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Time to tackle plastic

I get asked frequently, why do you care so much about the oceans?  What does your job in technology have to do with ocean health. Turns out a lot, says DAVID LEAR, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability, Dell.

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A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival – this magnificent body of water flows over nearly three-quarters of the planet, holds 97% of our water and produces more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere. It impacts all of us, the health of our families, our communities and our businesses. However, despite commitments from governments, vocal campaigns with celebrity endorsement and a lot of people talking about the issue, our oceans are still in danger.

Each year, more than eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean, over time breaking into trillions of microplastic particles, which only leave the ocean when they are ingested by sea life and enter the human food chain (the average seafood eater consumes 11,000 plastic particles per year). Ocean plastics impact the environment, human health and, ultimately, are threat to the future of our planet – making it an issue that everyone should care about.

Where do we start to tackle the plastic problem?

Any attempt to reduce plastic waste, be it on an individual or organisational level, is a step in the right direction. Campaigns like #StopSucking or The Last Straw are fantastic gateways to highlighting plastic pollution; raising awareness and starting to educate a wider audience. However, a key theme that came to light at a recent roundtable held by Dell and Lonely Whale, was that whilst there has been a lot of research into the ocean plastic problem, not enough is actually being done right now to tackle the problem.

On an individual level, the advice for preventing plastic pollution is straightforward – do your part and be smart in everyday actions and we can all make a difference. The roundtable discussion, which included representatives from CIEL, Common Seas, World Resources Institute and Interface showed that whilst individual impacts matter, alone they aren’t enough.

Instead, we need governments, businesses and NGO’s to be held accountable and make commitments to remove the plastic that is already in the ocean, prevent more from entering and make sustainable decisions that limits plastic production. 

Actions speak louder than words

When speaking at the recent roundtable, Kristian Teleki, Director of the Sustainable Ocean Initiative at World Resources Institute noted that there are notable new levels of interest in plastic pollution in the public, political and private spheres. As such, there is now a clear end goal to decouple waste generation from economic growth.

Until that happens, governments around the world have made commitments to address the plastic problem. It is, however, important to note that there is no one size fits all solution; what works in France might not work in Egypt, and we need to consider that there are different starting points for each country. Each government need to invest in individual infrastructures which allow for waste solutions that can scale at a speed which meets the problem at hand.

This is a daunting task and the improvements to infrastructure that needs to occur isn’t going to happen overnight. It is unsurprising, therefore, that we are increasingly seeing governments pull out of sustainability agreements, face a lack of accountability, or simply just promise to make changes but not actually take any action.

Be it due to an absence of investment in infrastructure or poor visibility into a country’s waste disposal or recycling system, governments across the globe are failing to offer sufficient waste management solutions.  As such, it is up to businesses to take the lead in plastic innovation and reducing waste in our oceans.

Pledges that keep plastics in the economy 

There may be no way to reverse the ocean plastics damage to date, however, there is an opportunity to transform the way we think about this issue. In fact, companies have begun to reimagine plastic waste as a resourceful material rather than waste, taking note of the positive economic and sustainable impact of utilising plastic waste rather than virgin materials in their production lines. Companies such as Adidas, Trek and Herman Miller amongst others, have incorporated ocean plastics into their products, whether it is  packaging, furniture or footwear. Then there’s McDonalds who is taking the step to remove single use plastics as an option. Businesses have to start taking action, and looking into how they can reuse plastic waste and the alternative materials which they can utilise instead. This is why Dell, in addition to using ocean-bound plastic in our product packaging, is going strawless at our facilities globally in honour of World Ocean Day.

The good news is commercial sustainability is driven by customer enthusiasm, innovation and cost cutting – it isn’t just great for the environment.

Consumers are increasingly looking to help tackle the plastics problem by making green purchasing decisions. Lastly, businesses leading the sustainable, ocean-bound plastic movement will be ready to comply with future plastic waste regulations – especially as governments are increasingly looking to do their part in helping our ocean through new plastic related taxes.

Collaboration is key

No one can fight the oceans plastics problem alone – a view I made very clear when speaking at the recent roundtable. Whilst having individual sustainability goals drives innovation, it is so important to collaborate with customers governments and even competitors. After all, in the long-term, alleviating the ocean plastic problem is going to make a difference for all of us and we can’t do it alone.

For this reason, companies who have pioneered new ways of using ocean plastics are already sharing knowledge and blueprints for projects that have worked well for them, so that others can build upon and learn from these ideas.

