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The house (and headphones) that Bob built

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High-end headphones make up one of the big growth areas in personal technology, but few are as distinctive as the gear that honours Bob Marley’s memory, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

If you’ve walked into a music store lately, you’ll know that the big shift is well under way: music retreating into the back of the store: electronics and accessories taking over the front.

It means that, while record companies are collapsing about our ears, business has never been better for companies that help make our music sound better. The world has never seen as many high-end headphones, nor as many celebrity-endorsed headphones, as in 2013.

The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January hosted almost as many headphone makers as iPhone accessory manufacturers. And there are a few of those. It also meant that CES was awash with sports and music celebrities posing with ‚”custom-made‚” headphones.

Football star Tim Tebow stepped forward to unveil his ‚”limited edition‚” SL300 for Soul Electronics, which also launched the Run-Free headphones inspired by Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt. ‚”Limited edition‚”, of course. And then they also had designs personalised by soccer star Cesc Fabregas and hip-hop artist Ludacris. Fellow rapper 50 Cents made his customary appearance at CES to launch the SMS by 50 headphones with SMS Audio. iHip teamed up with MTV’s Snooki for headphones that are also fashion accessories.

The most authentic personalisation, however, came from a name from the past: Bob Marley. The reggae legend’s legacy has been carefully managed by his family, with his widow Rita Marley launching the One Love Foundation, an umbrella body for the family’s commercial and charitable projects. Three corporations have emerged from these activities: the Marley Beverage Company, Marley Coffee, and the House of Marley an audio equipment and accessories business with the slogan, ‚”Made better to make a difference‚”.

While Rita oversees the organisation and Marley’s son Ziggy is the best-known of his musician children, the business face of the House of Marley is Ziggy’s brother Rohan: a larger-than-life character who exudes the family mission to ‚”Keep Bob’s vision of hope and unity alive‚”.

At CES, he mixed freely with customers at the House of Marley booth and posed with fans for impromptu cellphone photo shoots. He was more eager to speak of his love for South Africa than of the company’s headphones.

He had visited South Africa with brothers Ziggy and Stephen for the 2010 World Cup, and again last year to launch the House of Marley headphone range both low-key visits.

‚”Last year was really awesome from a social point of view, because connecting with the people of Africa is close to my heart. I previously spent time in Jo’burg, Durban and Pretoria for the World Cup. When I returned it felt so comfortable and so familiar.

‚”It was so great to contribute something to South Africa and to the causes we worked with. It was part of our father’s dream, and part of our dream, too, to give something to Africa. Our plan is to spend more time in South Africa, helping to grow our business and contribute to social responsibility.‚”

The House of Marley headphones and accessories stand out dramatically against the background of numerous shiny silver and white devices that proliferate at an event like CES. Most Marley products are encased in a recycled fabric in brown and green earthy colours, complementing the reggae colours associated with Bob Marley.

Rohan is adamant that the House of Marley is only partly about shifting product.

‚”What we’re doing is just a vehicle, that helps develop sustainability, helps make this world a better place. It’s wonderful to create stuff, but what’s behind it? I can’t find a better place than Africa to create opportunities to show this thinking. The House of Marley colours feel African, because that’s our roots.‚”

The most fascinating aspect of these products, and one that is unlikely to be matched by a Fabregas or Ludacris, is their recycled components.

‚”We’re using recycled aluminum, FSC-certified (the organisation that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests) wood, bamboo, organic content, natural fibres, recycled plastic, recycled pulp for packaging, and even soya bean ink. And we created a patented fabric called Rewind, made from recycled water bottles, hemp and condoms.‚”

The fabric alone carries an air of rebellion that one suspects Bob Marley would have enjoyed. Rohan agrees.

‚”We have to be revolutionary. As a musical revolutionary, one must be progressive and be part of change.‚”

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Prepare for Wi-Fi 6

From traffic to healthcare, the applications of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard are set to transform how we connect.

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20 years ago, with the release of 802.11b, Wi-Fi began its conquest of the world networking scene in earnest. Wi-Fi can easily be called out as one of the most popular technologies of the last two decades. Just as mobile telephony and mobile internet, it has become a part of everyday life. And with the advent of IoT and the introduction of 5G, the time has come for the new standard – Wi-Fi 6.

Beyond being significantly faster than the previous generation, Wi-Fi 6 delivers up to four times greater capacity. Latency is vastly improved, allowing for near real-time use cases. Wi-Fi 6 is also easier on connected devices’ batteries.

So what impact will Wi-Fi 6 have on business in the coming years?

Digitisation, mobility and IoT are driving the need for connectivity. By 2022, more IP traffic will cross global networks than in all prior ‘internet years’ combined up to the end of 2016. In other words, more traffic will be created in 2022 than in the 32 years since the internet started. In 3 years, 28 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, many of which (robots, production lines, medical devices) will communicate over a wireless network. Against this background, it is easy to understand why we need a redesigned wireless standard that is more responsive to present and future challenges.

Wi-Fi 6: The business impact

“In the first phase, we expect the new wireless standard to gain a significant foothold in the B2B field, where it brings important innovations,” said Garsen Naidu, Country Manager, Cisco South Africa. “We will see it, together with other technologies, penetrate significantly into manufacturing, into the logistics industry. The technology is also more effective in high-density settings like large lecture halls, stadiums and conference rooms, so we are likely to see significant penetration in these settings too. And, with its extremely low latency, Wi-Fi 6 also promises to open up new opportunities in AR/VR, healthcare, and self-driving vehicles. ”

Ever since the launch of the Internet, every leap in network speed has had a major impact on technological innovation: 4G has brought along the age of smartphones, whilst 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will transform the business world. According to Cisco experts, these two technologies – 5G and Wi-Fi – will be widely adopted at the same time, complementing each other.

