Archive for ‘Technology’

28/10/2014

Softbank invests $840M in India tech companies – Businessweek

Japanese telecommunications company Softbank Corp. is investing nearly $840 million in two technology companies in India, eyeing what it sees as a lucrative market for growth.

Softbank said Tuesday it is investing $627 million and becoming the biggest shareholder in Snapdeal, the largest digital marketplace in India with 25 million users and 50,000 businesses. It brings together products from thousands of big and small brands.

The Tokyo-based company, which recently acquired Sprint in the U.S., is also investing $210 million in Ola Cabs, which runs the technology to connect consumers with cab drivers in India.

Softbank executives said they were banking on India because it has a large number of Internet users, the online market is not yet saturated and connection speeds are likely to get faster.

via Softbank invests $840M in India tech companies – Businessweek.

22/10/2014

Boeing and Chinese partner to make jet fuel from ‘gutter oil’ | Reuters

Aircraft makers Boeing and Commercial Aircraft Corp of China have launched a joint pilot project to turn used cooking oil into jet fuel.

Their plant, based in the southeastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, will be able to convert just under 240,000 litres a year of used cooking oil into fuel, Boeing said in a statement.

The project will allow the two aircraft makers to test the viability of producing biofuel using the cheap and widely available form of cooking waste, referred to in China as “gutter oil“.

Boeing and its Chinese state-owned partner estimate that 1.8 billion litres of fuel could be produced in China a year using gutter oil.

In February, the Civil Aviation Administration of China granted a subsidiary of state-owned behemoth Sinopec Corp a licence to produce jet fuel from used cooking oil.

Gutter oil has long been a public health concern in China due to its widespread use in restaurants. Used cooking oil can contain toxic compounds and is often considered insanitary.

Chinese media reported in 2010 that crime rings were collecting used cooking oil from sewers and drains, rebottling it and selling it as new.

Over the past two years, dozens of people have been given lengthy prison sentences for the scam, which has made many Chinese in major cities sick. Last year one man was sentenced to life in prison for making and trafficking gutter oil.

via Boeing and Chinese partner to make jet fuel from ‘gutter oil’ | Reuters.

21/10/2014

China to pitch high-speed trains to California | Reuters

State-backed China CNR Corporation is making a pitch to sell its high-speed trains to California, signaling China’s growing export ambitions for such technology after building the world’s longest network in just seven years.

A high-speed train travelling to Guangzhou is seen running on Yongdinghe Bridge in Beijing, December 26, 2012. REUTERS/China Daily

It marks the first concrete attempt by China to sell high-speed locomotives abroad and establish itself as a credible rival to sector leaders such as Germany’s Siemens, Canada’s Bombardier and Japan’s Kawasaki.

CNR, its unit Tangshan Railway and U.S.-based SunGroup USA are submitting an expression of interest to California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project for a contract to supply up to 95 trains that can travel as fast as 354 kilometers per hour (221 miles per hour), SunGroup told Reuters.

via China to pitch high-speed trains to California | Reuters.

19/10/2014

Costco Gets Into China via Alibaba’s Tmall Website – Businessweek

Attention, China: Costco is coming. To Tmall, at least.

The U.S. retailer has teamed up with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) to sell products on the Tmall website. Food and health products will show up first, including many from Costco’s in-house brand, Kirkland. Flat-screen TVs and weird exercise contraptions won’t be far behind.

Costco (COST) doesn’t have physical stores in China. In fact, it has precious few in Asia at large. There are 19 Costco warehouses in Japan, 11 in Korea, and 10 in Taiwan.

The Internet is a relatively easy way enter a new market. But Costco doesn’t do too much of that either. China will be the fourth country where the retailer takes Internet orders, in addition to Canada, Mexico, and the U.K. In Costco’s five other locales, it’s strictly on-floor shopping. All told, Costco gets less than 3 percent of its revenue from online sales, according to its most recent financial update.

Tmall—and China in general—offer something Costco requires: volume. With incredibly slim margins on merchandise (and sometimes no margin at all), Costco only makes a profit on membership fees. Those won’t be required for shopping on Tmall, according to Alibaba.

In other words, the entire country of China may be a loss leader—at least until the warehouses start popping up.

via Costco Gets Into China via Alibaba’s Tmall Website – Businessweek.