An example of this is an open-source initiative called NextWave, which convened leading technology and consumer-focused companies to develop the first-ever commercial-scale ocean-bound plastics and nylon supply chain, while also ensuring economic and social benefits for multiple stakeholders. The founding list of companies include Dell, General Motors, Trek Bicycle, Herman Miller, Interface, Van de Sant, Humanscale and Bureo, with others able to easily apply to join the cause. The companies are working with scientists and advocates working with marine litter and ocean health to advise on a sustainable model that supports the needs of coastal communities and environments.

Among other collaboration efforts is also Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance, which aims to finance solutions to address marine debris or advice resources such as foundations like Lonely Whale, a group facilitating the creation of innovative ideas to maintain the health of our ocean.

The time to take a stand is now

The road to sustainable production and business practices can seem long, but the early believers and adopters will win the hearts and minds in the future.

Eventually, no doubt, governments across the world will invest in the necessary infrastructures and enforce the changes we all need them to make

This World Oceans Day, take the opportunity to reach out to NextWave to find out more on how you can switch to more sustainable practice and help us turn the tide on the ocean plastic problem.

 

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Broadband gets a helping hand

Behind this week’s news that MTN fibre provider Supersonic has launched a fixed LTE service is an effort to rethink home connectivity, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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This week, MTN made its biggest play yet into the market for fibre connections to homes, but its biggest impact may well be within the home.

The mobile operator’s fibre-to-the-home subsidiary, Supersonic, launched a Fixed LTE offering on a month-to-month basis, meaning that homes in areas not yet wired for fibre can receive high-speed broadband. More important, they can get that access at rates that seem unprecedented for mobile data. 

There are two differences from regular packages, however. For one thing, the SIM card that comes with the package only works in specific routers that have to remain plugged into a power supply. For another, the data allocation is split half-half between regular hours and a Night Owl timeframe: the hours between midnight and dawn.

“It just needs users to adjust their internet behaviour a little,” says Calvin Collett, MD of Supersonic. “Conducting massive mobile phone updates or downloading an entire library of Netflix content shouldn’t be prioritised during the day, but should be scheduled for Night Owl data consumption.”

The biggest benefit, aside from pricing, is that one does not have to wait for fibre to arrive in a specific area. While Supersonic’s core business is fixed-line fibre-to-the-home, it is now set to leverage its parent company’s massive mobile data network.

“MTN’s LTE network coverage sits at 95%, after billions of rand was invested in network upgrades in recent years. There is absolutely no reason why those waiting for a fibre connection shouldn’t move to Fixed LTE.”

Collett argues that consumers are far more savvy and well informed of developments in the telecoms space than observers think. They carefully investigate the products and services they choose to spend on, and are looking for the best deals available.

The result is that Supersonic has quietly built up a side business in installing what is called a Mesh Wi-Fi network, consisting of a main Wi-Fi router connected to the standardfibre or LTE or router, and a series of additional access pointscalled plumes, placed in areas of low coverage through ahome.

The plumes – small pods that plug into any power point –connect to one another to expand the network across a wide area. Where traditional WI-FI extenders lose up to half the fibre bandwidth with every extension, the plumes maintain most of the speed regardless of how far the network is extended. All the pods connected to the same router form a single network with the same network name, eliminating the complications Wi-FI extenders usually introduce.

“The traditional Wi-Fi router has replaced the dial up connection, and we’re all happy about this – the infamous dial up tone is ingrained in the brains of anyone over the age of 30,” says Collett. “Wi-Fi revolutionised our way of life as the router gave us access to the internet without directly connecting to a modem. 

“We’ve moved forward, transitioning from ADSL to fibre. While fibre allows for high speed internet access, it is still connected to your Wi-Fi router. Naturally, the further you move away from the hub, the poorer your internet connection will be. Those dead spots around the house can become frustrating when your Wi-Fi signal shows 1 bar and it takes 5 minutes to load a single web page. Mesh Wi-Fi is the solution.”

Collett says he specifically researched a product that looked good, offered app-based management and required no cables. His research led him to Silicon Valley, and the result is the Supersonic Plume Mesh network system.

The drawback is that installation can be complicated for the non-technical consumer. To plug the gap, so to speak, Supersonic sends out technicians who conduct a Wi-Fi sweep of a home and advise how many Plume devices will be needed for 100% coverage. Based on this the technicians make a recommendation for an optimal “smart Wi-Fi”solution. Once installed, though, the network can be monitored and managed from a Supersonic App.

