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New SA broadband network: 4G, 5G and beyond

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Out of the ruins of the old iBurst, a new high-speed broadband network is about to be rolled out, with existing operators potentially joining its party, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It was one of the great train smashes of Internet services in South Africa. Now it may just give rise to one of the great success stories.

When iBurst launched in this country more than a decade ago, it promised to change the face of wireless broadband with a new kind of connectivity technology. However, a technology that was once revolutionary was eventually derailed, as its development ended.

Connection speed stalled, service levels declined, and growth fell off the cliff. As a result, it surprised some when the holding company for iBurst, Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), was bought by convergence technology company Multisource last year.

However, it was clear that it was being bought not for its 60 000-strong subscriber base, but for its license to use radio frequency spectrum in the 1,8GHz and 2,6GHz bands – ideal for high-speed mobile broadband. It was also clear that the ownership of WBS, chaired by FirstRand founder Paul Harris, was focused on opening up this potential goldmine.

This week, Multisource removed the invisibility cloak from its iBurst plans. Harris announced a multi-billion Rand investment in a new high-speed national data network using LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) technology.

Current versions of LTE are still regarded as a form of 3G, while LTE-A is regarded as the minimum to describe a network as 4G. Because of the failure of the regulator, Icasa, to allocate additional spectrum in these bands, other operators have to “refarm” spectrum from inappropriate bands to offer a half-baked version of 4G.

This means, in effect, that WBS is likely to become the first entirely 4G data network in South Africa. Its aggressive strategy is also likely to be enhanced by WBS’s roaming agreements with other mobile networks. In other words, an MTN or Vodacom could partner with WBS to get access to full 4G. That also means they could well dip into their own pockets to assist WBS in building out its network.

“Our initial focus is fixed-mobile (like LTE-A enabled WiFi routers) and we will target customers in geographies where we have our own kit and do not need to roam on other networks,” said Michael Jordaan, former First National Bank CEO and a key investor in WBS, in an interview this week. However, he pointed to a company statement that acknowledged: “Roaming is standard practice in the industry with most telcos roaming on each other’s networks.”

He would not be drawn on specifics, saying that roaming agreements were confidential commercial agreements between operators. However “where appropriate, WBS will enter such arrangements.”

“It will take time to roll out a nationwide network,” he said. “We hope to get to 10 000 sites over five years, but will start in high-density geographic areas like Joburg and Cape Town. It means that the initial target market will be fixed-mobile rather than smartphones, as that would require either a national network or a roaming agreement.”

According to Harris, the strategy was partly a response to South Africa’s need for investment in productive capacity to tackle its economic challenges: “Nothing can be gained by sitting on the sidelines. WBS’s investment is a manifestation of its confidence in South Africa and its desire to contribute.”

WBS is looking into the long-term future as well, saying that the network will be enabled to use 5G when the technology is rolled out internationally in the next 5 years, and “will place South Africa amongst the leaders in the field”.

The company says a limited number of sites are already in operation and existing WBS customers will be converted to the new network, migrating from an obsolete technology to one that is ahead of the rest of the market.

National rollout will commence in the next few months.  According to a WBS statement, “Speed and performance will be comparable to fibre, with the advantages that it can be deployed without the cost of digging up suburban streets and time delay in eventually reaching all residential areas.

“Once the network is rolled out WBS will be able to offer mobile broadband on smartphones, tablets and other devices supporting the Internet of Things. In the foreseeable future the majority of voice calls will be carried on data networks, thereby effectively providing consumers with a combined data and voice offering.”

WBS says it has the advantage of not having to invest in legacy networks such as 2G and 3G, and will consequently deploy cutting edge technology referred to as LTE-A PRO or 4.5G. The new network will be deployed on some of WBS’s own 400 sites and sites leased from tower companies and other telecommunications providers.

Jordaan also fired a warning shot at existing operators’ dogged emphasis on traditional voice and their inability to embrace the Over-The-Top apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

“We think that voice is fast becoming just another data-enabled app and we are not planning on offering traditional voice; rather VoLTE (voice over LTE), VoIP, WhatsApp, Skype. In essence, we are a competitor to fibre and ADSL.”

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Huawei Mate 20 unveils ‘higher intelligence’

The new Mate 20 series, launching in South Africa today, includes a 7.2″ handset, and promises improved AI.

