Tag Archives: africa

CES still hasn’t bridged the continental divide

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This year’s rebranding of the tech extravaganza formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show saw “International” dropped from the name. It’s now just CES, although it still bills itself as a “global technology event”.

Looking just at attendees and media, it certainly is an event with global pull. But the products on display overwhelming come from companies based in developed or near-developed countries, even though the actual manufacturing is often done in the developing world. China is well represented, of course, and there’s ample room to debate which category it falls into, but nevertheless it is exceptional in every sense of the word.

Every year brings a handful of exhibitors from ASEAN nations. This year, the total dropped significantly, with only 13 companies attending, including 10 from wealthy Singapore. Two were from Thailand and only one from Malaysia, Nationgate Solution, a contract manufacturer. Last year there were 15 from Singapore and five from the rest of the region. That’s out of more than 3,600 exhibitors total.

India held more or less steady with six exhibitors, one less than last year but the same as 2014. South America was barely present with one exhibitor, Student Genius from Colombia; past years have fluctuated between zero and two. Last year there was one African manufacturer, this year there were none on the show floor. One publisher from South Africa, IT News Africa, set up a stand though. It’s a good read and worth a look if you’re interested in following the African tech scene.

One thing the Consumer Technology Association could do would be to set up a special forum – there are plenty already – for contract manufacturers and similar providers of outsourced services. Among the 150,000 or so attendees, there are thousands of entrepreneurs, many of whom are on the hunt for someone to make their stuff.

CES exhibit floor grows in size but not in global reach

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The eyes of the world.

The Consumer Electronics Associations warns journalists that it produces a global technology event called International CES and that none should dare speak the name Consumer Electronics Show. The problem is, it’s still a consumer electronics show and it’s still noticeably weak on the global, if not International bits. At least where exhibitors are concerned.

African and South American participation is painfully slim. South Africa-based Geco Action Cam – was the only representative from that continent: same count as last year and down from 2 in 2013. A pair of Brazilian companies exhibited. They represented the entire bona fide South American delegation. Still, that’s double last year’s figure.

India is up slightly, with 7 exhibits this year against 6 last year. But that compares to 10 in 2013. At a trade show with more than 3,600 exhibitors – a record, CEA says – the difference is insignificant.

Only 20 companies from the ASEAN region were on the CES floor this year, versus 18 in 2014 and 23 in 2013. And most of those are from Singapore – 15 this year, a gain of 1 from last year. Thailand sent 3, and the Philippines and Vietnam sent 1 each. Even though a large and growing share of the world’s electronic devices are being made in ASEAN countries, companies and brands based there are not climbing the value chain. At least not as far as Las Vegas.

CES attendees come from nearly every nation on the planet – more than a quarter of the 170,000 registered were from somewhere other than the U.S. But they come to buy from east asian, north american and european companies. If CEA wants to truly be a global technology event, it needs to figure out how to get them to come and sell, too.

CES needs to bring global partners to the dance

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The “global technology event” which is officially – whatever that means – called “International CES” isn’t living up to its name even as well as it did (or not) last year. Exhibitors from Africa, South America, South Asia and Southeast Asia are even thinner on the ground in 2014, judging from the pre-show floor guide.

Last year, 23 companies from ASEAN nations exhibited products, this year the total is only 18. Hanoi-based Tosy is thankfully back – nothing like a dancing robot to perk up the day. The Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand also have a single representative, a plus for the Philippines but a loss for Thailand which fielded 3 exhibits last year. Singapore is still the powerhouse, with 14 companies showing product, a gain of 1.

Indian companies and organisations are losing interest, with only 6 exhibiting versus 10 in 2013. South America is doing better this year, with one bona fide entrant – Comercial Revbox, a trading company from Chile – on the show floor. Last year’s continental rankings had South America tied with Antarctica: zero.

Africa is not doing as well. Vivid Audio, a Johannesburg-based maker of high end audio systems, is back but that’s it. Morocco’s Nemotek isn’t returning and no other African exhibitor is making the trip.

Developing world start-ups sometimes share booth space with better established partners or participate in small company showcases, like Showstoppers or Pepcom, so there’s plenty of opportunities for pleasant surprises.

Last year, 36,000 people – nearly a quarter of the total – from 150 countries came to CES as international visitors, and exhibitors from dozens of northern hemisphere countries could be found on the show floor. CES is an amazing show that well deserves its international tag. It’s not too much to hope that it can eventually close the gap and become a truly global event.

Don’t predict African broadband growth with consensus and conventional wisdom

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African traffic coming thicker and faster.

Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index (VNI) shows global data traffic tripling over the next five years, growing to a level of 121,000 petabytes per month. North America and the Asia-Pacific region are the the big hitters, then and now, each accounting for roughly a third of total Internet traffic. Africa and the Middle East, on the other hand, barely registers. The report projects faster growth there, but even so that region’s share of global data movement will only go from about 2% of the total to 3%.

The VNI is a mash up of projections from many different sources, as well as data collected by Cisco. It’s a good technique for finding a consensus view of future trends when change is incremental, even if it is rapid. But since it favors conventional wisdom over intuition and insight, it’s not a very good way to get a handle on growth prospects in markets where relatively small initiatives can create significant disruption. That’s why I think it’s understating the growth prospects for Internet traffic in Africa.

Mobile networks are healthy and expanding in both scope and capacity; fixed wireless trials, including some led by Google, are likely to lead to a burst of broadband adoption, particularly in urban areas. Submarine cable projects are weaving a fiber necklace around the continent. When the two biggest limiting factors – affordable international back haul and reliable last mile networks – are removed, the result will be localised explosions in broadband uptake and usage. Not unlike what happened ten to fifteen years ago in the developed work as DSL, cable modem and fiber service replaced dial-up access in local market after local market.

Africa’s share of world population is 15% and growing. It’ll take more than five years to get to where it accounts for a comparable level of global Internet traffic, but not fifty years or more, which is what Cisco’s forecast implies. A jump to something more like 5% in five years would see the continent pull more or less even with the rest of the world within a generation. That’s doable and, I believe, likely.

Leaving CES, entering the future

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Developers jump on a new mobile platform.

If mobile, desktop and other devices like TVs converge on a single operating system, it'll be a Linux variant. When processing, display and input technology get to the point that the size and form factor of a device is irrelevant, an open source ecosystem will provide a cross-sector point of convergence for developers and manufacturers. Service providers will follow. It's an entrepreneurs' world.

Windows 8 will survive as a mobile operating system. It'll have a place in enterprise networks, because its integration with desktop computing will appeal to some IT managers. It could even edge out RIM if the Blackberry 10 OS fails to impress. But I didn't talk to a single consumer facing app developer who is coding for anything other than Android and iOS.

Makers starting moving into CES this year. 3D printing grabbed everyone's attention, with printer manufacturers' booths jammed and a few garage scale start-ups showing products. Expect a lot more next year.

Wearable computing and home automation are closer to being commonplace. Near term, wristwatch-style Bluetooth devices like Pebble will provide quick text and incoming call notifications, plus limited control functions for your smart phone. Long term, eyeglass mounted video displays and health monitors will become self contained and fully functional, with or without a phone.

Retailers, manufacturers and service providers are jumping into home automation. Managed services, industry verticals, do-it-yourself kits and proprietary systems were in abundance at CES.

There's no clear leader in the space, but there might not need to be. Whether it's by automatically associating to a home WiFi network, talking to a networked hub or connecting directly to mobile networks, smart home devices will get their smarts from cloud-based middleware platforms. Consumers can just plug and forget. Apps and web pages will provide information and control.

It's fair to call the International CES a technology event rather than a dedicated consumer electronics show. Distinctions between consumer and enterprise markets, and shrink wrapped products and core technologies are largely irrelevant. Calling it global is still a stretch. Although attendees come from all over, only a quarter of the world's countries were represented on the exhibit floor. Two continents – Africa and South America – were all but absent. India's presence barely registered. Big as this year's show was, there's room to grow in 2014.

Proud and few, African companies at CES

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Nemotek brings Moroccan manufactured products to CES.

More than three thousand companies from 52 countries are exhibiting at CES, but only two are from Africa.

“There's a lot of manufacturing going on,” said Philip Guttentag, CEO of South Africa-based Vivid Audio. “It's just not very well marketed.”

Vivid was showing its sleek speakers in a high-end audio group display. The company makes its products near Durban.

Nemotek designs and builds its tiny CMOS camera modules in Morocco. Their product is positioned as a high reliability, small form factor imaging product for mobile electronics and laptop makers. They can support up to 1080p video and 10 megapixel still photos.

CES is “the perfect show for us,” said Omar Elrhoul, Nemotek's sales and marketing manager. He said they go to the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, but he's finding that CES draws a broader range of potential customers with more diversified applications.

Both Elrhoul and Guttentag seemed a little surprised that more African companies didn't make the trip to Las Vegas. They didn't expect many companies from their part of the world to exhibit, but they thought there would be some. The lack of exhibiting companies wasn't unique to Africa. South American companies were equally thin on the ground.

I'm surprised, too. Going in, I was expecting to find at least a handful of African entrepreneurs pitching either their companies to investors or products to the industry. The cost of making the trip is obviously a factor, and complicated U.S. visa procedures is undoubtedly another. But two is a good start. I'm looking forward to next year.