iWeek

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Not sure when iWeek got its name. Maybe during the days of e- and i- prefixes to everything anyone wanted anyone else to think of as trendy.

It’s a week-long gathering of telecoms industry people of varying walks of life, everything from little Wi-Fi operators to big fibre companies to wireless ISPs to politicians to goodness knows what. Then, at some point, some publications geniuses decided to make a magazine called iWeek. It’s all very confusing to the industry newbie.

Last year, iWeek was my first week at Skyrove and I knew nothing. I did, however, know enough to latch onto Rich Thanki, who was the guest speaker, who I had the pleasure of reconnecting with earlier this year in Dakar. This time around I not only knew how spectrum worked but had actually read his 90-page article on TVWS.

This year I knew a bit more, and was even running for election to the management committee of WAPA (the Wireless Industry Providers Association, a voluntary trade group mostly for wireless ISPs but for all people interested in wireless).

This year the guest speaker was Cory Doctorow, sci-fi writer, digital rights activist, and modern-day techno-realist. I went up to say hello to a fellow North American and wound up having lunch with him on the first day of the conference. Smart guy, and very interesting and dynamic but he kind of rocked my world from two perspectives.

Cory scaring me

Cory scaring me

The first was at lunch when he pointed out that there is actually very little that can be used to predict or even necessarily influence successful companies. It’s hard sometimes to separate skill from luck from the right connections, being in the right place at the right time, etc. Essentially the sample set of successful companies is so small that it’s actually not possible to pick out the variables that lead to success. This is why many of the former shining lights of the Silicon Valley VC arena are no longer shining so bright.

The best indicator of future success is past success but a success in one past career certainly does not guarantee or indicate in a future startup or different circumstance. Scary as hell for a small company CEO or entrepreneurial-minded person. Hey it’s one thing to invest some money in small companies if you have it as an angel, maybe you win some maybe you lose some. To invest time is a lot more. VCs in the U.S. I think are mostly just sharks; they know it’s gambling which is why they expect most investee companies to fail.

But us … we live it. We don’t think of it as gambling. We like to think we have some control.

Ahh determinism is a fun fantasy no? So is the ability to control our own destiny.

The other thing that scared the living daylights out of me was this notion that in an ever-more electronic world, it is far too easy to hack into improperly-designed systems. The best example is the pacemaker that has been hacked to deliver a lethal pulse, or a digital hearing aid that can be made not to make us hear certain things, or make us hear things that aren’t there, or send what we’re hearing to someone else. Think of Google Glass.

So I may or may not start to get more involved in such things here, because someone’s gotta do it.

Interesting times. The event was held at this beautiful eco resort in Johannesburg South. Very very dry though, but stunning. Cape Town you can mistake for somewhere European. Joburg not. Definitely one of those times when I had a bit of a ‘I live in Africa and run a telecoms company’ type moment. Small, yes, but we’re getting things going.

Still, a wise man from a partner of ours said it right a few weeks back. If you’re going to work your tail off, best it be for something big and not some small thing.

These events, as happens, are as much about the socialising as about the content. I think I made more friends than enemies and, interestingly, the industry consensus seems to agree with my statement that paid public Wi-Fi is a dead man walking.

There were also Christmas trees in the Sandton Convention Centre

But I also got to see a lot of my industry friends which is always nice. On the Thursday night I skipped the gala dinner to go to the TomTom party which was also a great deal of fun … until the next morning when someone had parked me in at the guest house and I couldn’t get to gym. I was kind of livid because I do NOT like to miss a training session but then again, who can predict someone wanting to leave the guest house at 5am? Madness.

We do all have a tendency to complain about things. Our industry complains about government, people complain about slow and expensive internet, and the mobile carriers, and what-what.

But hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’m not patient either.

Imagine building Notre Dame, and knowing that the work would never be completed in your lifetime. Compared to that, we should all just chill out for the pace of changes we are lucky enough to be able to see.

  • “Put your food on the plate and eat.” – Rick
  • “Well I live in Pretoria. We have restaurants that aren’t in shopping malls.” – Marius
  • “We must work on perceptions as well.” – Anton
  • “Change the system from the inside.” – Anton [sometimes necessary but only for the patient!]
  • “His title is ‘The Dark Overlord.’” – Sam
  • “It’s hard to attribute success to anything other than statistical noise.” – Cory
  • “The only reason we’re entrepreneurs is that we don’t think of it as gambling.” – an entrepreneur
  • “You’re like a princess but you don’t even know it.” – a fan
  • “But there’s a Virgin Active just down the road!” [without missing a beat] “That’s not a gym!!!” – Marius & Ellie
  • “I’m tempted to say ‘nice job.’” – Dominic
  • “I’m trying to see the downsides.” – Dominic
  • “Someone’s gotta take over the world. It may as well be the good guys.” – Ellie
  • “That’s another good one to attach your star to. Although a bit prone to nerves.” – Dominic
  • “I’ve just done 50 handstand pushups. My shoulders are warm.” – Ellie
  • “Why are you so good when I say ‘stripper *ss?’” “Because you say it so often!” – Rick & Ellie [context is everything]
  • “I’ve been here so long that you’ve become predictable.” “No, you just keep doing the same thing over and over again!” – Wade & Rick (love these boys!)
  • “Not every delusion that we arrive at is as harmless.” – Cory
  • “When computers don’t tell us what they’re doing they put us at terrible, terrible risk.” – Cory
  • “The distance between action and consequence is the major problem with security.” – Cory
  • “Basically, the whole world’s a big microwave nowadays.” – Cory
  • “Who *is* that guy?” – Arno
  • “You need a thousand of you.” – James
  • “Everything happens in Joburg.” – Samantha
  • “It’s becoming very clear that if I want to win this at this game, I have to be in the arena.” – Ellie
  • “Who owns that data?” “Exactly.” – Cary & Ellie

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