At conferences such as the Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference, one of the challenges is to adequately cover the theme without speakers duplicating topics. In my view, SATNAC 2012′s theme “The internet of things – smart homes and cities – evolution or Tsunami?” achieved this.
The two morning panel discussion on “challenges and opportunities from an operator perspective” and “challenges and the regulatory environment from internet service providers” were interesting and thought-provoking, but somehow I had the feeling that the participants were holding back somewhat, perhaps because they were from competitive industries.
In her opening address Telkom’s Group CEO, Nombulelo (Pinkie) Moholi, quoting two eminent thinkers said: “21 years ago the most profound technologies are those that disappear; that weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it” (Mark Weiser) and “The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry).
“We have lived through two phases of the internet revolution – the world wide web of the 1990s, and the mobile internet of the 2000s. The third revolution is now unfolding.
“A phrase that was coined some twelve years ago is evolving into a vision of the future; a vision that will become a reality over the next two decades; a vision that promises many opportunities, but also vast challenges. I have seen many different definitions of the internet of things. One comes across phrases such as “virtual personalities” and “intelligent interfaces”, “technical protocols” and “networked interconnection”. Such phrases are rather fuzzy, and interpreting them is very much a case of “in the eye of the beholder”.
Moholi said that the most understandable explanation she had found comes from a European Commission Report that clarifies the Internet of Things as follows “In the nineteenth century, machines learned to do. In the twentieth century, they learned to think. In the twenty-first century, they are learning to perceive – they actually sense and respond”.
“We can no longer think about internet connectivity only in terms of computers, phones and tablets. Not when “things” already go far beyond phones and tablets.
Not when wireless sensors are implanted in cattle to measure their vital signs and then transmit this data to a server which the farmer can access to determine the health of the herd.
“The social acceptance of the Internet of Things will be defined by trust with a capital “T”. It appears as if the general public becomes accustomed to invasive devices such as closed circuit TV, but the Internet of Things is in another league altogether. If there is even a suggestion that personal freedom will suffer, attitudes will harden.
Four things need to happen to address this: Solutions must be developed that respect people’s privacy. Privacy comes first, it cannot come into play only after a new technology is introduced; information embedded in devices must be handled securely; resources must be channelled into comprehensive and innovative education and information initiatives.
These must not only focus on the benefits of the Internet of Things, but explain, for example, the implications of radio-frequency identification devices and the kind of data that will be housed in these devices.
At the same time, there should be dialogue on the wider implications of the third revolution.
Two examples: what will the role of a museum be in a world of cloud computing? The second is the freedom of individuals to disconnect from a network at any time, and the implications of such a decision; There cannot be a separation between technology and legislation. What is needed is a clear legislative framework, as well as control mechanisms that ensured the right of privacy and security.
“To a large extent we are sailing in as yet uncharted waters, but one thing is certain: the internet has reached a turning point in its development. A network of interconnected computers is set to evolve into a network of interconnected objects. It will change the way we live our lives.
“And yet, as we contemplate our greatest possibilities, the shadow of the digital divide looms large – so much so that we cannot in truth speak of the world wide web. The truth of the matter is that a vast chunk of the world’s population remains cut off from what is probably the most important technological invention of the last century.
“South Africa is no exception and the case for a broadband-connected South Africa is clear:
From a national perspective South Africa needs to demonstrate to the global community that the country is not only a citizen of the information society, but an important player.
Enterprises require sophisticated communications solutions to enhance their competitiveness in a global, technology and knowledge-centric economy.
Government looks to ICT to enhance governance, provide quality education, engender efficient service delivery and empower citizens.
The individual thirsts for connectivity to satisfy his yearning for a better life; for opportunities to become part of the business community, for a chance to get ahead and live a life of dignity and fulfilment.”
Another notable presentation was by futurist Pieter Geldenhuys from the Innovation Agency, entitled “Business unusual”.
On the technology front Telkom and Alcatel demonstrated Telkom’s expansion in broadband service and demonstrated the state-of-the-art system which is now being rolled out and trialled in several metropolitan areas of South Africa.
Telkom has shown significant progress on the company’s journey to transform its network. The destination is an all-IP network designed to enable fixed-mobile convergence and truly differentiated high speed broadband.
“The journey to a future-proof network is based on a comprehensive set of network interventions. We have commenced the last, and arguably the most challenging, of these interventions – a revamp of our access network.” said Bashier Sallie, MD for wholesale and networks, Telkom. He said that the revamp of Telkom’s access network aims to enable a truly differentiated broadband capability.
“We will take our fibre deeper into the network, thanks to new fibre capabilities, and will smartly leverage a mix of access technologies, namely very high speed DSL technology (VDSL2) in a fibre-to-the-curb configuration and passive optic fibre (PON) configuration directly to the home or business premises. Given the mix of customer broadband needs, a dispersed customer base and vast geography in SA, Telkom has chosen FTTx as the solution to ensure commercial and service sustainability.” (FTTx – fibre to the x is a generic term for any broadband network architecture using optical fibre to replace all or part of the usual copper local loop).
“We have gone a long way in revamping our aggregation network, which is now able to support super-fast transmission and enable a superior browsing experience. We have also transformed our transmission network which has evolved from carrying Gbps to Tbps throughput, with great resilience and manageability. Our international connectivity has received a major boost to ensure worldwide reach with superb capacity and resilience.”
Tim Nicolas, solutions consultant South and East Africa for Alcatel Lucent, demonstrated the advantages and speed that can be achieved with VDSL2 technology. With a good copper line and not too far from the exchange or a multi-service access node, speeds of up to 40 Mbps can be achieved, plenty enough to stream video. Telkom had enabled the local George exchange to provide for the demonstration at the Fancourt Conference venue.