The end of an era, headlines have proclaimed in the last week. It was seemingly in reference to the news that BlackBerry was no longer making its own handsets.
Or was it a reference to the final days of the Rosetta spacecraft as it completed its 12-year mission to investigate a comet for clues to the origins of the universe?
Maybe it was about the latest pronouncement from telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele about the long-awaited national integrated ICT policy white paper, published this week.
This came days after Cwele successfully sued his own regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), for trying to hold a wireless spectrum auction.
Personally, I’m much more interested in the comet. We’ve been watching BlackBerry spiral through its death throes for years and this is the best move for the formerly dominant early smartphone maker, whose market value was once US$80bn. App makers have abandoned its otherwise excellent BlackBerry 10 operating system; and while consumer handset sales have slowed, its secure corporate clients (law enforcement, military, diplomatic and plain old nostalgic) aren’t enough to sustain it. Instead, CEO John Chen points out that software generates more profit, and it will now focus on device management and security.
BlackBerry will go down in history as a case study of how to throw away a significant head start, with corporate arrogance and executive hubris.
Cwele’s latest proposal will take at least a year to be resolved into anything approaching reality; especially as the white paper proposes that Icasa as well as the Film & Publications Board (an apartheid error) be replaced with more current bodies.
During this time, there are bound to be a few court cases and disputes about spectrum, and the power struggle between Cwele and communications minister Faith Muthambi will eclipse any meaningful work to advance ICT policy.
I’ll bet that by the time the next general election comes around, SA will still be squabbling about whether to encrypt digital terrestrial television, the related set-top box rollout, and this ICT white paper.
Muthambi will probably still be defending Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the Homer Simpson of broadcasting.
Government doesn’t understand how to get rich from telecoms, though it does all right in the lucrative mining sector.
Meanwhile, Rosetta’s mission to get close to the eccentrically named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet, arriving after a decade of intricate flight paths to release the Philae lander down onto the surface, was a success.
The landing in August 2014 was intended to result in years of data, but the Philae lander bounced into shadow when it touched down, which was a problem as it was supposed to use its solar panels to run itself. Even so, it’s an extraordinary achievement, slinging a satellite halfway across our solar system and landing a sensor-laden science robot on its 5km by 3km surface.
Comets originate from the birth of the universe, believed to be about 4.6bn years ago, and hold keys to the history of the universe and our own planet. Rosetta added to this information after it found, on the comet, the amino acid glycine (which is found in proteins) and phosphorus (an essential component of DNA). This adds fuel to the theory that comets may have helped populate Earth with life and water.
As Rosetta’s mission manager Patrick Martin said: "This is the culmination of tremendous scientific and technical success for this mission. It was historic, it was pioneering and it is revolutionising how we see comets. Farewell Rosetta, you’ve done the job: that was space science at its best."
Back on Earth, we’re still obsessed with our smartphones — and we really shouldn’t have to worry about the lack of decent and cheap wireless broadband in our little patch of the universe.