Zimbabwe shuts down internet amid protest crackdown

Zimbabwe has ordered a shutdown of internet services while it violently cracks down on protests over fuel hikes.

Econet, the country's largest mobile operator, is one company reporting it’s been ordered to cut off services.

Access to popular services including WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter has been intermittent since protests began on Monday.

These services are often used to organise protests, as well as report on excessive violence by the government.

Reuters quotes UN human rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani as saying:

"Doctors' associations say more than 60 people were treated in hospital for gunshot wounds, this is not a way to react to the expression of economic grievances by the population."

The UN has called on the Zimbabwean government to halt its ‘excessive use of force’ against citizens which has included the use of live ammunition in addition to allegations of door-to-door beatings and searches at night.

Protests against fuel tax rises started the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement in France. Authorities have also been condemned for excessive violence.

While live ammunition has not been used in France, so-called ‘flash ball guns’ have caused devastating effects. A fireman who joined the protest was left in a coma with brain damage after being shot in the back of the head by a police officer.

The movement has since spread throughout Europe and transformed into a protest around inequality, high living costs, and EU-driven austerity.

Following the London riots in 2011, the UK government started exploring social media controls and the ability to cut off access to services after BlackBerry Messenger was found to be key in the organisation of looting.

Civil rights groups claim such legislation infringes on personal liberties and could affect people who’ve done no wrong. In such occurrences, many people use social media and telecoms services to check in with loved ones and ensure their safety.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

IBM and Vodafone team up for digital transformation venture around AI, 5G and edge

IBM and Vodafone Business have entered into a strategic commercial agreement to offer their European and other global clients with the open and flexible technologies required to integrate multiple clouds and prepare for the next wave of digital transformation brought by AI, 5G, Edge and Software Defined Networking (SDN).

The interconnectivity of clouds and vulnerability of data are the two most burning global issues today as more than 70% of organisations are using up to 15 cloud environments as they are putting their best efforts to access powerful new digital solutions and services. The newly formed venture between IBM and Vodafone will help such companies by eliminating complexity and barriers from their technology choices, ensuring a free flow of data and applications in a secured manner.

Vodafone Business customers will have an immediate access to IBM’s entire portfolio of cloud offerings with the formation of the new venture. Vodafone Business’ cloud and hosting unit will receive IBM’s services, which are valued at £425mn, for a period of eight years. With IBM’s optimisation, automation and cognitive capabilities, customers will have an advantage of running their business efficiently in a cloud environment. Converging multi-cloud and connectivity services helps organisations expedite their decision-making process, enhances automation, and personalise experiences for remote end users.

Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone, said in a statement: “This strategic venture with IBM allows us to focus on our strengths in fixed and mobile technologies, whilst leveraging IBM's expertise in multi-cloud, AI and services. Through this new venture we'll accelerate our growth and deepen engagement with our customers while driving radical simplification and efficiency in our business.”

The new venture is scheduled to start its operations in the first half of 2019.

Two years ago, both companies had signed an agreement where Vodafone offered an international service enabling enterprises to support the movement of VMware-based workloads on a Vodafone Hosted Private Cloud to and from the IBM Cloud. This meant that the Vodafone customers could easily and rapidly deploy and move VMware-based workloads with confidence, speed and scale globally. The service was designed to assist Vodafone enterprise clients reduce latency by location applications closer to users and at the same time maintaining data within a security-rich global network.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

Nike has made some shoes that you can lace up with your smartphone

The dark days of having to tie your shoelaces manually may finally be behind us thanks to the latest innovation from trainer-maker Nike.

It’s all down to the advanced power-lacing system in the Nike Adapt BB you see, coupled with some firmware and an app. The shoe actually has a motor and gear train, apparently, which are able to impart no less than 32 pounds of force through the underfoot lacing, as shown below.

Nike adapt bb 3

But that’s not the half of it. “That’s where the brain, or FitAdapt tech, kicks in,” effuses the Nike press release. “By manual touch or by using the Nike Adapt app on a smartphone, players can input different fit settings depending on different moments of a game. For example, during a timeout, a player can loosen the shoe before tightening it up as they re-enter the game.

“In a forthcoming feature, they can even prescribe a different tightness setting for warm-ups. Plus, players can opt in to firmware updates for the FitAdapt technology as they become available, sharpening the precision of fit for players and providing new digital services over time.”

