Bryan Smith discusses SpaceX's BFR rocket system on SABC 3's Expresso Show

Discussing SpaceX's city-to-city rocket system on SABC 3's Expresso Show

Bryan Smith joins Expresso Show to discuss SpaceX’s plans to debut planet-hopping travel through the use of an interplanetary rocket system.

Though many of Elon Musk’s ideas have centered on sending humankind either into space or onto Mars, the SpaceX and Tesla entrepreneur has announced a new venture that will place human feet back on terra firma in both a figurative and literal sense.

The business mogul revealed plans to leverage SpaceX’s Big F*cking Rocket (BFR, for short) to ferry passengers to any destination on Earth within an hour’s time frame.

I was lucky enough to join SABC 3’s Expresso Show to unpack the plan in full, as well as explore some implications which may make the system unlikely.

For the uninitiated, Musk’s proposal would see passengers board mega-rockets, launch into orbit, and then settle down on floating landing pads in a destination of their choice. Though both the rocket and landing pad are at this stage conceptual, Musk has clarified that construction would begin within the next six to nine months.

SpaceX debuted a video presentation outlining the concept, wherein passengers would board the BFR, launch, and then land in Shanghai within 39 minutes – covering an immense 11,000 kilometers.

The company touched on different destinations, outlining that a proposed trip from Hong Kong to Singapore would theoretically take 22 minutes, while travelers heading from London to New York could expect a 29-minute journey.

As the concept (at this stage) is untested, Musk did not deign to offer specifics – though the entrepreneur did clarify that the BFR would reach a top speed of 18,000 miles per hour (some 28000 kilometers per hour) and would carry passengers akin to how most of us leverage economy air travel.

The announcement is yet another of Musk’s bids to revolutionize travel; another concept presently in the works is that of the Hyperloop, a proposed system of sealed tubes through which a pod would be able to travel through free of air resistance or friction.

What are your thoughts? Would you step aboard the BFR to be ferried to a city of your choice? Tweet me – bryansmithSA!

News piece adapted from Bandwidth Blog.

 


government make internet access cheaper south africa

What is government doing to make internet access cheaper in South Africa?

Government has made several overtures to reduce the cost of internet access and data in South Africa, but will any be effective?

I’m often asked for my opinion on the cost of data and the struggle to proliferate access to the Internet in South Africa. Usually, the persons asking me – whether they be friends, family, or new acquaintances – usually express the same pain points regardless of income, background, or race; that data is too expensive, seldom lasts more than a month, and can (at times) disappear.

The conversation is one I relish – the broad strokes of inequality in South Africa have for so long been defined by one’s racial profile – and to an extent one’s socio-economic standing – that all one needs to do is stand in Cape Town’s central business district and glance upwards to see how past divides continue to shape not only our access to income, property, or livelihood, but further our prosperity in general.

The one major change that has been ushered in over the past twenty years that didn’t exist, say, one hundred years ago, is access to the internet – and, more broadly, access to information. The power of consumer technology and the web in general is that it affords every person regardless of their personal background to have access to the same services and opportunities as the next.

At least, that should be the case in theory.

The internet is far from a dream, though it does have the power to equalize divides and soften the blow of past privilege; shattering down the perpetuity of systems that restrict or prohibit both the financial and physical movement of persons or groups.

While the internet should be a celebrated commodity in South Africa, it’s unfortunately one that’s kept under lock and key by the virtue of monopoly. The one true emancipator – mobile data in tandem with affordable smartphones – has for years been held hostage by mobile networks that have built infrastructure themselves and – for good financial sense – keep their networks close to their chests.

This results in a conundrum; how can ordinary South Africans – likely seeking to work their way up the ladder or create new enterprises over the internet – access that commodity affordably? In one sense, Project Isizwe – the initiative behind free Wi-Fi access in the City of Tshwane – has an apt analogy; if the internet were water, the quality of that water stemming from the tap should in broad strokes be equal to that of the bottled water one can buy in store.

