How the Mobile Phone Revolutionized Africa (Part 1): Banking and Education

This is the first article of the two-part series: “How the Mobile Phone Revolutionized Africa”. This first part focuses on Banking and Education, and the upcoming second part will focus on Disaster Management, Agriculture, and Health.

In a few years, the increase of mobile phone usage has transformed how people communicate and live in Africa. Mobile phones allowed Africans to buck the trend by skipping the landline stage of development and jumping straight into the digital age. Only about 2 percent of African households have a landline phone, but around 90 percent of adults own mobile phones. It is worth noting that most of the cell phones in Africa are what we call basic or feature phones – they are capable of calling, texting, and basic Internet browsing only.

For Africa, most of the people’s first experience with the internet comes through their mobile phones. Around 70% of mobile users browse the internet on their mobile phones, and Africa’s mobile broadband growth is increasing at a rate of more than 40%, which is twice the global average. This prevalence of mobile phones in Africa is mainly due to the weak landline infrastructure on the entire continent, which makes connecting through a desktop or laptop computer quite difficult. Mobile phones are also much cheaper to buy today, resulting in them being ubiquitous across the continent.

Below is an infographic showing the use of mobile phones in Africa:

Another reason for the great use of mobile phones in Africa is the frequent occurrence of power shortages that lead to blackouts. This directly led to more Africans adopting the use of mobile phones, since they do not need to be plugged in all the time. This has created a unique environment where mobile technology has been adapted for a wide range of usages, from lowering information barriers, to improving access to financial and health services, to boosting commerce, and bringing people together.

Below are some examples of how mobile phones have revolutionized communications and transformed the lives of Africans for the better:

Banking

M-PESA is a mobile money transfer service launched in 2007 by Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile operator, together with Vodafone. After five years, M-PESA is providing services to 15 million Kenyans, which is more than a third of the population of the country. According to a survey by the Gates Foundation and the World Bank, more than half of adults use mobile money in Kenya and Gabon,

The success of M-PESA in Kenya is inspiring similar initiatives across the entire continent. Mobile Banking is now extremely popular in Africa, especially since governments struggle to extend banking services to large numbers of the population, resulting to only one in five adults owning bank accounts across sub-Saharan Africa. Many Africans now use mobile money to pay their bills, buy goods, and make payments to individuals. Another popular use for mobile banking is for remittances from relatives living in other countries.

Education

Nokia capitalized on the growing popularity of mobile communications and social networking in South Africa to launch MoMaths, a mathematics teaching tool that targets users of the instant messaging platform MxitMxit is South Africa’s most popular social media platform, with more than 10 million active users in the country.

The potential for transforming Africa’s educational system using mobile technology is massive, as mobile phones are cheaper to own and easier to run than PCs, and they are gaining ground as tools for delivering teaching content. This facilitation of education through social networking and mobile networks will help reduce the number of African children who are not able to receive any formal education.

This article will be continued in the second part of this series titled: How the Mobile Phone Revolutionized Africa (Part 2): Disaster Management, Agriculture, & Health.

CAT8 Cabling – What Is It and When Will It be Out for Use?

If you’ve been in LAN cabling business, you should have heard about CAT5, CAT6 and probably CAT7 standards. It would not be therefore hard to guess that the next standard in network copper cabling would be CAT8 (Category 8) standard.

In this article I try to give a very short and effective idea of what all these category standards are about and then explain what you should expect from the next upcoming standard – CAT 8.

Category Standards for Twisted Pair Cables

Category standards defined by ISO/IEC 11801 international standard define the characteristics of telecommunication cabling systems for both twisted pair and FO cabling. Here I will only focus on twisted pair.

Without making it should too complicated, the reason you see copper cables used in communications (being it voice or data) are twisted as pairs, is because by twisting the two wires that are used for transmission of communication signals, the wires would to some extent “contain” the electromagnetic field that would be created as a result of such electrical signals passing the wires.

The actual speed of data you can pass through a twisted pair would be limited by the frequency characteristics of the twisted wire/cable. The higher the frequency characteristics, it means that the cable can “contain” the electromagnetic fields at higher frequencies allowing higher speed throughputs. (If can be mathematically proved that the higher the data speed, the higher is the created frequency).

One of the factors that increases frequency characteristics of twisted pair cables is how much “twisted they are” – more twist equals better frequency characteristics. The other factor would be the separation between different twisted pairs including by using individual shielded pairs.

Now, as the technology evolves there is increasing demand for higher data speeds and hence the need for defining and manufacturing twisted pair cables that can support those higher speeds.

The table below briefly shows the current Category standards for twisted pair cables (I’ve simplified it a bit):

Standard Frequency Limit Data Speed Date of Usage
CAT 2 1 MHz 4 Mbps 1980s
CAT 3 16 MHz 10 Mbps 1990s
CAT 5/5e 100 MHz 100 Mbps 2000-2010
CAT 6 250 MHz 1 Gbps 2005 – onwards
CAT 7 600 MHz 10 Gbps 2010 – onwards
CAT 7a 1000 MHZ 10 Gbps+ 2014 – onwards

Note: CAT5e standard was introduced as improvement of CAT5e and can actually support up to 1Gbps. There is a CAT6a standard commonly referred to by manufacturers but that is not actually an official ISO standard.

Category 8 Standard

As explained above, obviously CAT8 standard is expected to provide better frequency characteristics / hence support for higher speeds of data.

The standard has been under development since March 2013 and a draft was finally published for review in June 2016. The final version of the standard can be out as early as Q4 2016.

CAT8 is expected to support bandwidths of up to 2 GHz (2000 MHz) for up to 30 meters of cabling and can support 25Gbps / 40Gbps speeds.

CAT8 cables will look similar to lower category cables and will most probably still be terminated in RJ45 connections.

As the cable length for such speeds is limited to 30 meters, they will most probably be used in form of factory-made patch cords for interconnection of equipment in data centers.

Conclusion

The current CAT8 standard is expected to be finalized sometime in late 2016. We might need to wait for another year before seeing related products (CAT8 cables, connectors, patch panels …) in the market.

However at least for now, it seems that CAT8 usage will be more limited to server rooms and data-centers as an easier alternative to make high-speed interconnection between servers and networking appliances by using the very much familiar copper patch cords.