Nike adapt bb 2

This is all wonderfully utopian and anticipated by a clever piece of Nike product placement back in 1989 in the film Back to the Future 2, as shown below. It’s also, of course, one of the best examples of solving first-world problems you’ll ever see. Nonetheless Nike will get some cool marketing out of this and judging by this comprehensive TechCrunch review, some tech kudos too. Can you imagine what a pair would cost though?

Netflix doubles profit but Wall Street not very happy

Netflix has increased its annual revenues by 35% and doubled profits over the course of 2018, but that didn’t prevent a 3.8% share price drop in overnight trading.

Total revenue across the 12-month period stood at $15.7 billion, though growth does seem to be slowing. Year-on-year revenue increases for the final three months were 27.4%, with 21.4% for the first quarter of 2019, though this compares to 40.4%, 40.3% and 34% in Q1, Q2 and Q3 respectively. However, when you consider the size, scale and breadth of Netflix nowadays this should hardly be considered surprising.

“For 20 years, we’ve been trying to please our members and it’s really the same focus year-after-year,” said CEO Reed Hastings during the earnings call.

“We’ve got all these ways to try to figure out, which shows work best, which product features work best, we’re a learning organization and it’s the same virtuous cycle, improve the service for our members. We grow. That gives us more money to invest. So, it’s the same things we’ve always been doing at just greater scale.”

This is perhaps the reason Netflix has succeeded in such a glorious manner where others have succumbed to mediocrity or failure. Investments have been massive to build out the breadth of content, while the team has not been afraid to alter its business or invest in content which others might snub. Bird Box is a classic example of a movie some might dismiss, whereas we find it difficult many competitors would have given the greenlight to the original Stranger Things pitch.

On the content side of things, investments over the last twelve months totalled $7.5 billion and Hastings promises this will increase in 2019. Perhaps we will not see the same growth trajectory, as despite the ambitions of the team, another objective for Netflix pays homage to the investors on Wall Street. Operating margin increased to 10% during 2018, up from 4% a couple of years back, though the team plan on upping this to 13% across 2019.

Content is where Netflix has crowned itself king over the last few years, aggressively pursuing a varied and deep port-folio, though it will be pushing the envelope further with interactive story-telling.

“I would just say there’s been a few false starts on interactive storytelling in the last couple of decades,” said Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos. “And I would tell you that this one has got storyteller salivating about the possibilities.

“So we’ve been talking to a lot of folks about it and we’re trying to figure it out too meaning is it novel, does it fit so perfectly in the Black Mirror world that it doesn’t – it isn’t a great indicator for how to do it, but we’ve got a hunch that it works across all kinds of storytelling and some of the greatest storytellers in the world are excited to dig into it.”

The team are attempting to figure out what works and what doesn’t for the interactive-story segment, but this is one of the reasons why people are attracted to Netflix. The team are exploring what is capable, brushing the dust away from the niche corners and experimenting with experience. They aren’t afraid of doing something new, and the audience is reacting well the this.

Looking at the numbers, Netflix added 8.8 million paid subscribers over the final three months of 2018, 1.5 million in the US and 7.3 million internationally, taking the total number of net additions to 29 million across the year. This compares to 22 million across 2017, while the team exceeded all forecasts.

However, this is where the problem lies for Netflix; can it continue to succeed when it is not diversifying its revenues?

According to independent telco, tech and media Analyst Paolo Pescatore, the Netflix team need to consider new avenues if they are to continue the exciting growth which we have seen over the last couple of years. New ideas are needed, partnerships with telcos is one but we’ll come back to that in a minute, some of which might be branching out into new segments.

This is perhaps most apparent in the US market, as while there is still potentially room for growth, this is a space which is currently saturated with more offerings lurking on the horizon. Over the next couple of months, Disney and AT&T are going to launching new streaming services, while T-Mobile US have been promising its own version for what seems like years. If Netflix is to continue to grow revenues, it needs to appeal to additional users, while also adding bolt on services to the core platform.

What could these bolt-on services look like remains to be seen, though Pescatore thinks a sensible route for the firm to take would be into gaming and eSports. These are two blossoming segments, as you can see from the Entertainment Retailers Association statistics here, which lend themselves well to the Netflix platform and business model. Another area could be music streaming, though as this market is dominating by Spotify and iTunes, as well one with low margins, it might not be considered an attractive diversification.

The other area which might is proving to be a success for the business are partnerships with telcos.

“It’s sort of been this March from integration on devices and just makes that a point to engage with the service to doing things like billing, on behalf of or we do billing integration,” said Greg Peters, Chief Product Officer.