A little like one’s tap, then, the responsibility of handling access to the internet that promotes the South African Bill of Rights falls to government – yet in recent years national government has only (seemingly) been awakened to this fact by the horde of discontent that began the #DataMustFall movement.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has previously been raked over the coals by South African political parties – such as the ANC – for enabling the cost of communicating in the country to exceed that of other African states.  In 2013, South Africa was ranked 30th out of 46 places as “as having the most expensive pre-paid mobile tariffs among African countries”.

To unpack, then, what initiatives has government investigated to break down the barrier of access preventing South Africans from coming online?

A national broadband network

South Africa’s broadband policy stipulates that 50% of South Africans must have access to a 5mbps connection by 2016, and that 90% of South Africans must have access to a 5mbps connection by 2020, while 50% of citizens must be able to achieve a connection speed of 100mbps by the same year.

Siyabonga Cwele, the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, has previously sought to reduce the cost of communication within South Africa through pricing and content reforms. In 2014, Cwele sought approval for a budget of R1.59 billion ZAR in a bid for government to “establish an environment in which the cost to communicate is affordable to all South Africans”. 

South African government formally allocated R2.5 billion towards the development of a national broadband network in September of 2016, where eight district municipalities would be among the first to benefit from the initiative.

Those municipalities include Dr Kenneth Kaunda in North West, Gert Sibande in Mpumalanga, OR Tambo in the Eastern Cape, Pixley ka Seme in the Northern Cape, Thabo Mofutsanyane in the Free State, Umgungundlovu and Umzinyathi in KwaZulu-Natal, and Vhembe in Limpopo.

jacob zuma 2017 SONA

President Jacob Zuma clarified in his 2017 State of the Nation Address that government would continue to place the high cost of data “‘uppermost in (their) policies and plans” – though the statesman failed to elaborate further.

The Broadband Market Value-Chain study was concluded in 2014 with the view of regulating broadband prices, while the National Roaming Study was undertaken to study the cost implications of mobile operators – with the view of studying discriminatory behavior that blocked the entrance of smaller operators.

Regulation behind the national broadband network

The establishment of a National Broadband Network would be guided by two new regulations; the first, The Pricing Transparency Regulations would supposedly “to enable consumers to have a clear understanding of the true costs for the services they pay for”, while Premium Content Regulation was set to regulate how broadcasters access premium content services such as sport rights and films.

The open-access network would see South Africa would operate with a new, open-access wholesale-only wireless network. This would allow a greater efficiency in terms of network capacity, and would serve as a platform for new mobile operators to enter the playing field without having to field the cost of setting up their own network infrastructure.

The end emphasis, here, would mean that smaller mobile networks would be able to act with greater efficacy and launch competitive prices through the established network, while larger private networks such as Vodacom, MTN, or Cell C would correspondingly have to move to offer more affordable access to their networks to retain subscribers. The move could well shatter the monopoly held by South Africa’s largest mobile networks, while opening space for new players to emerge with the guidance of new regulations.

Not without criticism

The plan hasn’t been met with total critical support, however; Martyn Roetter cites that a wholesale network would effectively be a monopoly that would be difficult to control, the plan could fail to attract enough traffic from existing operators and hence fail as a business, and the fact that all operators could feasibly access the same network would reduce the ability of new networks to offer differentiated and hence attractive products.

Thankfully, the bid to create an open access network isn’t a lone threat to the soaring cost of internet access in South Africa; ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) has proposed stringent new regulations that – if approved – would have massive consequences for the operations of mobile networks.

Chief among ICASA’s proposed regulations is the fact that mobile networks would be forced to set pre-determined validity periods for data bundles, wherein networks would be mandated to warn users at least seven days before a set expiry period.

The move would ensure that consumers with active data bundles would see any unused data roll over into a following month. For example, ICASA has suggested that data bundles between 1MB-50MB should last just 10 days, while consumers who purchased more than 20GB of mobile data should be rewarded with a wide validity period of 24 months.

