Fitbit Versa now available in South Africa

Fitbit Versa now available in South Africa

Fitbit Versa now available in South Africa

Fitbit has announced that the Fitbit Versa will be available globally from the 18th of April 2018.

Versa is Fitbit’s lightest metal smartwatch, featuring a modern design, advanced health and fitness features, 4+ days battery life, smart features people want most and cross-platform compatibility.

Powered by Fitbit OS 2.0, Versa makes your daily and weekly health and fitness data even more accessible on the go with a redesigned dashboard, which delivers action-oriented motivational messages, tips and tricks, and support to help you stay on track to reach your goals. Advanced health and fitness features include personalised on-device workouts with Fitbit Coach, enhanced 24/7 PurePulse heart rate tracking, 15+ exercise modes plus automatic SmartTrack swim tracking with water resistance up to 50 meters, and automatic sleep stages tracking.

In addition to new quick replies for Android users, Versa has the smart features you need including: app, calendar, call and text smartphone notifications; access to Fitbit’s growing App Gallery, now with more than 700 popular brand, developer and Fitbit Labs apps, and customisable clock faces; and on-device music for more motivation with access to Deezer, and personal music playlists. All of these features come with 4+ days battery life, and, like all Fitbit devices, Versa is compatible across Android, iOS and Windows devices.

The Versa will be available at the following local major retailers in South Africa: Makro, Incredible Connection, Dion Wired, Dis-chem, Totalsports, Due South, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Cape Union Mart and Takealot.

Edited by: Daniëlle Kruger
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The importance of technical innovation in the workplace

The importance of technical innovation in the workplace

Outdated technology wastes 42 days a year in employee productivity

Technology and innovation in the workplace are equally important to employees and employers — for employees because it makes their jobs easier and for employers because it increases productivity, which in turn adds to the bottom-line.

The recent Ricoh Digital Empowerment Survey gives highlights the importance of investment in relevant technology in numbers and employers may be surprised by the high premium employees place on having the latest and greatest gadgets. For some, it is even more important than free food or a salary increase.

The survey, including a representative number of South Africans and South African companies, asked more than 3,500 employees about their views on the latest innovations and how these would impact on their roles. Of those surveyed, the majority believed that they wasted more than 42 days a year thanks to a lack of relevant and capable technologies in the workplace and a third said that lack of investment into new technology was slowing momentum and the business would fail in five years.

When asked about emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, more than two thirds (65%) of employees felt that these technologies would positively impact the way they worked. Within the next two years, 41% predicted that they would perform fewer repetitive tasks and 40% believed that they would be able to focus on more important projects.

Interestingly, 38% commented that in the future they might be in a role that doesn’t exist yet. What was surprising was how nearly all (98%) of those surveyed were enthusiastic about the introduction of new workplace technology, placing both AI and automation at the top of the list.

However, they felt management would only invest if it cut costs (72%) and one-third of employees felt that they were not equipped to get the most out of the office solutions they had, much less new technologies such as AI. They recognised that these would have a potentially positive impact, but they were concerned about their lack of skills (40%) and wanted employers to place a greater emphasis on training (67%).

Overall, employees want more immediate access to data (44%), a reduction in repetitive tasks (41%), and rated better technology higher (59%) than perks like free food (18%). In fact, the need for better technology outweighed a pay rise.

Digital empowerment is a high priority for employees and organisations with a focus on providing the right tools and technologies are highly sought after, with 62% agreeing that the best businesses spent a lot on new technology. Almost half (47%) felt that existing technology didn’t enable productivity and 46% were concerned that competitors already had an edge over their own organisation.

Jacques van Wyk, Chief Operating Officer for Ricoh South Africa, said, “Organisations are looking to find ways of staying competitive and maintaining growth and the influx of new technologies, especially as AI and automation, have made the market competitive and complex.”

“Most business leaders are aware that digital technologies are key to unlocking greater employee productivity and engagement but are looking to solutions and partners who can help them do so intelligently and sustainably,” he concluded.