“And now the latest sort of iteration that we’re working with is, is bundling model, right. And so, we’re early on in that process, but I would say we’re quite excited by the results that we’re seeing.”

This is a relatively small acquisition channel in comparison to others, but it is opening up the brand to new markets in the international space, a key long-term objective, and allowing the team to engage previously unreachable customers. This is an area which we should expect to grow and flourish.

The partnerships side of the business is one which might also add to the revenue streams and depth of content. Pescatore feels this is another area where Netflix can generate more revenue, as the team could potentially offer additional third-party content, hosting on its platform for users to rent or purchase. Referral fees could be an interesting way to raise some cash and Netflix certainly has the relationships with the right people.

Netflix has long been the darling of Wall Street, but it might not be for much longer. The streaming video segment is becoming increasingly congested, while the astronomical growth Netflix has experienced might come to a glass ceiling over the next couple of years. The businesses revenues are reliant on how quickly the customer base grows; such a narrow focus is not healthy. Everyone else is driving towards diversification, and Netflix will need to make sure it considers it sooner rather than later.

Giesecke+Devrient lands Swatch contactless payment gig

Mobile security company Giesecke+Devrient is helping Swiss watch company Swatch with its own contactless payment technology.

Rather annoyingly called SwatchPAY!, the contactless platform was launched in China back in 2017 and is now available in Switzerland. It involves sticking an NFC chip in a watch, which you can then sync with your credit card. In that respect it’s pretty much a contactless card embedded in a watch.

Whether it functions just as easily is unclear, but Swatch seems to have partnered with all the right companies, including Mastercard, Credis Suisse, UBS and G+D. The latter is doing what it does best in providing the secure element for these watches, which also enables the activation of the contactless payment function in-store, when you buy one. Here’s how it works.

Swatchpay chart

“Continuous innovation is a key strand of the Swatch DNA,” said Carlo Giordanetti, Swatch Creative Director. “This latest advance, with the introduction of the fastest and simplest tokenization, makes it easier than ever to pay ‘forever’ – token up your Swatch, swipe it and you’re done. SwatchPAY! is simple, stylish and swatchy.”

“We are thrilled to be Swatch’s partner for this payment-enabled watch, which has been a huge success in China,” said Carsten Ahrens, CEO of Giesecke+Devrient Mobile Security. “The unique mix of iconic Swatch design and a payment functionality makes this a very appealing product, and we are proud to have contributed our extensive expertise in security, mobile payment and wearables technology.”

The Swiss watch industry has been in a flap about smart watches for a while, so it’s sensible to see one of them develop its own contactless payment platform. They’re fortunate that the killer use-case for smart watches hasn’t been found yet, but it presumably will be eventually. The key to this alternative being a success will be its ease of setup and use and it looks like they might have got that right.

Prosecutors investigate Huawei over alleged stealing of trade secrets

Federal prosecutors are investigating Huawei for reportedly stealing trade secrets and misappropriating technology from its US partners.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the investigation is said to be coming to a close and was launched after several civil lawsuits were launched targeting Huawei. An indictment is expected soon.

One US partner Huawei is suspected of misappropriating technology from is T-Mobile. A Seattle jury found Huawei liable for robotic technology from T-Mobile’s Bellevue, Washington lab in 2017.

Huawei rejected the court’s decision and said the “company continues to believe in the merits of its defense to the allegations made by T-Mobile.”

The Trump administration is pressing China to clamp down on cases of technology theft or face additional tariffs.

In November, the Justice Department said it would collaborate with the FBI to stop trade secret thefts. Where cases occur, the department would take action to prevent the export of products from China with US technology designs.

Lawmakers continue to put Huawei under scrutiny. A bipartisan group proposed legislation this week that would put strict penalties on the company if passed.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a co-sponsor of the bill, said:

“Huawei is effectively an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party whose founder and CEO was an engineer for the People’s Liberation Army. It’s imperative we take decisive action to protect U.S. interests and enforce our laws.

If Chinese telecom companies like Huawei violate our sanctions or export control laws, they should receive nothing less than the death penalty – which this denial order would provide.”

This latest report comes just a day after Huawei's founder held a rare press conference to address the security concerns about the company. While it’s likely the firm wanted to put 2018 behind it, the outlook for this year isn’t looking much better.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

Vodafone bags Big Blue as $550 million partner

Vodafone Business and IBM have signed-off on a new joint venture which will aim to develop systems to help data and applications flow freely around an organization.

