#DataMustFall campaign highlights inequity

The #DataMustFall campaign is a grassroots movement on social media to draw attention to, and hopefully impact, the high cost of data in South Africa. Since 2016, consumers have been touting their dissatisfaction over the unfair expense of high data prices and the imbalanced effect it has on lower income community members.

In large urban centers, there is a competitive market of mobile networks that users can price shop between—including mobile, fixed-line and fiber—and a slew of internet service providers to choose from. Conversely, in less-connected communities where the majority of the population lives, connectivity is limited to mobile networks only.

The high cost of data in South Africa rivals the expense in comparative countries such as Nigeria and Egypt, and in bordering countries Malawi and Zambia. And it disproportionately impacts poorer individuals. Mobile providers bundle their data packages by size and charge more per MB for the smaller bundles. In this example, while a higher-income resident can buy 1GB of data at R149, the lower income resident has to buy it in smaller chunks to accommodate their available cash flow. So, instead they buy 100MB of data at R29 ten times. This means the lower income resident pays R290 for the same 1GB of data—almost double the price.

The movement has applied enough pressure to initiate parliamentary hearings on the topic and most recently, the attention of South Africa’s President Ramaphosa who is planning to license spectrum in a process to promote competition, transformation, inclusive growth of the sector and universal access. “This is a vital part of bringing down the costs of data, which is essential both for economic development and for unleashing opportunities for young people,” he said, then calling on “the telecommunications industry further to bring down the cost of data so that it is in line with other countries in the world”.

At Delta, we believe internet access should be accessible and affordable for all, and are proud that our Delta Smart Grid Network can help facilitate that. To learn more about our offering, check out this section of our website.

The promises of Wi-Fi 6

The next generation Wi-Fi standard, IEEE 802.11ax—branded by the Wi-Fi Alliance as “Wi-Fi 6”—promises faster connections and better performance.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is the world’s largest association of technical professionals focused on the educational and technical advancement of electrical and electronic engineering, telecommunications, computer engineering and allied disciplines. Within IEEE, the Standards Association (IEEE-SA) develops global standards in a broad range of industries, including: power and energy, information technology, telecommunications, and many more. These standards are developed in an open and fair manner that taps the consensus of technical experts from all over the world. One standard in particular, 802.11, is for wireless networking—also known as “Wi-Fi.”

To date, there have been several iterations of the Wi-Fi standards used across various industries, the most recent standard being developed is Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). Wi-Fi 6 networks will provide the capacity, coverage and performance required by users, even when networks are congested with many connected devices. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, the main benefits of this next generation technology will include: higher data rates, increased capacity, improved performance in environments with many connected devices, and improved power efficiency.

It’s important to note that these standards are not yet complete. While pieces have been shared as drafts, IEEE has not published the final versions. Consequently, any device claiming to be based on 802.11ax or to support Wi-Fi 6 in the market now, is based on draft standards which may still change.

Also important, not everyone will see the change in network capability. As always, both the device sending the Wi-Fi signal and the device receiving the Wi-Fi signal need to support the standard in order to actually experience the advantages. For example, if both your wireless router and your device, let’s say a tablet, support Wi-Fi 6, you’ll be able to capitalize on the more advanced network. If, however, your router supports Wi-Fi 6 but your device doesn’t, like a laptop you own today, then you’ll be limited to the Wi-Fi experience supported by the device.  This being true, backwards capability will surely be built into networking products supporting Wi-Fi 6, ensuring that legacy devices will continue to function within the execution of this new protocol.

While the technology may not be fully available on the market today, the promises of what it will bring are certainly exciting!

Digital Inclusion as a driver of economic growth in South Africa

The far-reaching impact of the Internet since its introduction cannot be denied. It enabled the introduction of a myriad of digital devices that have since progressed society in numerous ways; some anticipated and others not. That progression has enabled many challenges to be overcome while at the same time creating new challenges, like the Digital Divide previously written about by my colleague. When used correctly digital inclusion can drive economic growth. Take South Africa, for example:

In South African President Ramaphosa’s recent State of the Nation Address, he emphasized that the prioritization of education and the development of skills must be at the center of the country’s efforts to achieve higher and more equitable growth, draw young people into employment and prepare the country for the digital age. The president noted that over the next six years the government will provide a tablet device with digital workbooks and textbooks to every school child, starting with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multigrade, multiphase, farm and rural schools.

Further, President Ramaphosa recognized that small businesses play a vital role in stimulating economic activity and employment, and in advancing broad-based empowerment. As such, the government of South Africa will be expanding its small business incubation program to provide entrepreneurs with physical space, infrastructure and shared services, access to specialized knowledge, market linkages, training in new technology and access to finance. As part of the expansion program, township digital hubs will be established in four provinces with more to follow. I previously wrote about such a hub when discussing Mzansi Digital Republic’s work in my post on connected societies.

As other South African citizens like myself ponder the President’s remarks, for me, the Delta Smart Grid Network™ comes to mind as a solution to support the efforts outlined above. It fills in the gaps left by current telecommunications providers through the building of a community-wide Wi-Fi infrastructure while at the same time addressing some of the electricity challenges facing the country today.