Edited By: Neo Sesinye
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Blockchain-based microfinancing for food kiosk owners in Kenya

Blockchain-based microfinancing for food kiosk owners in Kenya

Blockchain-Based MicroFinancing
for Food Kiosk Owners in Kenya

IBM Research and Twiga Foods, a business-to-business logistics platform for kiosks and food stalls in Africa, announced that they have extended access to microloans to 220 food stall retailers across Kenya using a blockchain-based financing system.

Twiga Foods was looking to expand its logistics services into a total market ecosystem by adding financial services. Late last year, the $13 million start-up began working with IBM Research to deploy a blockchain-enabled supply lending platform to help scale its reach.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SME) in African countries often have difficulty accessing sufficient credit due to the complexities of financing processes, high loan costs, collateral requirements and lack of a credit score. This can make it difficult for these organisations to scale their businesses or implement new processes or technologies.

To address this, scientists at the IBM Lab in Nairobi determined that they could use something most people in Africa do have access to, mobile phones, to calculate creditworthiness.

“After analyzing purchase records from a mobile device, we used machine learning algorithms to predict creditworthiness, in turn giving lenders the confidence they need to provide microloans to small businesses. Once the credit score is determined, we used a blockchain, based on the Hyperledger Fabric, to manage the entire lending process from application to receiving offers to accepting the terms to repayment,” said Isaac Markus, a researcher on the inclusive financial services group at IBM Research in Kenya.

With blockchain, the lending process becomes transparent to all authorised parties involved, from the lending bank to the borrower’s bank and the loan applicants themselves. Blockchains are immutable, helping to reduce fraud since no one single party can append the blockchain without consensus from the entire network. Finally, blockchains employ a series of “smart contracts” which can be executed in real time, having the potential to significantly reduce the time it takes to manually process and issue a loan.

“Previously, we were focused on helping farmers distribute bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes to 2,600 kiosks across Kenya, but we soon realized that we could help them sell even more produce with access to working capital,” said Grant Brooke, co-founder of Twiga Foods. “If the food vendors can sell more, we can distribute more, growing both of our businesses.”

The eight-week pilot processed more than 220 loans with the average loan around $30 (KES 3000) which increased the order size by 30 percent and profits for each retailer, on average, by 6 percent. The loans were for four and eight days with an interest rate of one and two percent, respectively. All of the loans were executed via mobile phone and went directly toward working capital for the businesses. When a retailer had an order delivered, they would get an SMS with loan options for financing that order. They would then respond to the SMS confirming the loan option they preferred.

“We had several iterations of the platform based on feedback from the retailers. The SMS-based solution provided an effective channel for a diverse set of users, some with limited IT literacy, to access financing for their orders,” said Andrew Kinai, the lead research engineer on the project at IBM Research.

Based on the success of the pilot, the plan is for the platform to be rolled out to more SMEs across Africa by the end of the year and expanded into new sectors.

Edited by: Daniëlle Kruger
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Facebook reveals new privacy settings

Facebook reveals new privacy settings

Facebook rolls out privacy choices under EU rules

On Wednesday, 18 April Facebook announced that it would begin rolling out changes to how it handles private data this week to comply with forthcoming EU rules, with European residents seeing the measures first.

The social networking company which has been rocked by disclosures about hijacking of personal data on tens of millions of its users said it will start implementing “new privacy experiences” to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which become effective May 25.

Chief privacy officer Erin Egan and deputy general counsel Ashlie Beringer revealed in a statement the implementation of the new settings. “Everyone no matter where they live will be asked to review important information about how Facebook uses data and make choices about their privacy on Facebook. We’ll begin by rolling these choices out in Europe this week,” the statement read.

Under the new policy, Facebook users will be asked to review and make choices about ads they receive, including whether they want Facebook to use data from third parties.

Facebook users will also be asked to review and choose what to share about the political, religious, and relationship information on their profiles.

Additionally, users will be allowed to opt in or out of use of facial recognition technology.
The statement said users will be told that facial recognition is optional, but that it could offer some benefit, such as being notified when someone is using an unauthorised picture.

“We not only want to comply with the law, but also go beyond our obligations to build new and improved privacy experiences for everyone on Facebook,” Egan and Beringer wrote.

The news comes a week after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg faced 10 hours of questioning in two congressional panels following revelations that personal data was harvested on 87 million users by Cambridge Analytica, a consultancy working for Donal Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Zuckerberg testified that Facebook intends to offer the same privacy protections embodied in GDPR for its worldwide users, but that there could be some differences in format.