The joint-venture, which will be operational in the first half of 2019, will aim to bring together the expertise of both the parties to solve one of the industry’s biggest challenges; multi-cloud interoperability and the removal of organizational siloes. On one side of the coin you have IBM’s cloud know-how while Vodafone will bring the IoT, 5G and edge computing smarts. A match made in digital transformational heaven.

“IBM has built industry-leading hybrid cloud, AI and security capabilities underpinned by deep industry expertise,” said IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. “Together, IBM and Vodafone will use the power of the hybrid cloud to securely integrate critical business applications, driving business innovation – from agriculture to next-generation retail.”

“Vodafone has successfully established its cloud business to help our customers succeed in a digital world,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read. “This strategic venture with IBM allows us to focus on our strengths in fixed and mobile technologies, whilst leveraging IBM’s expertise in multi-cloud, AI and services. Through this new venture we’ll accelerate our growth and deepen engagement with our customers while driving radical simplification and efficiency in our business.”

The issue which many organizations are facing today, according to Vodafone, is the complexity of the digital business model. On average, 70% of organizations are operating in as many as 15 different cloud environments, leaning on the individuals USPs of each, but marrying these environments is a complex, but not new, issue.

Back in September, we had the chance to speak to Sachin Sony of Equinix about the emerging Data Transfer Project, an initiative to create interoperability and commonalities between the different cloud environments. The project is currently working to build a common framework with open-source code that can connect any two online service providers, enabling a seamless, direct, user-initiated portability of data between the two platforms This seems to be the same idea which the new IBM/Vodafone partnership is looking to tackle.

With this new joint-venture it’ll be interesting to figure out whether the team can build a proposition which will be any good. Vodafone has promised the new business will operate with a ‘start-up’ mentality, whatever that means when you take away the PR stench, under one roof. Hopefully the walk will be far enough away from each of the parent companies’ offices to ensure the neutral ground can foster genuine innovation.

This is a partnership which has potential. The pair have identified a genuine issue in the industry and are not attempting to solve it alone. Many people will bemoan the number of partnerships in the segment which seem to be nothing more than a feeble attempt to score PR points, but this is an example where expertise is being married to split the spoils.

The app economy is going from strength to strength

The latest report published by App Annie showed mobile apps had their best year in 2018, and will get better in 2019.

In the report titled “The State of Mobile in 2019 – The Most Important Trends to Know”, the mobile apps analytics firm App Annie showed the latest data of the mobile apps industry, as well as their projections for the near future.

In short, the apps industry is doing rather well. “Consumers spent $101 billion on apps globally in 2018. This is larger than the global live and recorded music industry, double the size of the global sneaker market, and nearly three times the size of the oral care industry,” said Danielle Levitas, EVP, Global Marketing & Insights, App Annie. “Mobile experiences are so central to how we live, work and play and with consumers spending 3 hours a day on mobile, it’s clear how vital this platform is for all businesses in 2019 and beyond.”

Here is a snapshot of the highlights:

App Annie 2019 Snapshot

A few additional data points also caught our eyes:

  • Consumers on average spent 50% more time in mobile apps in 2018 than they did in 2016. Social and Communications apps made up 50% of total time spent globally in apps in 2018, followed by Video Players and Editors (15%) and Games (10%);
  • In Indonesia, mobile users spent over 4 hours a day in apps — 17% of users’ entire day. In mature markets like the US and Canada, the average user spent nearly 3 hours a day in mobile apps in 2018;
  • On average, consumers in the US, Australia, South Korea, and Japan have over 100 apps on their smartphones;
  • 74% of all consumer spending on mobile apps was on games;
  • YouTube accounted for 9 of every 10 minutes spent in the top 5 video streaming apps in 2018. It was also the number 1 app by time spent in video streaming apps for all markets except China;
  • The global consumer spending on dating apps grew by 190% from 2016 to 2018. Tinder successfully defended its number 1 position.

In terms competition between apps and between companies, three Facebook apps occupied the top three spots on the table of monthly active users. The same trio also took the top spots on the most downloads table, but Facebook Messenger edge Facebook to the top. Netflix netted the highest consumer spend on apps (followed by Tinder), while Sony’s Fate/Grand Order sat at the top of the games enjoying the highest consumer spend. Tencent on the hand, thanks to its strong line-up of apps and games, was the company that consumers spent the most on in 2018.

App Annie 2019 MAU

App Annie 2019 downloads

App Annie 2019 spend

The firm predicted that in 2019, the total consumer spending in app stores will double that of the global box office, to reach $120 billion. When it comes to media consumption, the firm sees in 2019 that 10 minutes of every hour spent consuming media across TV and internet will come from video streaming on mobile. Increased availability of premium content and service will also help.