We tried it out and found it was a tale of two experiences. The initial experience was frustrating, as the pods tried to find each other. This is a necessary evil, it seems, as the Plume Mesh network optimises itself over a period of several days. That means the experience at the edge of the network can be very poor at the time of installation. After a few days, however the network was flying.

With a 100Mbps line, the experience next to the main router was around 105 Mbps, both up and down. That in itself was something of a marvel. But the biggest impact was felt at the furthest point from the router: where a Wi-Fi extender had previously delivered speeds of below 10Mbps, download speeds of 80Mbps became not only commonplace, but almost taken for granted.

One of the most useful features of the Plume Mesh is the level of monitoring offered through the Supersonic app. One can observe exactly what devices are connected to which pods – each is given a name, typically of the room, that is visible only through the app.

The biggest surprise of the plume solution is that it has not become a standard solution for Wi-Fi networks everywhere. In an era when we have become deeply dependent on a decent Wi-Fi signal, it has become a necessity rather than a luxury. As a result, home connectivity should be taken far more seriously than merely fobbing consumers off on low-performance extenders. 

MTN seems to have taken this message to heart, rethinking its own approach to home usage.

“Internet access has become the third utility behind electricity and water,” says Collett. “Our goal is to ‘own the home’ but not just by connecting a bunch of devices to a central point. It’s really about how these devices can pioneer habitual change in the home that’s convenient and saves valuable time and money.”

Click here to read about SuperSonic’s pricing.

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Location data key to transforming SA’s transport system

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Location technology can transform South Africa’s transport system – but don’t expect to see self-driving cars on our roads any time soon. What’s more relevant is the need for the public and private sectors to work together more closely to unlock the significant social and economic benefits that more efficient transport and mobility systems would bring to the country, including less congestion and fewer road accidents. 

That was the message from Michael Bültmann, Managing Director, in charge of international relations  atHERE Technologies, a global leader in mapping and location platform services, at an event hosted by the international law firm Covington & Burling in Johannesburg last week, to discuss how digitization could support better mobility, safety and integration in South Africa. 

“Society needs to solve some fundamental challenges, and relevant location data can play a key role in creating a better future for mobility in South Africa. If we know where the goods and people are, and how and why they move, we have the basis for a system that matches demand and supply far more closely, and uses our transport infrastructure more efficiently,” saidBültmann.

“But no company, government or individual can do it all themselves. It’s all about collaborating. If we get real-time data use right, it would have a profound effect on the way the entire economy works: less congestion, fewer accidents, more efficient use of vehicles and public transport, less air pollution, greater quality of life, and potential savings of billions of rands in fuel, time and safer roads.”

Speaking at the event, the CSIR’s Dr Mathetha Mokonyama said that despite the billions of rands pumped into the country’s mass public transport network in recent years, 90% of commuter seats available are still provided by either cars or taxis.

“We have the right to dignity. If you want to see indignity, look at people getting up at 2am to get unreliable transport to a job that only pays R3500 a month. In our country, access to transport is critical for people to make a living, and our focus as a country should be to implement an equitable and just transport system that caters to all sectors of society,” he said.

“It was a pleasure to support the event that brought together so many viewpoints on the question of the effective use of data and location intelligence to enhance the mobility of goods, people and services,” said Robert Kayihura, senior advisor in Covington’s Johannesburg office.  “While the harmonization of regulatory regimes around the continent will take time, a key takeaway from our discussions is the critical need to build a shared vision of the future through consistent public-private dialogue and collaboration in order to accelerate and ensure the sustainable and safe digitization of Africa.”

Paul Vorster, the chief executive of the Intelligent Transport Society of SA (ITSSA), said the effective sharing of data between metros, government and the private sector would ‘go a long way’ to improving the efficiency of existing transport infrastructure.

“The starting point is to improve what we already have. Once we know what we have – that is, data – we can start solving real problems, like knowing where the demand and supply are. But to do this, metros will need to learn from each other, and they often face political hurdles in the process,” he said.

Bültmann said increasing levels of urbanisation across the world were creating the need for cities to better predict, manage and plan future urban movement. Combining and analysing data from different, complementary sources could help South African cities to improve urban planning, relieve congestion and curb pollution for better quality of life.

The event was also attended by Presidential Investment Envoy Phumzile Langeni, the National Planning Commission’s Themba Dlamini; SANRAL’s Alan Robinson; and Dr Rüdiger Lotz, the Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy. The guests were welcomed by Witney Schneidman, the head of Covington’s Africa practice and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1997-2001) in the U.S. Government.

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