Egan and Beringer said Facebook users in the EU will start seeing the requests this week so they can make choices before May 25.

“As part of our phased approach, people in the rest of the world will be asked to make their choices on a slightly later schedule,” they said.

They added that Facebook would take steps to comply with the EU rules that limit advertising and public viewing of data for teens.

This will mean no use of facial recognition for anyone under age 18 and limitations on who can see certain information teens have shared.

To comply with GDPR, Facebook will also limit what it shows to users between the ages of 13 and 15 unless they get permission from a parent.

Edited by Neo Sesinye
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Our work and lives ‘smartified’ by the Internet of Things

Our work and lives ‘smartified’ by the Internet of Things

Kehad Snydewel, Director at Green Enterprise Solutions

The digital revolution has well and truly been embraced by Namibia and Namibians. Apart from spending most of our time online on social media, we are now seeing a shift to real-world benefits enabled through connectivity. Whether it is simply paying for our food, fuel, shopping or services with an app on your phone with PAY TODAY or PULSE, ordering your groceries online and having them delivered to your doorstep with Oshapama, or hailing a taxi through a new app like LEFA. The future is definitely here and nothing will ever be the same.

Namibians always come back from abroad telling of exotic applications that allow you to pay for parking, order food or bring pretty much anything right to your house with the click of a few buttons. There are vending machines, refrigerators and voice-activated devices that let you simply by voice-command order things online, play music or request a streaming TV-series or movie. These smart, or internet enabled devices all make up a concept called the Internet of Things (IoT); The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. This is one of many definitions of this term, but it covers what IoT is in a nutshell.

Imagine a world where both at home and at work there are now objects that have become ‘smart’…or ‘smartified’…as I like to call it. A luggage tag that can track and trace where it is because it can send and receive data. Smart locks that means people no longer have to carry keys, or a smart thermostat which knows and monitors how many people are in a room and can adjust the temperature accordingly. Warehouses with smart labels for products. These labels could monitor ‘best before dates’, climate control, stock control and take human error out of the equation. As well as make the logistical chain a lot more effective as the different links in the chain can communicate with each other and ensure everything is working at its optimal rate according to data sent and received.

Simply smartifying an object just because you can, makes no sense. The printers and copying machines are often already smart, knowing when the ink is going to run out and either ordering more itself or sending the necessary information to the office manager. Every day more products, gadgets and equipment come on the market that now have internet connectivity. A quick Google search shows just how embedded this technology already is. However, as always, these products only help in making our lives easier if they work.

This means that we need to have a stable Internet-connection. Not just at home, in the office or factory, but pretty everywhere we go. ‘Smartified’ products that cannot communicate because of connectivity issues become…well, just products. A car that has run out of petrol, just becomes a great big inanimate lump of parts. With all these IoT products, the backbone rests in servers, software, cloud storage solutions for the data traffic and this all needs to be monitored, updated and most importantly secured.

This is where organisations come in. One of the major things that people in the home and at work demand is a seamless and pain-free experience when it comes to using the Internet. That means it needs to be stable, fast and on-demand…as in available right now this second. We have become impatient as Internet speeds have increased. This means that the devices are constantly being tweaked, improved and become more stable. Giving this seamless experience and having consumers be able to benefit from smart devices and the profusion of IoT means starting with a solid foundation. The right software, right hardware, right system integrators and essentially the right and high quality products need to be in place as does the fast stable Internet as mentioned earlier.

If all of this is in place, the benefits of connected devices can help make Namibia a technologically advanced society and aid in building our economy our education system and most importantly our people. Not just in the towns and cities, but all across the 14 regions of the Land of the Brave. It is definitely time to embrace the Internet of Things and experience and enjoy the benefits that connected devices can bring us.

By Kehad Snydewel, Director at Green Enterprise Solutions

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Secure, convenient payment is key to South Africa’s e-commerce growth

Secure, convenient payment is key to South Africa’s e-commerce growth

Moath Ismail, VP Digital Banking for CISMEA, Gemalto

While all the research indicates that online commerce is set to grow in South Africa, the speed and extent of that growth will be dependent on several factors, with payment as one of the most crucial.

