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Small tech difference makes a big human impact

A simple tool that gives offline access to online content is an example of small technology initiatives making a massive impact on ordinary lives in Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



Cisco highlights its social impact initiatives outside the Cisco Live venue in Barcelona. Pic: Arthur Goldstuck

Meet Ansu Kandeh. He is a student at Kabala Secondary School, the oldest high school in the agricultural town of Kabala, in the rural north of Sierra Leone. Home to fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, the town does not have regular electricity, aside from generators powering some homes and institutions.

Internet access is almost unknown in Kabala. But Ansu is deeply ambitious, and wants to go to university when he completes school. When he discovered that the school had installed a device called RACHEL, that gives offline access to content that is usually available only online, he jumped at the chance to use it.

RACHEL stands for Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning. It is a portable computer box that stores educational websites to makes their content available over any offline wireless connection. In other words, a phone with Wi-Fi – but no Internet – can access a library of digital content.

Ansu quickly discovered:

  • Khan Academy, the legendary hub of free online courses and video lessons created by leading educators and experts for any course at any level. 
  •, a free service to help anyone around the world to learn essential skills for life and work in the 21st century, ranging from maths to Microsoft Office.
  • TED (Technology, Education, Design) Talks, containing thousands of videos of talks by expert speakers on education, business, science, tech and creativity. The  talks are posted online for free distribution under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”.

The last was particularly compelling for Ansu, who has a passion for public speaking. He devoured TED  talks through the RACHEL device, using the techniques and skills he learned to become one of the best debaters, not only in his school, but in the entire district. Finally, he won a regional debating competition. 

“I have experienced a lot of positive changes in my life and my academic work since I started using the RACHEL,” he said. “Due to the increase in my academic performance in school, I was featured to be the senior prefect of my school.”

Not surprisingly, Ansu intends to pursue a degree in information, communications and technology.

His story was showcased at last week’s Cisco Live conference in Barcelona, where the prime focus was on new technology for making the Internet more effective, but corporate social responsibility initiatives were always at the forefront of activity and discussion.

Visit the next page to read about how RACHEL was born, Cisco’s conservation initiatives, and how RACHEL works.

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Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving



For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit

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Coronavirus to hit 5G



Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
Rest of Market13941165
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
Rest of Market99%85%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here:

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