After the initial good news that Aspen had inked a deal with Johnson & Johnson to produce a COVID-19 vaccine in Port Elizabeth, we later learnt that South Africans will only start receiving jabs around the middle of 2021, at the earliest.
The year 2020 certainly has been a bag of mixed emotions. From medicos that said infection by the Coronavirus provides later immunity, many of our fellow human beings have let us down badly this year with all sorts of mixed signals to their colleagues who disagreed. And that’s not fake news.
All is not lost; however, as South Africans witnessed firsthand that there is at least one positive, constant and reliable aspect of our lives, we can count on when the chips are down. That is, of course, mobile technology.
Many of those same mobile telecommunications engineers that over two decades ensured South Africa became one of the very few countries worldwide to have uninterrupted mobile phone coverage on highways, pulled out all the stops to keep us working this year. Whether the emergence of coronavirus saw us forced to work from a home office, a couch at home or even the car parked on the driveway, our mobile voice and data connections performed amazingly well with no significant outages reported by the mobile networks.
Only an estimated 100 000 households have access to high-speed home Wi-Fi over fibre while there are more active mobile SIM cards in circulation than people in South Africa. Basic facts like these mean cellular technology will continue to feature front and centre in our lives over 2021, perhaps beaten only in the popularity stakes by the electricity that (usually) powers every aspect of our modern lives.
We can expect a shift to total mobility next year. Mobile was initially a way of freeing office workers from the constraints of their copper wire connections. Today, current events have hastened the move to a mobile-first existence for workers, students and others who formerly saw mobile as merely a back-up technology. We are now demanding lower prices as they consider mobile their go-to tech. This urgent move to mobile is witnessing the rollout of high-speed mobile data connectivity that doesn’t depend on fixed-line infrastructure. As the cost of providing mobile data over – well, mobile – plummets, we’ll see plenty of innovation from low-cost mobile providers of 5G services.
Businesses, too, will join consumers in the massive move to total mobility in 2021. Expect to revel in the choices made possible by the launch of legions of new, online-only and mobile-powered businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, particularly hard-hit by this year’s events. Don’t they say that adversity leads to opportunity? Anyone entering a restaurant in the latter part of 2020 has no doubt seen some outstanding examples of innovation by the country’s eateries, in particular. Intelligent queuing systems, well-thought-out menus and interesting seating arrangements complement smart Coronavirus-related investments in technology, much of it was mobile.
Remember the rise of ‘phablets’ several years ago? After arousing much mirth as users pressed what looked like enormous phones to their ears, we are now trying to get our hands on devices that sit somewhere between a mobile phone and a tablet. We’re eagerly Googling these devices as we realised during the lockdown and later curfews that the excellent and relatively affordable mobile connectivity provided by our stock standard mobiles made them perfect for working and relaxing on, if only they were just a little bigger. Expect to see plenty phablets on offer in 2021. Electronic devices make them much less comical to use, like wireless earbuds that easily enable seamless voice communication. I am sold!
Finally, it’s usual to conclude a predictions piece with one outlier. In this regard, I think that as the need to have giant, work-friendly screens start outweighing the need to have an indeed “portable” phone, we will see foldable phones begin bridging this gap, and plenty will be on offer in 2021.
- Devon Meerholz is a Chief Creative and Operations Officer at IMIMobile SA