Category: Technology

Skateboarding transforming the country


Google experiments with free Internet access

Google has launched a trial program that will tap into unused frequencies in South Africa’s broadcast TV spectrum

The Web giant announced today it will use the unused spectrum, so-called “white spaces” to provide Internet access to 10 schools in the Cape Town area. The goal of the trial is to show that free wireless broadband can be provided over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum.

“White space has the advantage that low frequency signals can travel longer distances,” Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, the public policy manager for Google South Africa, explained in acompany blog post. “The technology is well suited to provide low cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure, and for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.”

MORE: Cnet

RIP Steve Jobs

SOUTH AFRICA’S hard-won democratic freedom would not have been possible without Apple computers — the humble Macintosh gave activists an important edge over the IBM mind-set of the apartheid government and it was the Apple revolution which ushered in an unbelievable period of innovation and transformation. Sadly, the egalitarian goals of Cupertino were never fully realised in the developing world over the ensuing decades, as the local Apple Core monopoly insisted on catering exclusively to the high-end South African consumer The result is a lost generation who are only now getting to grips with what Apple has achieved. Thus Steve liberated as much as he infuriated. While I am no longer a naive Apple fanboy, I secretly yearn for the simplicity of Job’s vision, especially when my open-source hardware stack fails into the chasm of complexity. RIP STEVE JOBS

Here is a link to Steve Jobs at the funeral of OS9

As rejoinder, local media appear ambivalent to the part played by Apple in South Africa’s transformation. This is not surprising, given the belief in a “miracle” and the role of the “party”. Instead of garnering local opinion, media houses simply reprinted news stories from the Independent and NY Times. It would seem our media is thus colonised to the core.

Controversy over Vuvuzela origin

THE  inevitable row over the extremely noisy Vuvuzela  has become a favourite topic of conversation at the FIFA World Cup. But the plastic instrument is drowning out another conversation — who exactly invented the Vuvuzela, and why should plastic versions of traditional musical instruments be protected under South Africa’s Intellectual Property law?

There are conflicting reports in the media about the origin of the Vuvuzela. While most local newspapers attribute the invention to local South African businessman  Neil van Schalkwyk, 36, according to the UK Guardian, a man by the name of Freddie Maake, 53 from Johannesburg claims to have invented the device.

The football fan said he created the vuvuzela prototype in the mid-70s and developed versions in aluminium and plastic, but in 2001 a company trademarked it and mass produced it. Maake said he asked for royalties but the talks broke down.

Neil van Schalkwyk of Masincedane Sport, a sporting goods and apparel company, says he is the inventor and has papers to prove it.  According to the Guardian, van Schalkwyk   a football fan, used to play semi-professionally. “I saw a tin version of the product at the stadiums,” he recalls. “With my background in plastics, I spoke to my then manager about us developing a plastic version in about 1999. The first samples were made in 2001 and we started getting the product out into the market then.”

Maake on the other hand, says he came up with the design and name: “I’m the father of vuvuzela,” he said. “The name comes from me. van Schalkwyk called his prototype something completely different.”  Production of the patented plastic Vuvuzela was announced shortly after South Africa won the rights to stage the world cup event.  The plastic Vuvuzela has a remarkable resemblance to the Swiss Horn, and other traditional European and African instruments which have been with us for thousands of years. While Maake is not making a cent, van Schalkwyk reckons the industry is worth R50 million a year.  It is unlikely the dispute will ever reach court, since litigation in terms of South African Intellectual Property Law is incredibly expense. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see if van Schalkwyk’s claim holds up. It would not be the first time that patents have been overturned after unscrupulous investors have exploited traditional knowledge.

End Telkom carrier preselect on Cable

ZA-FREE started out as a simple request to end the R152 surcharge on Internet access. In effect we are asking for the right to use any of the competing DSL and VOICE services available in the country and to stop Telkom’s practice of insisting that users pay rental on Voice as well as Data on the same line, in effect a policy of double-dipping.