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Huawei Consumer Business Group today launches the Huawei Mate 20 Series in South Africa.

The phones are powered by Huawei’s densest and highest performing system on chip (SoC) to date, the Kirin 980. Manufactured with the 7nm process, incorporating the Cortex-A76-based CPU and Mali-G76 GPU, the SoC offers improved performance and, according to Huawei, “an unprecedented smooth user experience”.

The new 40W Huawei SuperCharge, 15W Huawei Wireless Quick Charge, and large batteries work in tandem to provide users with improved battery life. A Matrix Camera System includes a  Leica Ultra Wide Angle Lens that lets users see both wider and closer, with a new macro distance capability. The camera system adopts a Four-Point Design that gives the device a distinct visual identity.

The Mate 20 Series is available in 6.53-inch, 6.39-inch and 7.2-inch sizes, across four devices: Huawei Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro, Mate 20 X and Porsche Design Huawei Mate 20 RS. They ship with the customisable Android P-based EMUI 9 operating system.

“Smartphones are an important entrance to the digital world,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer BG, at the global launch in London last week. “The Huawei Mate 20 Series is designed to be the best ‘mate’ of consumers, accompanying and empowering them to enjoy a richer, more fulfilled life with their higher intelligence, unparalleled battery lives and powerful camera performance.”

The SoC fits 6.9 billion transistors within a die the size of a fingernail. Compared to Kirin 970, the latest chipset is equipped with a CPU that is claimed to be 75 percent more powerful, a GPU that is 46 percent more powerful and an NPU (neural processing unit) that is 226 percent more powerful. The efficiency of the components has also been elevated: the CPU is claimed to be 58 percent more efficient, the GPU 178 percent more efficient, and the NPU 182 percent more efficient. The Kirin 980 is the world’s first commercial SoC to use the Cortex-A76-based cores.

Huawei has designed a three-tier architecture that consists of two ultra-large cores, two large cores and four small cores. This allows the CPU to allocate the optimal amount of resources to heavy, medium and light tasks for greater efficiency, improving the performance of the SoC while enhancing battery life. The Kirin 980 is also the industry’s first SoC to be equipped with Dual-NPU, giving it higher On-Device AI processing capability to support AI applications.

Read more about the Mate 20 Pro’s connectivity, battery and camera on the next page. 

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Epic Games brings a
Nite-mare to Android

Epic Games’ decision to not publish games through Google Play inadvertently opens a market to Android virus makers, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, decided to take the high road by skipping Google Play’s app distribution market and placing a third-party installer for its games on its website. While this is technically fine, it is not recommended for the average user, because allowing third-party installers on one’s smartphone opens up the possibility of non-signed and malicious software to be run on the smartphone. 

In June, malware researchers at ESET warned Android gamers that malicious fake versions of the Fortnite app had been created to steal personal information or damage smartphones. A malware researcher demonstrated how the fake applications works in the Tweet below.

While the decision to bypass Google Play was a bold move on Epic Games’ part, it has been a long time coming for app developers to move their premium apps off Google’s Play Store. The two major app distributors, Google Play and Apple’s App Store, take a 30% cut of every purchase made through their app distribution platforms. 

The App Store is currently the only way to get apps on a non-modified iOS device, which is why Epic Games had no choice for Fortnite to be in the App Store. On the other hand, Android phones can install packages downloaded through the browser, which makes the Play Store almost unnecessary for the gaming company. 

The most interesting part of this development is that Google is not the “bad guy” and Epic Games is no saviour to other game developers. Epic Games is a company with a multi-billion dollar valuation and has resources like large-scale servers to distribute and update its games, a big marketing budget to ensure everyone knows how to get its games, and server security to protect against malware. 

Resources of this scale allow the game company to turn a cold shoulder to Google’s Play Store distribution and focus on its own, in-house solution. 

That said, installing packages without the Google Play Store must be done carefully, and it is essential to do homework on where a package is downloaded. Moreover, when a package is installed outside of the Google Play Store, a security switch to block the installation of third party apps must be turned off. This switch should be turned back on immediately after the third party package is installed. 

This complex amount of steps makes it less worthwhile to install third party apps, in favour of rather waiting for them to reach the Play Store.

From a consumer perspective, ESET recommends not installing packages outside of the Google Play Store and to ignore advertisements to download the game from other sources.

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