New video solution for low-bandwidth Africa

25 November 2013

While online video usage has exploded internationally, Africa is lagging behind because unbroken streaming is not possible in the low-rate internet infrastructures available on the continent.

But now a group of researchers from the University of Cape Town – working in a consortium with developers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and marketing experts from East Coast Access – have come up with an innovative solution that is could change the face of mobile usage for watching video in Africa.

The platform – known as Adaptive Real-Time Internet Streaming Technology (Artist) – makes unbroken video-streaming possible with the use of algorithms to adjust quality to available bandwidth.

“Our aim was to find the balance between complete blockage due to congestion and acceptable picture/video quality in order to lessen the disruption to the viewing experience of the user,” says Emeritus Professor Gerhard de Jager.

Accessibility

De Jager, along with Associate Professor Mqhele Dlodlo, headed up the team of researchers in UCT’s Department of Electrical Engineering that developed the intellectual property for Artist.

The breakthrough could have a major impact in Africa, where accessible bandwidth is still an issue.

The International Telecommunication Union estimates that fixed (read: high speed) broadband penetration is less than 1% in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to about 27.2% in developed nations.

For mobile subscriptions, however, Africa isn’t nearly as far behind the rest of the world as it is with high-speed broadband. The ITU reports that per 100 inhabitants, Africa has around 63.5 mobile subscriptions, while Asian regions are at 88.7, Europe is at 126.5 and the Americas are at 109.4 mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.

Diverse application

“Potential applications for this technology are diverse – from entertainment (sports events, community TV) to education (schooling, adult education and healthcare worker training),” says Dlodlo.

The company tasked with commercialising Artist is Tuluntulu, the Zulu word for “stream”. Pierre van der Hoven, Tuluntulu’s chief executive, believes the benefit of this technology is twofold: “We can go into rural [low bandwidth] areas; and, by managing the signal, we can control the cost to end-users”.

The Tuluntulu app is available on Google Play Store to anyone with an Android device running version 4.0 or later.

Edited version of a story first published in UCT’s Monday Monthly. Published here with kind permission.