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Tech experts quit Govt broadband council

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At least three top independent technology experts have resigned from a national broadband council amid allegations of insufficient guidance from government, writes GARETH VAN ZYL.

The National Broadband Advisory Council was launched by former Communications Minister Yunus Carrim on March 4 2014, with the intention of tapping independent experts to support the department with policy implementation.

However, the council was subject to President Jacob Zuma’s decision in May 2014 to split the Department of Communications into two. This meant that the broadband council subsequently fell under the watch of Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele.

But the chairperson of the council, CEO of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, as well as the deputy chairperson Professor Alison Gillwald, executive director of Research ICT Africa, handed in their resignations in December.

“It is indeed the case that Alison and I stepped down because of insufficient guidance from the minister (Cwele) and department regarding the perceived relevance of the council,” Sibisi told Fin24.

Amid these resignations, prominent local technology expert Arthur Goldstuck confirmed to Fin24 that he has also quit as a member of the council. It is unclear at this stage whether other council members will follow suit.

Council’s meetings dried up

Fin24 understands that members of the National Broadband Advisory Council were expected to meet every two months, and that a previous government gazette outlined that the council should bridge electoral cycles and administrations.

While Carrim attended the council’s first meeting with its members in 2014, Fin24 understands that Cwele did not attend any meetings of the broadband council in 2014 or 2015.

Fin24 also understands that there were no council meetings in 2015, especially after a National ICT Forum was established by Cwele in May last year.

“Under the new administration the department, now of telecommunications and post, was reluctant to engage the council and proceeded with broadband implementation without reference to it at all, and some would argue contrary to national policy,” Gillwald told Fin24.

“The minister has not been available since coming into office to meet with the council or in any other way to endorse its activities. This compounded the department’s lack of responsiveness to council requests for information, meeting coordination and records, making the work of the council untenable,” Gillwald said.

Gillwald said that efforts to incorporate the council into the newly established National ICT Forum resulted in no feedback from the department.

The National ICT Forum was established by Cwele with the intention of coordinating efforts among public and private players in the broader sector.

“With the appointment of the National ICT Forum last year by the minister of post and telecommunications, the chairperson of the broadband council, Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, and I felt that the role of the council to advise the minister of broadband developments and anticipate global and national developments at least, could be incorporated into a body that enjoyed his and his advisers’ confidence and proposed that the council be formally disbanded having not met by then for nearly a year,” Gillwald told Fin24.

Council barely “got going”

Managing director of local technology research firm World Wide Worx Arthur Goldstuck told Fin24 that Carrim’s establishment of the broadband council in 2014 was one of the most “productive” moves seen in the sector for years.

But after President Jacob Zuma’s splitting of the departments in May 2014, the relevance of the council began to wane,

“It had barely got going when the departments were split. We still met a few times after that but without the new minister in attendance,” Goldstuck told Fin24.

“And in the course of 2015, the broadband council never met,” Goldstuck said.

Amid the growing lack of relevance and non-response by government, Goldstuck also quit the council.

“It was incumbent on me to resign, especially considering that I had been contemplating it. I think that the sentiment expressed by Alison (Gillwald) and Sibusiso (Sibisi) pretty much encompass the experience of most of the members of the council,” Goldstuck told Fin24.

“It really becomes an untenable position to hold,” he said.

Goldstuck further said that the council is essentially “non-existent”.

“If there’s no platform for it to communicate with the minister or to the minister, then in effect it doesn’t exist. It exists on paper but not in practice,” Goldstuck said.

Fin24 reached out to the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services for comment but at the time of writing had not yet received a response.

Fin24

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http://www.fin24.com/Tech/News/exclusive-tech-experts-quit-govt-broadband-council-20160114

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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