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Nokia is back in town

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If ever there was an unforgettable name in technology it was Nokia, Now the phone brand is back, and hoping the good memories will restore a proud name. By ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It is rare for a standard Android phone to make headlines. But then, it’s even more rare for a near-abandoned brand to return to worldwide adulation.

When the brand name is Nokia, however, it should be no surprise that its comeback is given the reception of a mythical hero returned from the battlefield. It’s hard to believe that it is only 14 months since Microsoft released the last of the Nokia Lumia phones running the Windows operating system.

The Lumia 650, launched in February 2016, turned out to be the epitaph for Nokia’s Windows era. Just three months later, Microsoft announced it was selling the Nokia feature phone business and the rights to the Nokia brand to Chinese device manufacturer Foxconn and a new Finnish company called HMD Global.

The selling price of $350-million made a mockery of the $7.6-billion Microsoft had paid to acquire Nokia in 2014. However, the Finnish credentials of the brand’s new stewards, and the fact that it was run by Nokia veterans, gave loyal fans hope.

It may not be a Star Wars sage, but the new episode in Nokia’s history could well be termed A New Hope. The series officially opened in South Africa last week, presided over by HMD Global’s CEO, Arto Nummela, and its president, Florian Seiche.

It was an emotional event for former Nokia country manager Shaun Durandt, now HMD general manager for Southern Africa, and former marketing head Patrick Henchie, now HMD product head for Sub-Sahara Africa. The latter spoke passionately about how “Nokia has always been about democratising technology”.

“You trusted that Nokia, that durability,” he said. “It didn’t matter what price you paid for the device, you were proud to walk around with that Nokia.”

HMD announced that the Nokia 5 would be available in South Africa by mid-July, and the Nokia 6 a fortnight later. The entry-level smartphone, the Nokia 3, arrived in the first week of June, while the “reimagined” 3310 feature phone has been available in limited numbers for the past month.

The smartphones all have one massive differentiator over almost any other phone widely available in South Africa: it runs the pure form of Google’s Android operating system (OS), as opposed to most other brands imposing their own “skins” on the OS. These skins usually come with a wide range of apps, widgets and adaptations that combine into what is known as bloatware: arbitrary software that unnecessarily uses up storage space on the phone and slows it down.

“What is common throughout all our devices? They’re made for everyday life,” said Nummela in an interview after the launch. “The phone market has moved on, and you can’t do today what you did then. We are keeping everything as simple as possible.

“When you have such a massive software build on top of what Google has built, it erodes the longer you use it. Then you have severe ageing issues and performance is completely different from day one to nine months later. We are trying to fix that issue with Google and (processor manufacturer) Qualcomm, so that your performance will stay constant.”

Nummela made a startling commitment: that the phone OS would be upgraded every time Android was upgraded, for at least the first two years of any of the new phones’ lives. Until recently, only Apple guaranteed that new OS releases would be compatible with old iPhones. It has now limited that backward compatibility, even as brands like Samsung introduce OS upgrades to current phones.

“We are committing to a promise that every time Google does an update between OS releases, we will provide those to consumers. Google releases security updates whenever there are anti-virus updates – we will do those monthly.

Then there are feature updates, being the OS updates, which occur annually.

“We will also do new releases with any new functionality that is available for the phone. Regardless of the price point, all consumers will get those updates.”

The one limitation is that, when OS updates require hardware changes for some features to work, those features will not be available for previous models. But Nokia guarantees nothing will be left out of current hardware releases.

“When you buy the device, the starting point is the very latest OS. It’s a service promise that your phone will always be fresh.”

He was adamant that this did not make Nokia devices mere Google phones. The Nokia heritage, he said, was a key aspect of the phone.

“We are focusing on those things that make a phone better: battery life, and reliability.”

The point was reiterated by Florian Seiche, who cut his teeth in the industry as co-founder of HTC’s smartphone business: “What consumers are looking for all ties in to the original Nokia brand promise of ease of use and reliability. In the past this meant something, so we try to listen to what Nokia represented to consumers.”

But is customer loyalty enough? There’s more, Seiche pointed out.

“The market has changed a lot and it is a very mature smartphone market, and many brands have had bold plans, investing and then disappearing, because the market is dynamic and changing. The advantage of Nokia over those is that we’ve been in this business for so long, building up relationships with channel partners, that they associate that trust with us. We also don’t have to invest so much in awareness, so we can focus on conversion and highlighting what is new.”

Will we see a sequel in which the likes of the Apple and Samsung empires strike back? As far as die-hard Nokia fans are concerned, it won’t matter. They have already fast-forwarded to the return of the phone world’s Jedi.

Nokia 3310 (2017 edition) Technical Specifications 

•       System: Dual band 900/1800 MHz

•       Available in dual SIM variants (microSIM)

•       Software platform: Nokia Series 30+

•       Dimensions: 115.6 x 51.0 x 12.8mm

•       Weight: 79.6 g (including battery)

•       Display: 2.4’’ curved window colour QVGA (240*320)

•       Connectivity: micro USB, 3.5mm AV connector, Bluetooth 3.0 with SLAM

•       Camera: 2Mpxl camera with LED flash

•       MicroSD card support up to 32GB

•       LED torchlight

•       Standby time: up to 31 days

•       Talk time: up to 22.1 hours

•       MP3 playback up to 51 hours

•       FM radio playback up to 39 hours

•      R699-R749

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Nokia 3 Technical Specifications

•       Available in single SIM variant

•       OS: Android Nougat

•       CPU: MTK 6737, Quad-core 1.3Ghz

•       RAM: 2 GB LPPDDR 3

•       Storage: 16 GB internal user memory[iii] with MicroSD card slot (support up to 128 GB support)

•       Form factor: Touch monoblock with capacitive system keys

•       Display: 5.0” IPS LCD HD (1280 x 720, 16:9), sculpted Corning® Gorilla® Glass, Polariser, 450 nits

•       Camera: Primary camera: 8MP AF, 1.12um, f/2, flash, Front facing camera: 8MP AF, 1.12um, f/2, FOV 84˚ display flash

•       Connectivity & Sensors: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, BT 4.2, GPS/AGPS, FM/RDS, NFC, Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer (G-sensor), E-compass, Gyroscope, Micro USB (USB 2.0), OTG, 3.5mm ADJ

•       Battery: Integrated 2630 mAh battery[iv]

•       Audio: Single speaker

•       Dimensions: 143.4 x 71.4 x 8.48 mm (camera bump: 8.68mm)

•       EMEA Networks: GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 WCDMA: Band 1, 2, 5, 8 LTE: Band 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40

•       Network speed: LTE Cat. 4, 150Mbps DL/50Mbps UL

•       Price: R2,199

nokia3

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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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