02/10/2014

China’s $163 Billion R&D Budget – Businessweek

The amount of money China spends annually on research and development has tripled since 1995—reaching $163 billion in 2012, or 1.98 percent of GDP. As China cracks down on corruption elsewhere in government, so too has Xi Jinping’s administration turned greater attention to curtailing massive graft in research fields—including arresting top scientists and administrators suspected of skimming off the top. In June, for instance, Song Maoqiang, former dean of Beijing University of Posts & Telecommunications’ school of computer science and technology, was given a harsh 10-year prison term for embezzling $110,000 in research funds.

One component of China’s campaign to clean up corruption is requiring central government agencies to disclose their annual research budgets. In the Aug. 29 issue of the journal Science, two researchers—based at China’s Dalian University of Technology and the U.K.’s University of Nottingham—mined and compiled available budget information to “open [up] the ‘black box’ of China’s government R&D expenditures.”

Three agencies—the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC)—together were responsible for distributing nearly three-quarters of China’s research spending in 2011. The agencies dole out grants through both competitive, peer-reviewed proposal processes (sometimes aimed at achieving national goals or research priorities) and through more inscrutable, contract-based research. In general, the latter is more susceptible to corruption. Defense-related research usually falls into this category.

After combing through extensive records only recently made public, the Science authors, Yutao Sun and Cong Cao, could still not fully determine where all of Beijing’s research money has gone. “Slightly less than half (45.25%) of the central government R&D spending in 2011 is not accounted for,” they write, speculating that it is “likely spent at eight defense-related agencies that have not yet disclosed [their department annual reports].”

The authors calculate that in 2011, China devoted 4.7 percent and 11.8 percent of its total R&D budget to basic and applied research, respectively. That is a much lower percentage than in countries whose science and technology achievements Beijing hopes one day to rival, including the U.S. and Japan. In 2009, the U.S. spent 19.7 percent and 17.8 percent of total R&D budget on basic and applied research, respectively, and Japan spent 12.5 percent and 22.4 percent. “The low share of scientific research expenditure has negatively affected China’s innovation capability and may jeopardize China’s ambition to become an innovation-oriented nation,” the authors conclude.

via China’s $163 Billion R&D Budget – Businessweek.

02/10/2014

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Meet Modi in India – India Real Time – WSJ

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, will visit India next week to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and take part in a summit to find ways to get more people online–and probably signed up for his website.

India has around 200 million Internet users, a tiny fraction of its 1.2 billion population, and just over half of them have Facebook profiles. Mr. Modi is one of India’s most social-media savvy politicians and used Facebook and Twitter TWTR -3.04% heavily during his campaign ahead of elections which took place in April and May. But Internet use in general in India is still a minority affair with only 15% of the population online.

A report by McKinsey published Wednesday ahead of the internet.org summit which begins next Thursday said that between 2012 and 2013, the number of Internet users in India grew 22% compared to 9% growth in China and 7% increase in the U.S. over the same period. Over half (59%) of Internet users in India use mobile phones rather than computers to get online.

But, like Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, India faces infrastructure challenges to getting more people online, the report said.

Almost half (45%) of the huge rural population has no access to electricity and further up the chain, the country is only in the early stages of deploying 3G networks.

There are some bright spots on the horizon for Internet usage in India however. The report says that India’s huge young population–around one in three people is currently aged under 15–will push the country online.

“We expect this younger age segment to be a significant driver of Internet adoption in developing countries, given their generally greater familiarity with technology and willingness to adopt it,” the report said.

via Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Meet Modi in India – India Real Time – WSJ.

01/10/2014

US, India to collaborate on Mars exploration – The Hindu

India and the U.S., after sending their own respective spacecraft into Mars’ orbit, have now agreed to cooperate on future explorations of the Red Planet, which America said will yield “tangible benefits” to both the countries and the world at large.

NASA chief Charles Bolden.

The agreement in this regard was signed by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in Toronto on Tuesday on the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress.

The two sides signed a charter that establishes a NASA-ISRO Mars Working Group to investigate enhanced cooperation between the two countries in Mars exploration.

They also signed an international agreement that defines how the two agencies will work together on the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission, targeted to launch in 2020.

“The signing of these two documents reflects the strong commitment NASA and ISRO have to advancing science and improving life on Earth,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“This partnership will yield tangible benefits to both our countries and the world,” Mr. Bolden said.

The joint Mars Working Group will seek to identify and implement scientific, programmatic and technological goals the two agencies have in common regarding Mars exploration.