Connected Societies

We know that access to the internet has the capability to economically propel communities around the world, as my colleagues previously shared regarding emerging markets and rural America. But how do we take that access and convert it from individual use to a truly connected society? The community in Delft, South Africa provides us with an example.

The Delft government and the Mzansi Digital Republic (MDR) are working to implement public Wi-Fi to boost the local economy. MDR’s aim is to create digital citizens with the vision of unlocking the knowledge-based economy. To do that, they consider a multi-faceted approach to power, IoT infrastructure and internet access, connected devices, online community, e-commerce, and online support. Through their disruptive model of realigning the value chain of consumption and actualizing new opportunities for business, employment and social engagement, MDR is connecting the society in Delft in ways that haven’t been done before. As a result, local tech businesses have grown, generating local employment, facilitating digital commerce and ushering in local economic empowerment, thereby preventing a large amount of money from trickling out of the community.

In general, connected societies like the one developing in Delft will open opportunities for more collective action in regards to single-issue movements, while open government initiatives and access to public sector data will lead to more transparency and citizen-focused public services. The critical backbone to a connected society is a robust communications infrastructure that can support the required level of community connectivity. The Delta Smart Grid Network comes to mind as a solution—it fills in the gaps left by current telecommunications providers through the building of a community-wide Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Broadband Internet in Rural America

Last summer, our team wrote about the Digital Divide and how the Internet can empower and propel emerging markets. While we’ve seen some progress on connectivity solutions in the past year, there is still a way to go—and it’s not just emerging markets that would benefit from more affordable, reliable internet access. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 34 million people in the U.S. lack access to broadband internet—23 million of those people are rural Americans. And while an increasing number of schools have high-speed connections, approximately 41 percent of schools (47 percent of American students), lack the connectivity to meet the FCC’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff.

As with emerging markets, rural Americans would benefit from reliable, affordable broadband access. State and local officials see broadband access as essential for economic development, access to educational opportunities and access to “telemedicine” so that rural patients can use the Internet to consult with medical specialists in urban areas.

The main obstacle to broadband access in rural America is cost—that’s where the Delta Smart Grid Network (DSGN) comes in. As a pioneering 2.4 GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi-based wireless wide area network (WWAN) that reduces the need for telecommunications infrastructure build-out, the DSGN delivers broadband Internet to the populations served by its utility customers, while also creating opportunities for IoT engagement and monetization by its telecommunications partners and OEMs. This leveraging of the electrical grid and the providing of a sufficient return on investment to electrical utilities and associated partners entices the private sector to get involved, thus overcoming cost obstacles and enabling consumers of electricity to have broadband Internet access.

Industry Outlook for 2018

With the start of an exciting New Year, what changes and innovations can we expect to see shaping our industry? Let’s review some of our key outlooks and what we’re projecting will drive utilities in 2018:

Use of asset performance management will continue to grow
We saw the use of asset performance management growing in 2017, and that will only continue into 2018. The majority of utilities will be using some form of APM innovations and tools to manage their critical operational assets to help improve operational performance – as well as their customer’s experience. In fact, a recent IDC report, “IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Utilities 2018 Predictions” echoes this, indicating that as many as 75 percent of gas, water, and electric utilities will have implemented APM by 2019.

Solutions for grid and utility cybersecurity will be top of mind
With the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the wide variety of devices and products that are now vulnerable to cyber-attacks, cybersecurity was increasingly a topic of concern for utilities in 2017. A report from Accenture, “Outsmarting Grid Security Threats,” showed that 76 percent of North American utility executives believe their country faces at least a moderate risk of electricity supply interruption from a cyber attack on electric distribution grids in the next five years. That focus will only grow in 2018, with utilities modifying their approaches to security to include both cybersecurity and physical security solutions, as well as privacy and data protection. Deloitte’s latest “2018 outlook on power and utilities” indicates this as well, with utilities increasingly working together and with the U.S. government to detect, prevent, and prepare for these risks.

Emerging technologies like AR will continue to shape the workforce
“Big data” has been the buzz word for utilities for some time now, but the next step moving into 2018 will be making that data available to the right people at the right time using new, emerging and immersive technologies. Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and even mixed reality (MR) will start to play a more important role in the utility landscape, especially from a safety, speed and efficiency perspective. This article in POWERGRID International provides a key use case in the situation of a utility responding to an outage with a professional “on the ground” at that location. The lineman would be able to use a mobile tablet to capture images of the damaged equipment and, with AR, an overlay of data would show everything from product number to maintenance history. This capability will help utilities to expedite repairs and restore power more quickly than the typical manual response.

Expansion of Wi-Fi and the greater proliferation of cloud-based networks
Many of us are accustomed to the regular advancement of Wi-Fi technology in our consumer lives. With 2018 we’ll see a continued advance in enterprise Wi-Fi and industrial applications. The focus will be reviewing and, in some cases, implementing the latest IEEE protocol, which includes MU-MIMO, or multi-user multiple-input, multiple-output technology, and 802.11ac. Furthermore, we’ll continue to see a shift toward cloud-based networks that can reduce operating expenses and improve reliability and availability. This article in Network World further forecasts the specifications and expected trends in networking.

Readers, do you agree with some of these outlooks for 2018? Share your thoughts and questions with us here.