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SA smartphone sales hit 13.5m in 2018, up 7%

The South African smartphone market grew solidly in 2018, with unit sales rising 7.2% and value up 13.2% to R35-billion.

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The South African smartphone market enjoyed solid growth in 2018, with unit sales rising 7.2% year-on-year to around 13.5 million and value growing 13.2% to just under R35 billion. That’s according to newly released point of sale tracking data from GfK South Africa’s Weekly Monitor, which also shows that unit sale growth for the important fourth quarter of the year declined 8.7% to 3.6 million units compared to Q4 2017.

GfK’s data for the year reveals that while the high-end smartphone segment (R6000 and above) accounted for 9,7% of smartphone unit sales during 2018, it contributed almost 50% in value. Low-end smartphones (R1499 and below) accounted for 61% of unit sales in 2018, but contributed just 17% to the value of the market. 

“South Africa’s smartphone market has fragmented into low, mid and high-end segments, with operators focusing for much of 2018 on driving volume sales in the entry-level and lower-end of the market and on average revenue per user (ARPU) and value at the high-end,” says Nicolet Pienaar, Product Manager at GfK South Africa.

“However, the dip in the fourth quarter indicates that operators chose to focus on value over unit sales over the Black Friday and Christmas period. Operators reduced or pulled subsidies on entry-level smartphones in the fourth quarter, which caused unit sales to contract,” says Kali Moahloli, Commercial Head for Market Insights at GfK South Africa. “This segment of the market remains price-sensitive rather than feature-driven.”

The panel television market enjoyed another good year of a growth against the backdrop of a weak market for technical consumer goods. Unit sales for 2018 were up 13% to 1.1 million year-on-year, while the value of the market was R6 billion, up nearly 7% on 2017.

Good sales over the Christmas and Black Friday periods helped to drive the growth of the market. For the fourth quarter, panel TV unit sales climbed 12.7% year-on-year to 378,000 and value increased 7.7% year-on-year to R2 billion. Ultrahigh definition technology, price drops and larger screen sizes influenced panel TV growth over Black Friday.

“Black Friday week is the annual seasonal peak for panel television sales in terms of both value and volume. In 2018, retailers shifted around 93,000 units worth about R500 million during the week of Black Friday,” says Moahloli. “People save far in advance for the Black Friday specials, which have become a seasonal event in this market.”

The South Africa technical consumer goods market overall showed flat growth in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared to the same quarter in 2017. Major Domestic Appliances (MDA) saw 7.4% growth in value, and Small Domestic Appliances (SDA) increased 11.9% in value.

Some other highlights for the quarter include:

  • The IT Sector declined by 9.1% in value year-on-year in the fourth quarter, driven by plummeting media tablet and storage sales.
  • Mobile computers showed a small decline in unit sales and value, but desktop computers sowed growth of 3.2% in value compared to the fourth quarter of 2017.
  • The photography segment declined by 31% year-on-year in the fourth quarter.
  • Monitor unit sales were boosted by B brands entering the market and reduced prices.

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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