The group will meet once a year to plan cooperative activities, including potential NASA-ISRO cooperation on future missions to Mars, it said.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft arrived at Mars September 21. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars.

ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India’s first spacecraft launched to the Red Planet, arrived on September 23 to study the Martian surface and atmosphere and demonstrate technologies needed for interplanetary missions.

One of the working group’s objectives will be to explore potential coordinated observations and science analysis between MAVEN and MOM, as well as other current and future Mars missions.

“NASA and Indian scientists have a long history of collaboration in space science,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science.

“These new agreements between NASA and ISRO in Earth science and Mars exploration will significantly strengthen our ties and the science that we will be able to produce as a result,” he added.

According to a NASA statement, the joint NISAR Earth-observing mission will make global measurements of the causes and consequences of land surface changes.

Potential areas of research include ecosystem disturbances, ice sheet collapse and natural hazards.

The NISAR mission is optimised to measure subtle changes of the Earth’s surface associated with motions of the crust and ice surfaces.

NISAR will improve our understanding of key impacts of climate change and advance our knowledge of natural hazards, he said.

“NISAR will be the first satellite mission to use two different radar frequencies (L-band and S-band) to measure changes in our planet’s surface less than a centimetre across. This allows the mission to observe a wide range of changes, from the flow rates of glaciers and ice sheets to the dynamics of earthquakes and volcanoes,” it said.

Under the terms of the new agreement, NASA will provide the mission’s L-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers, a solid state recorder, and a payload data subsystem.

ISRO will provide the spacecraft bus, an S-band SAR, and the launch vehicle and associated launch services.

NASA and ISRO have been cooperating under the terms of a framework agreement signed in 2008.

This cooperation includes a variety of activities in space sciences such as two NASA payloads — the Mini-Synthetic Aperture Radar (Mini-SAR) and the Moon Mineralogy Mapper — on ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to the moon in 2008.

During the operational phase of this mission, the Mini-SAR instrument detected ice deposits near the moon’s northern pole, it said.

via US, India to collaborate on Mars exploration – The Hindu.

20/09/2014

Huawei: The great disrupter’s new targets | The Economist

“THE last time there were so many people down by here, the Rolling Stones were in town.” So declared one of those attending an unusual gathering this week in a vast auditorium along the shores of Shanghai’s Huangpu River. The music was blaring, the coloured lights flashing and the ceiling shimmering, but this was not another rock concert. Astonishingly, the enthusiastic throngs—10,000 squeezed into the venue and another 13,000 joined in via streaming video—had gathered for a technology conference.

The gig was organised by Huawei, a Chinese maker of telecoms equipment, which used the occasion to unveil a new business strategy. As they strode across the stage in front of a video screen nearly as wide as a football pitch, Huawei’s bosses declared their aim of making their firm the world’s leading information-technology (IT) company. In the first stage of this, Huawei plans to increase its sales of servers, storage and other data-centre equipment by a factor of ten by 2020. Last year such products brought in only about $1 billion of Huawei’s total revenues of $39 billion.

It is an audacious goal. It pits Huawei against such titans as IBM, Cisco and HP—innovative giants with deep customer relationships and comprehensive offerings that Huawei cannot yet match. Then again, a decade or so ago Huawei faced a similar challenge in telecoms equipment and has grown to become one of the world’s dominant vendors. It has also become big in smartphones. Evan Zeng of Gartner, a consulting firm, says Huawei starts with an edge in China’s fast-growing market, where state-owned firms favour domestic suppliers. That said, it has some strong local rivals, notably Lenovo and ZTE.

Bryan Wang of Forrester Research, another consulting firm, says Huawei is taking on this daunting challenge because the telecoms-equipment market has become saturated and is set to grow only sluggishly. The IT business is also crowded. But it is a far bigger market than telecoms equipment, and Huawei, since it has such a small share of it, has enormous scope for growth.

In an attempt to keep the company nimble, Huawei recently introduced a system in which three of its bosses take turns, six months at a time, at being the chief executive. Guo Ping, who is in charge at the moment, argues that the telecoms operators that are now his firm’s main customers are embracing cloud computing, so it makes sense for Huawei to make sure it can provide all the gear they need to do so.