The Authority has further proposed that “a Licensee must ensure that an end-user is not defaulted automatically to out-of-bundle data charges upon depletion of data bundles” – meaning that, should the proposed regulations be approved, networks would not be able to immediately issue consumers with additional expense should they surpass their monthly data bundle. This, in addition to mandatory consumption alerts that would notify consumers when they have expended more than 50%, 75%, and 90% of their data bundle would ideally help to regulate the practices of mobile operators.

Help from around the world

The challenge of lowering the cost of internet access has also seen the private sector pull up its socks; Project Isizwe, for example, has championed free public Wi-Fi networks in the City of Tshwane. The partnership has seen innovative measures to promote civic participation – encouraging consumers to pay their rates bills on time to benefit from increased bundle capacity being one such example.

Further afield, Internet for All is an initiative designed and promoted by the World Economic Forum to bring connectivity to regions and some four billion persons around the world who’ve previously been unable to access the internet.

A cross-collaboration model, Internet for All partners the public government and private businesses to develop a sustainable, long-term solution for internet access in emerging markets. The initiative was launched in three country programs – the Northern Corridor in Africa, Argentina, and India, and has now made its way to South Africa.

On the subject of Internet for All’s arrival in South Africa, Minister Cwele iterated that “This project will help us meet our national development goals of reaching everyone by 2020. It is an enormous target but I think it is achievable if we work together to spread the infrastructure where it is not available”.

The initiative costs are estimated to be some $64 USD per person, though that cost could be lowered through means such as infrastructure sharing – something South Africa’s proposed national broadband network could go a long way to providing.

A long road ahead

Despite these overtures, it’s clear that establishing accessible, meaningful internet access in South Africa will take time. Where the development of national infrastructure marches at the pace of snails, the ability of the private sector to become meaningfully involved is stifled by the prohibitive partnerships government chooses to make; rendering small, successful initiatives such as Project Isizwe’s efforts in Tshwane a beacon of hope.

However, moves are afoot by mobile network operators themselves to resolve this conundrum all thanks to the benefit of strong competition – Telkom Mobile, the newest player on the scene, has brought with it compelling packages that offer substantial data bundles with resilient pricing, and recently inked deals with major international streaming services to zero-rate such platforms on specific deals.

Hope remains – though it will soon become the responsibility of all South Africans, regardless of background, social standing, or income, to fight together for accessible internet tariffs. The measure of success will undoubtedly be two-fold; whether South Africans can stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and whether mobile operators will buckle under pressure.

Join the conversation

What are your thoughts? How could we meaningfully promote affordable access to the internet in South Africa? Tweet me – @bryansmithSA!


bryan smith expresso show

Talking NASA, Android Go & more on SABC 3's Expresso Show

I recently had the awesome opportunity to discuss NASA’s DART initiative, Android Go and much more with Katlego Maboe on SABC 3’s Expresso Show.

Throughout the course of my university and working career, I’ve usually been the guy behind the camera – photographing and filming product reviews, interviews, and personal projects. I recently had the opportunity to get in front of the camera on SABC 3’s Expresso Show, marking the first time I’ve ever been on television!

The experience was both an exciting and daunting one, and I was fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down with local presenter Katlego Maboe to discuss some topics that I feel are pertinent to the international technology stage.

NASA’s DART test aims to redirect an asteroid to prevent collision with Earth:

Somewhat similar to the plot of Armageddon, NASA has announced a new plan called “DART” that intends to fire a fridge-sized satellite at one of two sibling asteroids to determine whether it is possible to redirect such a body heading for Earth.

Read further: NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test aims to prevent Armageddon

Google prepares Android Go for launch in emerging markets:

Android is largely the go-to operating system for many consumers around the world, but now Google has developed a new, ‘lite’ version of the system that will use significantly less data have less performance requirements, equating to smartphones that could not only be cheaper to buy, but more affordable to use in future.

