Tag: communications

Could 5G really ground planes?

Source:  The Conversation

Several international airlines recently cancelled flights into certain US airports over concerns the rollout of 5G mobile communication technology could interfere with some planes’ equipment.

After warnings about the potential problem from aviation bosses and the Federal Aviation Administration, telecommunications companies AT&T and Verizon delayed activating some 5G masts around US airports.

But how could 5G interfere with planes? And can the problem be fixed?

Currently being deployed in several countries around the world, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile phone technology. It could offer network speeds up to 100 times faster than what we’ve experienced with 4G.

To ensure high speeds with the widest possible coverage, AT&T and Verizon had planned to generate 5G internet using something called C-band frequencies, a type of radio frequencies (or radio waves) between 3.7 and 3.98 gigahertz (GHz).

These frequencies are adjacent to those used by modern aircraft to measure altitude. An important piece of an aircraft’s equipment, called a radio altimeter, operates on C-band frequencies between 4.2-4.4GHz. Pilots rely on radio altimeters to land the plane safely, particularly when visibility is poor, for example, when the airport is surrounded by high mountains or when conditions are foggy.

The concern is that, due to the narrow gap between the frequencies of the 5G and the radio altimeters, the radio waves from 5G towers near airports could cause interference. That is, people using 5G on their phones could inadvertently distort or damage the radio altimeter’s signal.

If this happens, even for a few seconds, it could mean the pilot doesn’t receive the correct information during landing. It is for this reason that the US Federal Aviation Administration raised concerns.

So what can be done?
Other countries rolling out 5G are using C-band frequencies that overlap with or are close to those of radio altimeters, without any reported problems. For example, in the UK, 5G goes up to 4GHz. Having no or few mountains around airports reduces the risk.

Some other countries operate their 5G on a frequency slightly further away from that of the aircraft equipment. In the European Union, for example, 5G goes up to 3.8GHz. This could be a good option for US airports.

The best option, in the long run, would be to use a much higher band for 5G, such as 24GHz to 47GHz. At these frequencies, data speeds are significantly higher, although the coverage area of each cell will be much less (so you would need more towers).

There’s also an option to reduce the signal strength from the towers around airports, which has reportedly been done in France and Canada. This is not about changing the frequency –signal strength is measured in decibels, not GHz – but limiting the signal power can reduce the likelihood of interference with neighbouring bands.

Another potential solution would be to adjust the frequency range of radio altimeters. But this would take a long time and probably be resource intensive for the aviation industry.

While the risk of an in-flight complication due to 5G interference may be very low, as we’re talking about human safety, we need to take any possible risks very seriously. The move to delay rolling out 5G masts near US airports is a good option while the relevant authorities determine the safest way forward.

Internet shutdowns cut millions off

By Hanna Duggal for Al Jazeera

Over the past year, billions of people all over the world have relied heavily on Internet connectivity to keep in touch with family and friends, learn online, work from home and get vital information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet over the course of 2020, 29 countries intentionally shut down or slowed their internet communications at least 155 times, according to a new report published by Access Now, a non-profit digital rights group.

“We are extremely concerned how government authorities are using internet shutdowns as a systemised tool to repress democratic expression, even in the middle of a global pandemic,” Raman Jit Singh Chima, senior international counsel and Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now said.

Most shutdowns: India
Authorities in India shut down the internet 109 times over the course of 2020, mostly in Indian-administered Kashmir, which accounted for almost 90 percent of all internet shutdowns in India last year.

From January 2020 till February of this year, the internet in Indian-administered Kashmir was throttled to 2G, making life very difficult for many students in the state who had been moved to remote learning as a result of COVID-19.

“We weren’t able to attend our online classes regularly,” said Bazillah Ayoub, 24, a student at the Model Institute of Engineering and Technology in Jammu.

“We had a lot of issues – we were asked to submit our assignments which were sometimes 15MB or above that, which got uploaded after one or two hours. Due to that, we all have backlogs in our subjects because we have not submitted our assignments on time,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.

Internet shutdowns in Indian-administered Kashmir are a regular occurrence, with authorities citing precautionary measures as the main justification.

“Shutdowns are used to suppress voices of dissent,” said youth activist Kanwal Singh, 30. “We have been a conflict state for the last 70 years.”

People in Indian-administered Kashmir experienced one of the longest internet shutdowns in the world with a complete blackout from August 2019 to January 2020, after which the throttled speed of 2G was allowed. The authorities recently restored 4G services in Indian-administered Kashmir after 18 months.

