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‘Wi-Fi everywhere’ is now a business priority

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Ruckus Networks, an ARRIS company, and World Wide Worx, today released the results of their “2018 Wi-Fi in South Africa” study which highlights the usage, priorities, intentions and attitudes regarding Wi-Fi technology and its deployment in Smart Cities.

“The research reveals the growing importance of Wi-Fi for both business use and local Smart City project roll-outs,” said Arthur Goldstuck, managing director at World Wide Worx. “While the need for Wi-Fi is growing, there are still a few hurdles that South Africa need to overcome if we are to truly reap the benefits of pervasive connectivity.”

Wi-Fi is Critical in Corporations

The research shows that 97% of corporations and 95% of small businesses use Wi-Fi internally, with over half of these respondents stating the need for Wi-Fi access everywhere as very important. This statistic indicates that Wi-Fi has become critical to employee activity and further demonstrates the trends for small businesses are in line with larger enterprises.

However, despite the enthusiasm for pervasive Wi-Fi, large businesses in South Africa limit out-of-office use, solely depending on in-house use.

  • Half of the respondents said their entire staff are using Wi-Fi internally, with the rest reporting a sliding scale
  • External use, on the other hand, flipped this trend around, with 59% saying they did not allow external use of Wi-Fi to access the corporate network, with a sliding scale declining to 13% saying they allowed all staff to access the network from external Wi-Fi.

 Wi-Fi Quality is More Important than Cost

It is a common misconception that, when making a purchasing decision, businesses consider the low cost of a provider’s service above all else. This study shows that this is untrue for Wi-Fi services. Here are our findings for cost, quality, speed and constant connectivity for Wi-Fi:

  • 94% of respondents ranked quality of Wi-Fi connection to be the most important factor, followed by speed and constant connectivity ranked both at 92%
  • Cost ranked last out of the four options – at 81%
  • 93% of respondents said all four factors, quality of connection, speed, constant connectivity and cost were equally important

Our findings for uses of Wi-Fi indicated the following:

  • 86% of large businesses predominantly use Wi-Fi for IoT security and monitoring, 80% for connection to the intranet and 70% for cloud integration and adoption
  • Small businesses use Wi-Fi predominantly for connection to the Internet and Intranet (95%), followed by cloud adoption and IoT integration

These findings suggest that larger enterprises have more clearly defined needs and uses for Wi-Fi.

Respondents were also given the option to rank from 1-10 (with 10 being highest) the level of importance for various features when selecting a service provider. Here are our findings:

  • The most important criteria was Quality of Service at 94%
  • This was followed by Maintenance and Support at 92%
  • 83% of respondents ranked price as important, but it was only seventh on the overall list

These findings suggest the criticality of quality and service for Wi-Fi deployments. It is clear that most large businesses would rather pay more for a better service, underlining the fact that Wi-Fi has become mission-critical in the corporate environment.

Recognising the Value of Smart Cities

While South Africa is still a long way from having a true Smart City, business decision-makers have a strong awareness of its benefits and 95% believed that wider availability of Wi-Fi would contribute to a Smart City strategy. When asked what the major benefits are of Smart Cities, more than a third cited boosting the economy, while a similar proportion saw it attracting new businesses. Just under a third said it would reduce operating costs.

However, a significant proportion (75.5%) of businesses don’t feature Smart City projects in their budgets. Since Smart Cities is a relatively new concept and no South African city has a clear programme in place to achieve this, the 24.5% proportion of businesses who budget for Smart Cities can be considered relatively high. Even more, a substantial proportion (37.8%) of companies expect to have a budget for Smart City projects in the future.

Barriers to Smart Cities

Our findings for Smart Cities barriers include:

  • 76% of respondents indicated that fibre infrastructure is the biggest tech barrier to Smart Cities roll-out. This was followed by the lack of an IoT eco-system, no unified view for the city and infrastructure stability
  • Approximately 20% of respondents found the barrier to Smart Cities were non-technology related with the lack of funding cited by 71% of respondents
  • This was followed by the cost of access at 40%

These findings suggest that financial issues are the core challenge facing Smart Cities.

“This research indicates that a strong reliable Wi-Fi network is critical for South African businesses and Smart City deployments,” said Riaan Graham, sales director for Ruckus Networks, sub-Saharan Africa. “Although there are still several hurdles to overcome, it is reassuring to see a widespread belief that Smart Cities can provide value to the economy and citizens, with Wi-Fi as the ‘glue’.”

A Smart City requires strong, reliable information and communication technology infrastructure to support the latest iterations of connectivity. This does not mean fixed-line should fall by the wayside. Instead, being smart requires a cross-platform approach that combines the best of class with the best infrastructure to deliver digital services catering for business and consumer needs.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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