft’s investment in local innovation is having an impact on many of the partnerships we have with our customers in both the private and public sector. This will accelerate following today’s announcements.”

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AppDate: uKheshe bring banking to the masses

In his apps roundup, SEAN BACHER highlights uKheshe, FNB’s banking app with its will feature, Split Payments, Momentum Safety Alert and Fleetonomy.

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uKheshe micro transaction platform

Financial inclusion took another step forward as local start-up, uKheshe, South Africa’s cheapest and most convenient QR cash card and micro transaction platform, won the 2019 Global Fintech Hackcelerator @ Southern Africa competition. 

“The issue of financial inclusion is a global one and the more we can do to uplift the unbanked and under banked, the healthier their respective economies will become,” says Clayton Hayward, co-founder, uKheshe.

While 1.2 billion people have opened a financial account since 2011, there is still an estimated 1.7 billion adults worldwide (or 31% of adults) who don’t have a basic transaction account.  Globally, two-thirds of adults without an account cite a lack of money as a key reason, which implies that financial services aren’t yet affordable or designed to fit low-income users.

To find out more about uKheshe click here

FNB’s banking app with will feature

First National Bank now lets its customers draw up their own wills via the FNB Online Banking platform at no cost. To date, the bank has seen a significant increase in the number of clients who drafted their own wills online, with over 52 000 clients already accessing the functionality.

Approximately 80% of South Africans don’t have a valid will in place; and many people believe that it’s a need only when they get older, or later in life. 

“Whilst the digital process is simple and easy to use, the solution also helps with a dedicated client support centre should clients need further assistance or advice regarding the drafting of their wills,” says Johan Strydom, Growth Head, FNB Wealth and Investments. “The solution aims to simplify the process and allows customers to easily draft a will online anytime and at any place, at no cost. In addition, FNB will keep your original will in safe custody at no extra cost.”

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Available the FNB app which can be be downloaded here.

Split Payments

PayFast has launched Split Payments, a South African-first that instantly splits a portion of an online payment with a third party. The service is designed to facilitate fast, safe payments for platform-based businesses, including online marketplaces.

For those who run a marketplace that brings together multiple sellers or merchants looking for new sales channels, Split Payments addresses payment headaches with a simple API integration.

Consumers are used to engaging with large global transactional platforms such as AirBnB, Uber, and Amazon. The benefits and extended reach of these types of platforms are catching on locally, and organisations like estate agency groups and even community marketplaces are setting up digital trading platforms.

The app allows businesses to instantly split out commission, membership or listing fees, when a payment is made via one of its supported payment methods.

For each online payment received  the business can determine what the split is, either a fixed amount, a percentage, or a combination of both. Custom recurring payment integration, such as subscriptions payments, can also be split automatically.

Platform: iOS and Android

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Download Split Payments here

Read more about Momentum’s new Safety Alert app and Fleetonomy.

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Why 4G is still a thing

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Even with the 5G era already upon us, investment in 4G/LTE networks is still vitally important for operators in sub-Saharan Africa and must remain a core focus of network construction for the immediate future. This is according to David Chen, Vice-President, Huawei Southern Africa. 

“Currently, the mobile broadband penetration rate in Africa is only 47%, while 4G penetration rate is merely 10%,” Chen said.

“Insufficient coverage causes LTE users to fall back to the 2G or 3G networks, resulting in significant decline in user experience. It also leads to congestion on the 2G and 3G networks and makes it difficult to release spectrum used by 2G and 3G.”

Chen said that LTE and 5G complement each other and are evolving in parallel. In the next few years, 5G will mainly be used in more industrial communications.

LTE will remain the primary choice for global mobile communications through 2025. It will form the basic layer of national networks, especially when it comes to the mobile broadband access.

“It will take a long time for 5G to provide nationwide continuous coverage. Before that, enhanced LTE networks can guarantee optimal user experience for 5G users, including services such as VR, AR, and cloud gaming,” said Chen.

He said that it is important for operators to invest in 4G to secure future growth, as it is estimated that there will be an additional 80 million LTE users in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.

Driven by this growth, LTE traffic in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by a factor of 8.8. By 2025, about 80% of all data traffic in the region will be over an LTE network.

LTE will also be the main source of future revenue for operators.

“According to GSMA Intelligence, 2G and 3G users in sub-Saharan Africa will gradually migrate to 4G,” said Chen. “By 2025, the proportion of 2G users will drop from 46% to 12%.”

Part of the reason for the migration to 4G is because the ecosystem is mature.

“The price of feature phones supporting VoLTE in the sub-Saharan Africa market has been as low as $25,” Chen said.

Since 5G equipment is already available, there is an opportunity for operators to build out their 4G networks while ensuring that they can evolve to 5G in future.

Chen offered the following tips to operators to ensure they are ready for 5G:

  • All future equipment installations should be 5G ready, allowing easy upgrades to 5G through software updates.
  • Software should support multi-standard spectrum sharing to improve spectrum efficiency, and to allow the smooth migration of 2G and 3G users.
  • Networks must support 4G and 5G coordination, in terms of spectrum, operation and maintenance. This will ensure that users have a consistent experience as we enter the 5G era.
  • The value of existing ICT infrastructure, such as base station sites, must be maximised to avoid overlapping services and wasted resources. This would mean boosting the capacity and coverage of every station for optimum efficiency.
  • Carriers should explore the business case for all possible 5G innovations when building 4G networks, and not just embrace 5G for its own sake. This will mean building business models around IoT, video, live broadcast, augmented reality, and virtual reality.
  • It is important that operators build partnerships with providers that can support the ongoing spectrum evolution with fast site upgrades and large-capacity solutions. The idea is to maximise the value of 4G networks, and smoothly evolve to 5G without unnecessary infrastructure investment.

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