A short history of Wi-Fi

In 1999, half a dozen technology companies, including Aironet, which was later acquired by Cisco, formed the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance. The standard announced that year, 802.11b, which gained significant commercial traction, was the first to emerge under the ‘Wi-Fi’ brand. As such, 1999 marks the year in which Wi-Fi really began.

Solutions that carry the official Wi-Fi logo work consistently with the IEEE 802.11 data transfer standard. These solutions are certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which guarantees compatibility between various wireless devices. In addition, networking manufacturers have done a lot to improve compatibility. Launched as early as 2002, Cisco Compatible eXtensions is a free licensing program that has enabled other vendors’ Wi-Fi products to be securely deployed on Cisco wireless networks.

Subsequent developments in Wi-Fi technology included managing interference and increasing data stability. Cisco is supporting these with the Cisco Flexible Radio Assignment and Cisco CleanAir technologies. The latter is capable of identifying and graphically displaying radio interference, identifying the source of the problem, and directing users to other, less crowded, channels.

Challenges of the present and opportunities for the future

One of the most widespread business applications of wireless technology is office Wi-Fi. Using Wi-Fi, employees can move freely and access the network from anywhere where there is a hotspot. Wi-Fi-based analysis and location services are also becoming increasingly popular. And with the spread of IoT, Wi-Fi is becoming ubiquitous, and is today found everywhere from agricultural fields to production lines.

“We see promising business opportunities and a wide range of new applications. At the same time, with hundreds and thousands of new devices connecting to wireless networks, IT teams are facing increasing complexity. So we need to rethink IT architectures from the ground-up,” added Naidu.

Much of this need to rethink network architectures is driven by the enormous growth in wireless connectivity.

Wi-Fi has driven growth in general IT use, which in turn has led to the need to provide and run bigger and more complex networks with a greater variety of endpoint device types on them. This complexity ‘feedback loop’, driven in no small part by Wi-Fi, requires that new solutions are developed to deal with this complexity.

Cisco has pioneered in this area, using AI, machine learning, and machine reasoning, via products such as Cisco DNA Assurance to eliminate manual troubleshooting and reduce the time spent resolving service issues.

The latest Wi-Fi 6 developments introduced earlier this year make a consistent, efficient and seamless wireless connectivity experience a reality.

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Now for hardware-as-a-service

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Integrated ICT and Infrastructure provider Vox has entered into an exclusive partnership with Go Rentals to introduce a Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) offering, which is aimed at providing local small and medium businesses (SMEs) with quick, affordable, and scalable access to a wide variety of IT infrastructure – as well as the management thereof.

“Despite an increasingly competitive business environment where every rand counts, many business owners are still buying technology-based equipment outright rather than renting it,” says Barry Kemp, Head of Managed IT at Vox. “The problem with this is that the modern device arena has grown in variety and complexity, making it more difficult to manage, and to reduce the overheads of controlling these devices.”

According to Kemp, there is a global trend being observed in businesses moving away from owning and managing IT infrastructure. This started with the move away from servers and toward cloud-based subscription services, and now organisations are looking to do the same with the remaining on-premise hardware – employees’ desktop systems.

The availability of HaaS changes the way in which local businesses consume IT, by allowing them to direct valuable capital expenditure toward the more efficient and competitive operation of their organisation, rather than spending on hardware products. 

“The rental costs are up to 50% lower than if they buy these products through traditional asset financing methods. Furthermore, using HaaS gives businesses the ability to scale up and down depending on their infrastructure requirements. Customers on a 12 month contract can return up to 10% of the devices rented, while those customers on 24 and 36 month contracts can return up to 20% of the devices – at any time during the contract,” adds Kemp.

More than just a rental

HaaS gives business access to repurposed Tier 1 hardware from vendors such as Dell, HP and Lenovo, equipped with the required specifications (processor, memory, and storage), and come installed with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system, unless an older version is specifically requested by the customer.

Kemp says: “Where HaaS is different from simply renting IT hardware is that businesses get full asset lifecycle management, such as having all company software pre-installed, flexible refresh cycles and upgrades, support and warranty management and transparent and predictable per user monthly fees.”

The ability to upgrade during the contract period means that businesses can keep pace with the latest in technology without needing to invest on depreciating equipment, while ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency for employees. Returned devices are put through a decommissioning process that ensures anonymity, certified data protection, and environmental compliance. 

Businesses further stand to benefit from Vox Care, which incorporates asset management and logistical services for customers. This includes initial delivery and setup in major centres, asset tagging of all rented items, creation, and the repair and/or replacement of faulty machines within three business days – again in the main metropolitan areas. 

Vox Care also assists in the design, testing and deployment of custom images, whereby HaaS clients can have the additional programmes they need (security, productivity tools, business software, etc) easily pre-installed along with the Windows operating system, on all their machines.

Kemp says HaaS customers can get further peace of mind by outsourcing the day to day management of their desktop environment to Vox Managed Services, as well as leverage the company’s knowledge and expertise to manage and host workstation backups to ensure business continuity.

Says Kemp: “Hardware-as-a-Service allows businesses to reduce the total cost of ownership of their hardware and ensure they only pay for what they use. Making the switch to a service model helps them take advantage of the global move in this direction, and to turn their business into a highly functional, flexible, low cost, change your mind whenever you want workplace.”

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