Getting online payments right will play a role both in encouraging existing online shoppers to buy more, and to tempt offline shoppers online.

A key characteristic of online commerce in South Africa—and in Africa more generally—is the centrality of mobile commerce.

Research by the online fashion retailer, Spree, in 2017 indicated that the number of respondents preferring to use a mobile phone to shop had increased by 167 percent over the 2015 figure. Apps will thus power online shopping going forward, making the penetration of smartphones a critical consideration for online retailers.
Winning online payment solutions will therefore have to include mobile.

As regards payment, research from Effective Measure shows that there is overwhelming preference for either credit cards (45 percent) or debit cards (21 percent), with bank transfer the next-biggest category (20 percent).

The Effective Measure survey confirms the important of payment to online commerce. It finds that the biggest barriers to shopping online include a trusted payment solution and a better experience on the website. For online shoppers a trusted payment method was identified as a desirable improvement by 14 percent of respondents. For offline shoppers, a lack of trust in online payments was the top deterrent to shopping online (20 percent).

A huge contributory factor to this continuing distrust of online payments is, of course, the well-publicised surge in cybercrime. Better ways of authenticating shoppers are thus indicated but with one important caveat: greater security must not make the process any less user-friendly. In fact, greater user-friendliness should be the goal: all the indications are that user experience is critical in encouraging shoppers to complete online transactions, and certainly in increasing the propensity for repeat shopping.

Biometric authentication is definitely emerging as the most effective and convenient method of authenticating users. So far in the region we have seen businesses adopt a single authentication method to secure payment. However, times are changing and online retailers must adapt to every individual’s unique set of needs in order to maintain a positive customer experience.

Flexibility as regards authentication also supports strong data protection of customer information. Global experience suggests that online retailers should adopt a multi-layered security approach as a part of the authentication strategy, which protects data at every level in case criminals manage to get past the initial perimeter wall. Consumers entrust personal information to online retailers and they must be reassured that their data is safe—once trust is broken it is very difficult to win it back.

Such a multi-layered security approach would include not only a mobile one-time-password but also biometric authentication through facial, fingerprint or voice recognition, so customers can select the authentication method most suited to their needs and way of life. Maintaining a seamless experience within the mobile ecosystem must be a priority for online retailers to diminish fraud while preserving the consumer’s online shopping experience.

Bearing in mind the increasing use of mobile devices for online shopping, it appears payment solutions using mobile devices should be prioritised. For example, the Gemalto Mobile Secure Messenger effectively transforms any smartphone into a universal key to secure access to all banking channels and digital services.

All indications are that South Africa’s e-commerce market is set for strong growth. But the big winners will be those online retailers who create payment solutions that inspire confidence but that also enhance the customer experience.

By Moath Ismail, VP Digital Banking for CISMEA, Gemalto

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Enlisting blockchain tech in the war against DDoS onslaughts

Enlisting blockchain tech in the war against DDoS onslaughts

Bryan Hamman, Arbor Network’s territory manager for sub-Saharan Africa.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are certainly on the rise. Arbor’s 13th Annual Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report showed that 33 percent of surveyed organisations suffered a DDoS attack in 2017 (this is sharply up from the previous year’s 17 percent).

The modus operandi is elegantly simple: DDoS attackers infect large numbers of devices with malware (it could be smartphones, computers, or any other form of connected device), mutating them into bots that are then used to flood the servers of the victim organisation.

The aim of a DDoS attack is to overwhelm the target website’s server with massive volumes of traffic and cause it to crash. Companies that rely heavily on their digital presence experience a loss of business, and of course the reputational damage associated with ‘being down’.

Bryan Hamman, territory manager for sub-Saharan Africa at Arbor Networks, says that technology like Arbor’s has been continually refined over the years, “to deal with each subtle new DDoS tactic and stay one step ahead of the attackers.

“Today, blockchain represents an exciting new technology that could have a huge impact on how we as a security industry go about protecting clients from DDoS threats,” he explains.

Distributing bandwidth

Blockchain, also called ‘distributed ledgers’, is essentially a computing platform that has no single point of failure, where records of transactions and interactions can be stored across vast numbers of computers. Nobody ‘owns’ the database. No one person is able to control or manipulate it.

