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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.

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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Veeam passes $1bn, prepares for cloud’s ‘Act II’

Leader in cloud-data management reveals how it will harness the next growth phase of the data revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Veeam Software, the quiet leader in backup solutions for cloud data management,has announced that it has passed $1-billion in revenues, and is preparing for the next phase of sustained growth in the sector.

Now, it is unveiling what it calls Act II, following five years of rapid growth through modernisation of the data centre. At the VeeamON 2019conferencein Miami this week, company co-founder Ratmir Timashev declared that the opportunities in this new era, focused on managing data for the hybrid cloud, would drive the next phase of growth.

“Veeam created the VMware backup market and has dominated it as the leader for the last decade,” said Timashev, who is also executive vice president for sales and marketing at the organisation. “This was Veeam’s Act I and I am delighted that we have surpassed the $1 billion mark; in 2013 I predicted we’d achieve this in less than six years. 

“However, the market is now changing. Backup is still critical, but customers are now building hybrid clouds with AWS, Azure, IBM and Google, and they need more than just backup. To succeed in this changing environment, Veeam has had to adapt. Veeam, with its 60,000-plus channel and service provider partners and the broadest ecosystem of technology partners, including Cisco, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and Pure Storage, is best positioned to dominate the new cloud data management in our Act II.”

In South Africa, Veeam expects similar growth. Speaking at the Cisco Connect conference in Sun City this week, country manager Kate Mollett told Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER that the company was doing exceptionally well in this market.

“In financial year 2018, we saw double-digit growth, which was really very encouraging if you consider the state of the economy, and not so much customer sentiment, but customers have been more cautious with how they spend their money. We’ve seen a fluctuation in the currency, so we see customers pausing with big decisions and hoping for a recovery in the Rand-Dollar. But despite all of the negatives, we have double digit growth which is really good. We continue to grow our team and hire.

“From a Veeam perspective, last year we were responsible for Veeam Africa South, which consisted of South Africa, SADC countries, and the Indian Ocean Islands. We’ve now been given the responsibility for the whole of Africa. This is really fantastic because we are now able to drive a single strategy for Africa from South Africa.”

Veeam has been the leading provider of backup, recovery and replication solutions for more than a decade, and is growing rapidly at a time when other players in the backup market are struggling to innovate on demand.

“Backup is not sexy and they made a pretty successful company out of something that others seem to be screwing up,” said Roy Illsley, Distinguished Analyst at Ovum, speaking in Miami after the VeeamOn conference. “Others have not invested much in new products and they don’t solve key challenges that most organisations want solved. Theyre resting on their laurels and are stuck in the physical world of backup instead of embracing the cloud.”

Illsley readily buys into the Veeam tagline. “It just works”. 

“They are very good at marketing but are also a good engineering comany that does produce the goods. Their big strength, that it just works, is a reliable feature they have built into their product portfolio.”

Veeam said in statement from the event that, while it had initially focused on server virtualisation for VMware environments, in recent years it had expanded this core offering. It was now delivering integration with multiple hypervisors, physical servers and endpoints, along with public and software-as-a-service workloads, while partnering with leading cloud, storage, server, hyperconverged (HCI) and application vendors.

This week, it  announced a new “with Veeam”program, which brings in enterprise storage and hyperconverged (HCI) vendors to provide customers with comprehensive secondary storage solutions that combine Veeam software with industry-leading infrastructure systems. Companies like ExaGrid and Nutanix have already announced partnerships.

Timashev said: “From day one, we have focused on partnerships to deliver customer value. Working with our storage and cloud partners, we are delivering choice, flexibility and value to customers of all sizes.”

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‘Energy scavenging’ funded

As the drive towards a 5G future gathers momentum, the University of Surrey’s research into technology that could power countless internet enabled devices – including those needed for autonomous cars – has won over £1M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners.

Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has been working on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy harvesting technology capable of ‘scavenging’ energy from movements such as human motion, machine vibration, wind and vehicle movements to power small electronic components. 

TENG energy harvesting is based on a combination of electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction, providing high output, peak efficiency and low-cost solutions for small scale electronic devices. It’s thought such devices will be vital for the smart sensors needed to enable driverless cars to work safely, wearable electronics, health sensors in ‘smart hospitals’ and robotics in ‘smart factories.’ 

The ATI will be partnered on this development project with the Georgia Institute of Technology, QinetiQ, MAS Holdings, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project, said: “TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide “free energy”.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimized energy harvesters.”

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