Read further: For emerging markets, the arrival of Android Go is huge

Three ways smartphone design could change in the next five years:

  • Bezel-less designs: Increasingly, we’ve seen that smartphones can be dominated by not just aluminum displays or plastic, but rather than by the display – as seen with the Galaxy S8. This may lead to smaller physical devices accommodating larger displays, putting an end to the ‘big versus small’ debate.
  • Dual-camera arrays: Single lens-smartphones are great, but dual-lens cameras offer unique trickery, such as the ability to zoom in or out at wide angles and refocus images after they’ve been captured. These have become increasingly popular in 2017, and we could see many more in the future.
  • Biometric security: Our security and privacy are fundamental concerns, and while using your fingerprint to secure your device is one option, future handsets might include novel options – for example, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 gives the option not only to enroll your iris pattern, but further your entire face as a unique form of registration.

You can tune in to full interview below. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter – tweet me @bryansmithSA!


Android Go

For emerging markets, the arrival of Android Go is huge

Where Android One never truly took off, Google has revealed Android Go – a potential game-changer for smartphones in emerging markets.

Android One was a noble idea – convince manufacturers to produce elementary smartphones to run a simplified version of Android. However, much of the roadblock that prevented the initiative taking off was the necessity to convince manufacturers – and where Android One failed, Android Go is here to pick up the slack.

Announced yesterday at Google’s 2017 I/O, Android Go operates not as a gestalt operating system with specific hardware commitments from manufacturers, but rather as a profile within Android O which tailors experiences to match the power of devices with 1GB of RAM or less.

What does this mean? There are several consequences to Google’s initiative – all of them major, and the good news is that for the next billion people to come online, most of them are overwhelmingly positive.

Components that comprise smart devices are expensive – and not all are created equal. Thus, manufacturers either use premium-grade components such as camera modules, RAM, or processors to equip their best phones with market-leading features, while budget handsets are forced to contend with lesser hardware appropriate to the segment of the market they serve.

This forces a conundrum; Android was designed for premium grade smartphones, and the trickle-down effect of bringing expensive hardware to budget or mid-range devices isn’t happening at a pace fast enough to satisfy the demand for a smart device that can connect to the internet. The end result is that consumers generally spend what they can afford to or aspire to buying a premium device.

Android Go upends this process; running as a profile on Android O, device manufacturers do not need to bend their production of any smart device to a specific hardware standard. Android Go functions with minimal support and runs simplified versions of Android apps – for example, YouTube Go – enabling consumers to pick a smart device that appeals to their budget and still benefit from similar features to ‘core’ Android devices.

The end equation balances by enabling manufacturers to produce many more entry-level devices without the need to acquire expensive components, and that consumers can finally acquire an entry-level Android device, connect to the internet, and access many of the same services that those already online enjoy.

Complications? There are a few. Android Go is reliant on an installation of Android O, meaning that it will be some time before consumers around the world can pick up a device running Android 8.0 O at launch. Secondly, there’s the enormous task of bringing connectivity to regions around the world that have not benefitted from internet access as yet.

Still, the promise of Android Go is real, and is far more tangible than the efforts of Android One, which never truly came to fruition. For emerging markets around the world, the promise of an elementary, but powerful Android device can finally become more than an out-of-reach dream.

What are your thoughts? How will Android Go shape access to the internet and smart devices going forward? Tweet me – @bryansmithSA!

This story originally appeared on Bandwidth Blog.


star wars rogue one review

Rogue One Review: The Foundations Of Hope

Rogue One is arguably the film Star Wars fans have always wanted and, up until now, haven’t gotten. Spoilers follow in my review!

Normally, I like to write around films without revealing too much in the way of plot. However, I feel Rogue One – by its nature as a film that breaks the Star Wars lineage as a standalone outing – deserves a concurrent break in tradition. Hence, I’ll be diving in deep with plot spoilers in this review. If you haven’t seen the film yet, head out, watch it, and then return here!

Spoilers follow below.

Read more