Last year, India’s Supreme Court ordered a review into Kashmir’s internet shutdowns, stating that they were unconstitutional and violated India’s telecoms rules.

“Any government or authority is not doing charity by restoring the 4G services,” said Singh. “When the government restored 4G services everyone started celebrating, but the point is this is not charity. This is our right and everyone’s right because this is guaranteed by the Indian constitution.”

Elsewhere in Asia
In addition to India, the governments of Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam also blocked access to the internet in 2020.

Myanmar has imposed the longest shutdown recorded to date, which continued from 2019 through 2020 and up to early February this year in Rakhine and Chin states.

As mass protests continue in the country, internet services remain precarious, despite full internet access being restored by authorities in Rakhine and Chin after a military coup last month.

In Bangladesh, Rohingya refugee camps were cut off from high-speed internet for 415 days. The Rohingya Students Network said people in camps were unable to access vital health information during COVID-19 because of internet throttling.

Europe’s shutdowns
During the August 2020 Belarusian election, the government blocked social media channels including WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber and Twitter as well as VPNs and Tor browsers.

Despite this, protesters took to the streets to contest Alexander Lukashenko’s presidential victory. As a result, the government imposed a full internet shutdown from the night of August 9 to August 12, 2020.

Belarusian journalist Hanna Liubakova, who has been covering the protests in Belarus, told Al Jazeera, “It was very difficult to verify information and do fact-checking because we received a lot of user-generated content.”

“Telegram channels became really important for citizens because that was the only platform that kind of worked a little bit at least,” said Liubakova. “It became the main source of information for so many people and the trend continues right now.”

An increased number of internet shutdowns have been deployed in areas of conflict. During last year’s war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan shut down social media and communication to citizens for six weeks. The government said it had been done to prevent Armenian provocation.

In the Middle East
The country with the most internet shutdowns in the Middle East in 2020 has been Yemen, a country mired in armed conflict and humanitarian crisis. These shutdowns exacerbated the situation, making access to information and communication – both by Yemenis and by international organisations attempting to work in the country – very difficult.

In January 2020, 80 percent of internet capacity was cut in Yemen following reports of sabotage to fibre optic cables by Houthi rebels.

Jordan experienced three national shutdowns in 2020. The government restricted Facebook Live during a teachers’ union protest in July and August 2020. The Ministry of Education also blocked communication applications such as Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook during national exams.

Other Middle Eastern countries that shut down the internet include Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Algeria.

Africa’s shutdowns
Internet and telecommunication services have been shut down across several African countries including Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda.

In Ethiopia, 100 million people were plunged into a complete media blackout for two weeks following protests after the killing of Oromo musician, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa.

In Kenya, there were at least two reported internet disruptions in 2020 after two telecommunications towers were destroyed in Mandera County by the Somali armed group, al-Shabab.

Latin America
Internet shutdowns have also occurred in Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba.

In 2020, the Cuban government blocked access to Telegram, WhatsApp, Twitter, and other social media platforms for three days following rare large public protests decrying curbs to civil liberties.

What are the reasons behind internet shutdowns?
Governments have justified internet shutdowns citing fake news, precautionary measures, public safety and national security among other reasons.

The actual reasons for shutdowns have stemmed from political instability, elections, protests, communal violence, information control and exam cheating.

Seven countries including India, Guinea, Belarus, Burundi, Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania and Togo shut down the internet during an election period in 2020.


Rain takes on Vodacom, MTN

By Nick Hedley for Business Day 

The new mobile operator backed by prominent businessmen Patrice Motsepe, Paul Harris and Michael Jordaan is taking the fight over data prices to sector giants Vodacom and MTN.

Rain, a data-only network operator that launched mobile services two weeks ago, wanted to win over its rivals’ heavy data users with a simpler offering and competitive prices, CEO Willem Roos said.

Amid a decline in traditional voice revenues and public scrutiny over connectivity costs, data is becoming a major battleground for SA’s telecommunications companies, and the market is ballooning – Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom generated a combined R47bn in data revenues in SA in their financial years ended December and March.

Rain does not offer traditional voice services, but sells data for R50 a gigabyte, while outside of peak evening hours, its customers can use unlimited data for R250 a month, according to Roos, the former CEO of Outsurance.

In the two weeks since launching the product, “our business volumes have surprised us slightly on the positive side, particularly since we didn’t do any advertising”, he said.

“I really think we’ve addressed a few pain points in the market that customers have experienced, and although our offering is somewhat limited geographically and in being data only, for customers where that makes sense, I think it’s quite a compelling product.”