I still believe this demand is a good one and the argument for doing so is valid. However, shortly after instituting the campaign, I realised there was another solution which would probably achieve a better outcome, since it dealt with the existence of the current regime and merely requires that Telkom institute the same kind of practices already at play in the wireless sector.

Everybody knows that when you buy a cellphone, some phones are network locked. This is called carrier preselect. Your phone in all likelihood is already locked to a particular carrier who bills you for services.

Likewise, when you order a landline (from Telkom) it comes with services that are already preselected. It is impossible, as far as I am aware, under the current system to dump voice services and to have a data-only line in the household market. If one is a business, such a possibility exists at a premium.

If Telkom carrier preselect was ended, and your household landline were no longer network locked for voice services, we would be able to prevent Telkom from double-dipping and extorting various surchages.

For example, the line rental would probably be a basic R152 discounted to R100 and that would be that. Cable would be just like any rented device, and you could then choose which services you needed based upon a fair market which was open to competition.

If you needed voice services from another company, you would purchase these services on top of the basic infrastructure supplied by the cable company. Yes, this is what has been left out of the equation all along, the damn cable. Its a word that became associated with network television companies in the USA, and with the digital migration that is occurring everywhere, it is a good word to describe Telkom, South Africa’s Cable company.

In the old days, a phone line would come with a free telephone. Then Telkom decided to charge rental for the phone before shopping this out and turning the devices into another market. Telkom thus no longer provides you with a telephone as such. In fact what is it that the company actually does? How many subsidiaries are profiting from the simple provision of cable services to households, without actually providing any value to the consumer?

If ZA-FREE demands were met and implemented Telkom would probably become three separate companies/divisions.

The first division would merely supply the cable and the basic switching infrastructure needed to access Voice and Data services.

The second would supply data services.

The third would supply voice services.

A competitive environment created by such a restructuring would result in greater bandwidth and better services for consumers. We would not have to choose between cable and wireless, because the system would be integrated and allow consumers to make educated decisions based upon economic need.

A consumer might decide that the only cable services required in a household are data, and use wireless for voice services. Likewise, another consumer might find voice on cable to be cheaper, and data on wireless to be a better option.

In fact there is an argument to be made that Telkom should only be a cable company and nothing more. It should be restricted from supplying voice and data services altogether because these services would be better off if they were supplied by an open market instead of a government monopoly or parastatel.

End of the day, it is the consumer which benefits, not simply shareholders and fatcat CEOs. The Internet surcharge which has characterised the South African telecoms landscape would therefore come to an end and be replaced by a legitimate charge for cable.

Telkom would be furthermore forced to acknowledge that charging line rental for voice services and line rental for data services via carrier preselect was an unfair and invalid practice that resulted in double-dipping and even tripling of costs for the consumer down the line.

I therefore urge you all to demand an end to Telkom Carrier PreSelect! Down with the surcharge on Net Access!

Feel free to circulate and forward this message. Please use the group as a forum for discussion and debate. VIVA ZA-FREE VIVA.

7 free or libre tools to survive with little or no Internet

FOR those of us living on Internet rations in the developing world, with limited or no bandwidth, web browsing is a luxury. Time then to end the digital divide by sharing web pages offline with your friends using any one of seven or more, free or libre tools that will make life a lot easier without a dedicated connection. If you want an alternative to live Internet, have sporadic or intermittent service, or are confined to an Internet Cafe, then get cracking, by giving the online world to those who don’t have it, share your bandwidth, download entire web sites and share content with your community.

AmiPic Lite – This is a Usenet reader, Web search, download tool and image viewer.

System Requirements: Windows 98/Me with IE 5.0 or higher; Windows 2000, XP and Vista

AmiPic Lite is Free.


BackStreet Browser – This is a multi-threading Web site download and viewing program. By making multiple simultaneous server requests, this program will download an entire Web site or section of a site. It then saves all the files on your hard drive either in their native format or as a compressed ZIP file so you can view the data while offline.

System Requirements: Windows 95/98/2000/NT/ME/XP, 64 MB RAM, 2 MB Hard Disk Spac


Continue reading