The distributed ledger is dispersed throughout the internet, allowing for the fluid (but also secure) sharing and validating of information. Due to the very structure of the platform, only authorised parties are able to create records for the part of the ‘chain’ that relates to their transactions. The broader blockchain community then witnesses and verifies the transaction – preventing it from being lost, tampered with or corrupted in any way.
It allows for the sharing of value and information through a nearly-incorruptible digital ledger.

Hamman says that “one such asset could be unutilised bandwidth that a company could ‘rent’ to other companies that are suffering from DDoS attacks at a given moment, to help absorb the effects of the malicious traffic.”

In this way, organisations could purchase additional bandwidth only when they need it to defend against attacks.

“A number of innovative start-ups are exploring how the blockchain can be harnessed, to enable thousands of computers across the world to share their excess bandwidth across peer-to-peer networks, while facilitating seamless cryptocurrency payments for these transactions,” he clarifies.

Reducing the attack vectors
Others are exploring how blockchain infrastructure could enable us to build global databases of all the IP addresses that are used in the various DDoS attacks taking place on any day, Hamman says.

“Using smart contract enabled by distributed ledger technology, this verified database could help DDoS defence software to identify emerging threats, and keep up to date with real-time insights into the addresses that are currently being used to launch attacks.”

Even within the enterprise, blockchain technology can be applied to create a decentralised network of servers – with each one providing extra bandwidth resources when a particular server comes under pressure from DDoS traffic. Industry website* explains that “because blockchain is a decentralised service, it’s harder for attackers to target a specific vector to attack to take a particular service offline.”

Hamman says that, in general, security professionals have been very quick to imagine and start capturing the advantages of distributed ledger technology.
“It is a network construct that combines some very powerful innovations – sequential hashing and cryptography, combined with a decentralised foundation – which make distributed ledgers a very attractive proposition for cyber-security experts.”

In the specific area of DDoS, he says specialists like Arbor are actively exploring how blockchain (as well as other ‘frontier’ technologies like artificial intelligence) can further bolster the defences that they provide to clients.

“As DDoS threats continually morph, we’ll make use of the very latest available technologies, to always remain one step ahead of the threats.”

Staff Writer

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Affordable fibre monitoring that can cut network OPEX costs

Affordable fibre monitoring that can cut network OPEX costs

Affordable fibre monitoring that can cut network OPEX costs

Jasco Carrier Solutions new proactive in-service fibre network monitoring offering will break the cost deadlock that has put these solutions out of reach of any but the largest network providers. It measures the integrity of a fibre plant in real time, allows operators to efficiently isolate faults and take immediate targeted action This effectively boosts up-time, cuts maintenance costs and effort, whilst enables operators and service providers to minimise disruption and meet service level agreements.

“As more fibre is rolled out to businesses and homes, traditional reactive network maintenance models are proving less than effective,” explains Martin Ferreira of Jasco Carrier Solutions. “There simply isn’t enough time or manpower to physically check on every network alert that comes into the network operations centre. Jasco thus went in search of a fibre network monitoring solution to address this challenge cost-effectively. By not having to upkeep existing test equipment or even buy new, we believe significant cost savings will be achieved.

The Jasco Carrier Solutions fibre network monitoring device requires no active, onsite equipment at the remote site as it can be configured to passively monitor access services. Eliminating active demarcation further reduces cost and frees operators to deploy the fibre monitoring solution in even the most extreme environmental conditions. It requires no power and little additional space. It sits on top of the network and can supervise 16- or 64 fibres per device, reaching across 160km (Depending on fibre quality) of fibre. It is particularly useful for monitoring and troubleshooting dark fibre and other wholesale services connections.

With a fibre monitoring solution in place, operators can improve network service testing and quality and can deliver on service level agreements (SLAs), offering improved and even premium SLAs to service providers and their customers.

“In the past, network operators have simply provided connectivity; testing has been the service provider’s problem,” explains Ferreira. “With this fibre monitoring device, operators can now provide monitoring, with detailed insight into network uptime and issues.”