Two years ago, we started hearing from some quarters of the industry that apps economy was dead. To read the latest data from App Annie, that pronouncement was gravely premature.

US bolsters AI ambitions with Open Government Data Act

President Trump has signed the Open Government Data Act into law, potentially unleashing a tsunami of data for AI applications to be trained with.

The bill itself has been bouncing around Washington for some time now, though it has officially been signed into law. Within one year, all government agencies will have to ensure data sets are open and accessible to the general public and businesses, as well as being presented in a format that can be easily processed by a computer without human intervention. The act also hopes to make the data more accessible through smartphones.

“The government-wide law will transform the way the government collects, publishes, and uses non-sensitive public information,” said Sarah Joy Hays, Acting Executive Director of the Data Coalition, a public interest group which promotes transparency in government and business.

“Title II, the Open Government Data Act, which our organization has been working on for over three and a half years, sets a presumption that all government information should be open data by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable.”

For the digital ecosystem, such a bill should be welcomed with open arms. For any AI application to work effectively it needs to be trained. For years, many have claimed data is the new oil, although we suspect they did not mean in this manner. If the US is to create a leadership position in the developing AI ecosystem, its applications will need to be the best around and therefore will have to have the appropriate data sets to improve performance and accuracy.

Open data is of course not a new idea however. Back in September during Broadband World Forum in Berlin, we sat through several entertaining presentations from individual cities laying out their smart city ambitions. There was one common theme throughout the session; open data. These local governments realise the potential of empowering local digital ecosystems through open data, and the initiatives are proving to be successful.

This new law will force all federal agencies to make all non-sensitive data public in a machine-readable format and catalogue it online. New individuals must be appointed as Chief Data Officers to oversee the process, and new procedures will be introduced. While it seems incredibly obvious, when proposing new laws or regulations agencies will now have to justify the changes with supporting data. As it stands, only a handful of agencies are required to do this, the FCC is one of them, though this law ensures the validation and justification of new rules through data is rolled out across the board.

As with everything to do with data, there are of course privacy concerns. The text of the bill does seem to take this into account, one clause states any data released to the public will have to adhere to the Privacy Act of 1974, though there is bound to be a few blunders. Such a tangent should compound the importance of hiring a Chief Data Officer and a team of individuals who are appropriately trained. We suspect there will be few current employees in the agencies who could ensure compliance here.

Of course, this is not a law which will make an immediate impact. With any fundamental changes, such as this, procedures and systems will have to be updated. The procurement process is most likely, or at least we hope, underway and there will certainly be growing pains.

That said, if the US wants to make a meaningful dent on the AI world, the right tools and data need to be put in the hands of the right people. This is a step in the right direction.

UK mobile commerce is exploding – research

New research from price comparison site uSwitch.com reveals that the use of mobile devices to go shopping in the UK is growing rapidly.

They got market research firm Opinium to chat to 2,000 adult Brits about their mobile commerce habits and intentions. The survey concluded that we will blow £25 billion buying stuff with our phones and tablets this year, up from £15 billion last year. Furthermore they reckon 30 million of us will use our phone to shop this year, which will represent a 66% annual increase.

“With smartphone and tablet shopping now a £25 billion industry, it’s hardly surprising that  major retailers have long adopted a mobile-first approach to their websites and have even introduced their own apps to make the user experience as easy as possible,” said Ru Bhikha. “Cleaner user journeys and the ease of one-click purchasing will only add to the number of people shopping on their phones and tablets.”

The main appeal, unsurprisingly, is simple convenience, with the ability to shop at any time coming in a close second. Other prominent reasons given for shopping over your phone seem to apply to all e-commerce, including the ability to compare prices, greater choice and better prices.

The survey also asked questions about e-commerce habits in general. As you can see in the table below Amazon and eBay have a clear lead over the online manifestations of bricks-and-mortar retailers, although the latter seem to be doing a decent job of trying to keep up. Somewhat surprisingly clothes are by far the most bought type of product online, followed by books, groceries and cinema/theatre tickets. The living room is by far the most popular location for blowing all this cash.

Website % of shoppers to have used website last year
Amazon 89%
eBay 63%
Argos 41%
Tesco 35%
Marks and Spencer 25%
Asda 25%
Sainsbury’s 22%
John Lewis 20%
Currys PC World 17%

Source: uSwitch.com