The metropolitan-focused operator plans to grow its network from 2,100 cellphone towers to 5,000 within the next three years.

Rain, which also offers fixed-wireless services, had mostly resolved “teething problems” related to delayed deliveries of SIM cards, Roos said.

The company, which is more than 40% black-owned, was promoting dual-SIM phones, where customers used Rain for data services and a rival’s network to make traditional voice calls. Roos said some customers were becoming comfortable with the idea of ditching voice-enabled SIM cards altogether and making all their calls on WhatsApp and other internet-based services.

With Rain’s coverage confined to cities and large towns, “we accept it’s slightly a niche product, but not small — I still think there are millions of people it would appeal to”.

Rain already lets Vodacom roam on its network and Roos said that it was considering giving mobile virtual network operators access to its spectrum and infrastructure.

“We have had discussions with a number of players. But I think the data-only aspect still needs to be proven, and we’re also keen on building our own business because the real value would lie in building a good retail business…. We’d like to become a decent-sized player.”

Africa Analysis director Dobek Pater said while it would take time for Rain to build market share, its mobile offering was likely to have a “significant” effect on the market.

It could stimulate competition by allowing new operators to use its network, while its larger competitors would probably have to reduce their data prices further, Pater said.

Bar some of Telkom’s offerings, Rain was the cheapest operator in the market for consumers who used less than 20GB of data a month.

“In terms of what Icasa [the Independent Communications Authority of SA] and the Competition Commission are trying to achieve in terms of reducing data prices and the cost to communicate, that will transpire to a large extent through private sector initiatives anyway. Competitive market forces will force prices down even further.”

Internet blackout in Zimbabwe

A core platform failure at Zimbabwe’s largest internet access provider saw Zimbabwe lose internet services for the better part of Tuesday.

The internet outage started at 11:30 and lasted until 17:00 and affected most operators that use Liquid Telecoms Zimbabwe, a subsidiary of Econet Wireless Global.

At the time of writing this story it was still unknown as to what caused the outage.

However, Econet Wirelesss Zimbabwe, which also rides on liquid, issued a statement saying: Econet Wireless apologises to its valued customers for the data outage experienced on Tuesday, December 5, 2017 resulting in customers being unable to access the internet and related data services on our network.”

Company spokesperson Fungai Mandiveyi said the outage was due a technical fault which has since been resolved.

“Econet sincerely apologises for any inconvenience caused,” he said.

Liquid Telecom is one of the fastest growing internet service providers in Zimbabwe in particular and Africa in general.

It provides state-of-the-art fibre internet which links Zimbabwe and the Southern African region to the outside world. It is the biggest internet access provider with a market share of more than 80%.

Its sister company, Econet Wireless, controls 75% of mobile phones meaning the outage affected approximately 75% of the telecoms market. Social media platforms such as WhatsApp were also affected.

The outage also affected most of the businesses that rely on online based activities including sending emails.

State owned fixed telecoms provider Telone also issued a statement saying: “This is due to faults that occurred on our main links through South Africa and Botswana.

“Our back back-up link through Mozambique has remained active with limited connectivity.”

ByCrecey Kuyedzwa for Fin24

ICT has progressed to a point where it makes no sense for businesses to use single or one-dimensional channels. Today, the advent of social networks, social media and other interactive platforms means that any sized business in any sector or industry can extend their reach to a wide audience immediately. Omni-channel communication has become the order of the day.

Omni-channel communication involves the use of several platforms, often simultaneously, including print, email, social, SMS and MMS.

Fred Steinberg, MD of Communication Genetics, a leading provider of customer communication solutions, believes that omni-channel communication makes sense because it offers so many more ways to engage the customer and these all promote interaction.

“This type of communication is directed at a wide base but can be personalised, so that individuals feel as if they’re the only ones being spoken to. It is a very effective means interaction and because these are all digital platforms, they are by default responsive. More businesses are beginning to tap into the potential that social platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter offer, realising the intrinsic value of channels that are pervasive, dynamic and powerful,” says Steinberg.

Despite some of the more traditional business environments, like banking and financial services, still struggling to get to grips with social media and applications, the truth is that any credible business today cannot ignore the benefits of the omni-channel approach,” says Steinberg.

One of the main advantages that most markets are now familiar with is that of being able to ‘brand’ this communication – in other words tailor this communication to reflect the business, keep it fresh in the minds of recipients and basically use it as a form of consistent, low-cost but always accessible advertising.

The reality is that to continue operating, sustain performance and indeed capture market share, businesses must embrace digital tools and leverage these channels to integrate processes and procedures that form part of their core business.

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