The device can identify failures of active devices and problems with the fibre plant. Says Ferreira: “Not all network problems are fibre related and the fibre monitoring device can assist to identify this. For example, a failure on the service provider’s equipment or a power failure at a site. This type of real-time information on fibre integrity allows for fast failure detection and short repair cycles, allowing operators and service providers to maximise the potential of their fibre assets.”

Key features of the fibre monitoring solution include the following:

  • Passively monitors fibre links, integrating with GIS to pinpoint problems
  • Provides real-time information about fibre loss profiles
  • Localises loss points with alarm thresholds
  • Provides ultra-fast fibre integrity verification with three to six seconds per port.
  • Ultra-compact ETSI solution: up to 64 ports per 1RU chassis
  • Up to 160km nominal reach for access, metro and core applications
  • Measurement signal at 1650nm, outside user traffic wavelengths

The Jasco Carrier Solutions fibre network monitoring offering is immediately available from Jasco. It has recently been implemented at major fibre operator, FibreCo, receiving high accolades. “The solution is easy to set up and install and the payback is dramatic,” says Ferreira. “I believe uptake will be rapid – it’s an investment in competitiveness no fibre operator should dismiss.”

Edited by: Daniëlle Kruger
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Microsoft reveals new IoT platform

Microsoft reveals new IoT platform

Microsoft aims to secure Internet of Things devices with its new Azure Sphere solution.

It’s a minor revolution: Microsoft has presented its latest security-enhancing solution for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, based on a custom Linux kernel.

As part of its embracing of the Internet of Things, Microsoft has announced Azure Sphere, an ARM-based platform for the IoT with a focus on security.

Azure Sphere is essentially a microcontroller directly connected to the Redmond firm’s cloud and managed by a new operating system based on Linux.

Azure Sphere is billed as a cloud service for securing Internet of Things devices. The platform is aimed at addressing security issues, considered particularly concerning for everyday connected devices, which are rarely updated and often viewed by experts as being left wide open to hackers.

According to Microsoft, the development of Azure Sphere paves the way for a new generation of more secure Internet of Things devices, as the microcontrollers can be installed in everything from tiny light bulbs to huge refrigerators.

Watch this space …

Edited by: Neo Sesinye
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‘How mobile ecosystem added $37 billion to West Africa’s GDP in 2017’

‘How mobile ecosystem added $37 billion to West Africa’s GDP in 2017’

The mobile ecosystem contributed $37 billion, which was equivalent to 6.5 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to the West African economy in 2017.

The mobile ecosystem consists of mobile operators, infrastructure service providers, retailers and distributors of mobile products and services, mobile handset manufacturers, and mobile content, application and service providers.

The use of mobile technology also drives improvements in productivity and efficiency for workers and firms.

According to the Global System for Mobile Telecommunications (GSMA) in its Mobile Economy West Africa 2018 report presented at the Mobile 360 Series conference in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, it explained that 3G and 4G technology allow workers and firms to use mobile data and Internet services, which subsequently improves access to information and services, which in turn drives efficiency in business processes across many industries, including finance and health.

GSMA said the impact of mobile Internet is particularly significant, where fixed infrastructure is poor and mostly confined to large cities and business and industrial districts.

Furthermore, the mobile operators and the wider mobile ecosystem provided direct employment to more than 200, 000 people in West Africa in 2017, predominantly in the retailing and distribution of services and handsets.

In addition to this, the GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide and uniting nearly 800 operators across the globe, noted that economic activity in the ecosystem created jobs in other linked sectors as a result of the demand generated by the mobile sector.

Going forward, GSMA said it expect the economic contribution of the mobile ecosystem to continue to increase in both relative and absolute terms. “In value-added terms, we estimate that mobile will contribute $51 billion to the West African economy by 2022, equivalent to 7.7 per cent of GDP.

GSMA explained that the number of mobile Internet subscribers doubled over the last four years to reach 78 million, nearly half of the total number of mobile subscribers, by the end of 2017.

According to the Body, the number of registered mobile money accounts in the sub-region reached 104.5 million in 2017, while the total value of transactions for the same period reached $5.3 billion.

GSMA said the rapid adoption of mobile services and the funding and infrastructure gaps in the provision of essential services present an opportunity for local innovators to create digital solutions that address a wide range of social and economic challenges across different countries in the sub-region.

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