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Welcome to the high-tech World Cup

Video-assistance may well define the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but the technology shaping this year’s football showpiece runs much deeper, for good and bad, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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One statistic from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia offers the best advertisement yet for the use of technology in sport.

According to Pierluigi Collina, head of FIFA’s referee committee, the accuracy of refereeing decisions at the World Cup had been raised from 95% to 99.3% through the use of Video Assistant Referees (VARs). While the VARs are still human beings monitoring the games on TV screens and communicating with refs, their reliance on the screen has redefined the role of technology in football.

Under the previous FIFA regime, when disgraced former president Sepp Blatter ruled the roost, technology was regarded by football authorities in much the way dinosaurs would have viewed asteroids: a threat to their very existence. In a post-corruption FIFA, however, good governance has now extended onto the football field.

According to Collina, 335 refereeing decisions were checked in the 48 group stage matches, with 17 VAR reviews. This still didn’t help the ref award a penalty for  Serbia against Switzerland for a blatant foul, but that remains a rare exception.

Meanwhile, off the field, technology has contributed in numerous ways to enhancing the World Cup experience this year.

In seven of 11 tournament cities in stadiums, in fan zones, transportation hubs, and tourist landmarks like Red Square and Gorky Park, fans are enjoying some of the highest data speeds yet experienced in Russia. Thanks to a partnership between global network infrastructure provider Ericsson and Russian service provider MTS, Russia is seeing Europe’s largest deployment of Massive MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output), a mobile broadband technology that uses multiple transmitters to transfer more data.

Just as VAR showcases video technology for refereeing decisions, Massive MIMO showcases the experience we can expect from 5G when this next generation mobile data technology is rolled out in the coming years.

“Through the intelligent reuse of system resources, Massive MIMO improves capacity by transmitting data to multiple user devices using the same time and frequency resources with coordinated beam forming and beam steering,” said Ericsson in a statement last month. “Massive MIMO is making it easier for operators to evolve their networks for a 5G future.”

The downside of technology at the World Cup is the greatest vulnerability yet from hackers and cyber criminals, intent on exploiting the 1,5-million tourists – not to mention the teams – in Russia for the event.

The English Football Association (FA) is believed to have briefd its players,  before their departure for Russia, on the importance of securing their devices. The FA even sought advice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on how players can avoid being hacked.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) used its own mobile internet connection while its players were in Russia, with staff and players warned to clear devices of any data and information they didn’t want exposed in public. They were also warned never to use public or hotel Wi-Fi .The Croatian and French World Cup teams received similar warnings.

“The apprehension from those football teams competing at Russia 2018 is nothing new, with several previous global sporting events having suffered from cyberattacks and other cyber-related issues,” says Carey van  Vlaanderen, CEO at cyber security provider ESET Southern Africa. 

“In the build-up to the FIFA 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both held in Brazil, threats detected included phishing attempts, hacktivism and mobile malware. UEFA’s Euro 2016 was also a target for fraudsters looking to dupe fans into buying tickets on newly-created fake websites.”

Kaspersky Lab, a Russian headquartered global cyber security provider, says 7 176 of approximately 32 000 public Wi-Fi networks in FIFA World Cup 2018 host cities do not use traffic encryption. 

Kaspersky Lab’s findings are based on an analysis of public Wi-Fi spots in 11 FIFA World Cup 2018 host cities, including Saransk, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Volgograd, Moscow, Ekaterinburg, Sochi, Rostov, Kaliningrad, and Saint Petersburg. 

“The results show that so far not all wireless access points have encryption and authentication algorithms – aspects that are essential for Wi-Fi networks to remain secure,” Kaspersky announced in June. “This means that hackers only need to be located near an access point to intercept network traffic and get confidential information from unwitting or unprepared users.”

This hasn’t stopped fans from flocking to technology options for following the World Cup. The Opera News app, geared to regions where data is expensive and often not very fast, reached 10 million downloads in Africa in the six months after its launch in January 2018. The downloads spiked after an update that included a World Cup channel and other football-related features. 

According to app analytics service AppAnnie, Opera News was the most downloaded news app in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania in June this year. 

“Africa is crazy about football and so are we,” said Jørgen Arnesen, Global Head of Marketing and Distribution at Opera. “That’s why it’s a pleasure to update Opera News with features designed for football World Cup fans.

“Opera News users will always get fresh and new content related to the World Cup thanks to our AI technology which gathers top articles for them,” said Arnesen. “The app becomes more and more personal and makes it easier for users to find all the information they need.”

According to digital audience measurement organisation GlobalWebIndex, online TV viewing now accounts for 38% of global World Cup Fans’ total daily TV viewing time. While the majority of fans will still be tuning in via their TV sets, more are turning to online streams than ever before in sports history.

To read how to stay safe while watching the World Cup check out Arthur’s safety tips on the next page.

World Cup safety tips:

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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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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