Second, Mr Guo argues, the long-predicted convergence of the telecoms and IT businesses is finally happening. The switching of telecoms and internet traffic will no longer require so much of the costly, specialist hardware that Huawei now makes. Increasingly, the job will be done by software, which will run on cheaper, standard IT equipment—what is known as “software-defined networking”. Huawei is seeking to get ahead of this disruption of its core business by being a disrupter itself.

There are good reasons to think Huawei may be up to the challenge. As a privately-held company, “its managers don’t have quarterly pressure, and can invest for the long term,” notes Mark Gibbs of SAP, a German software firm that works closely with Huawei. Ryan Ding, Huawei’s head of product development, recalls that his firm stuck with its efforts to penetrate the markets for routers and LAN switches—two important bits of telecoms gear—despite losing money on each for more than a decade. Likewise, this year it is pumping $600m, or more than half of its entire revenues from IT products, into researching future ones.

Huawei is a proven innovator entering a bloated industry, ripe for change. Its bosses speak clearly and compellingly about what innovation is for: not to win Nobel prizes, or plaudits in the media for the “coolness” of its products, but to create value for customers. To this end, Huawei stations armies of engineers at 28 “joint innovation centres” at customers’ sites around the world. “My guys don’t just ask the customer what he wants: they go to the field site together, do the installation together, and figure out together how to increase efficiencies,” boasts Mr Ding.

The American and European giants of IT have been put on notice. Mr Wang of Forrester says Huawei has already shown it can deliver a potent combination of price, service and customisation. That is why he feels sure it will disrupt the IT business just as it did with telecoms.

via Huawei: The great disrupter’s new targets | The Economist.

15/09/2014

Chinese City Launches Special Lane for Cellphone Addicts – China Real Time Report – WSJ

If you’re tired of walking behind someone who’s trudging along as they text, has this Chinese city got the sidewalk for you.

Last week, the city of Chongqing unveiled a lane specially designated for people who want to walk as they use their cellphones. “Cellphones, walk in this lane at your own risk” is printed in the lane in white lettering. The adjoining lane reads “No cellphones.”

On Monday, Weibo users reacted to the news with a mixture of amusement and scorn. “It’s such a lazy design. Shouldn’t the cellphone lane be placed [farther from the road]? It is not practical at all,” wrote one user.

Another dismissed the innovation, writing, “It’s just another imitation of foreign inventions,” the user wrote, referring to a similar experiment launched in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. “Besides, it seems only to be serving as a tourist attraction,” the user wrote of the road, which is located in a Chongqing tourist area called “Foreign Street Park.”

Still another wondered whether the road would make anything safer. “Is the goal here to encourage still more people to use their cellphones while walking?”

via Chinese City Launches Special Lane for Cellphone Addicts – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

12/09/2014

Schumpeter: The China wave | The Economist

MANAGEMENT thinkers have paid surprisingly little attention to how Chinese firms are run. They routinely ascribe those firms’ rapid growth in recent years to their copious supply of cheap labour, or to generous financial backing from the state, rather than inventiveness. They have much more time for India, particularly its knack for frugal innovation, with all those colourful stories of banks putting cash machines on bikes and taking them into the countryside, and companies building water purifiers out of coconut husks.

However, it seems unlikely that China’s companies have come as far as they have just by applying lots of labour and capital. It is also hard to imagine that the huge expansion of China’s education system and its technology industries is not producing fresh management thinking. Western companies knew little about Japan’s system of lean production until its carmakers gobbled up their markets. The danger is that the same will happen with Chinese management ideas.

There are, however, signs that these are now getting the attention they deserve. The MIT Sloan Management Review devotes much of its current issue to examining innovation and management lessons from China. Peter Williamson and Eden Yin of Cambridge University’s Judge Business School contribute a fascinating essay on “Accelerated Innovation: the New Challenge from China”. The latest issue of the Harvard Business Review has a piece on “A Chinese Approach to Management” by Thomas Hout of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and David Michael of the Boston Consulting Group.

The first article suggests that the Chinese, like the post-war Japanese, have been doing a great deal of innovation under the radar. The second demonstrates that they are becoming more creative as they seek to solve the problems of a rapidly advancing consumer economy.

Messrs Williamson and Yin focus on the way that many Chinese companies are using mass-production techniques to speed up not just the manufacture but also the development of products. They break up the innovation process into a large number of small steps and then assign (often sizeable) teams to work on each step. For example, WuXiAppTec, a drug company, divided the search for a new treatment for chronic hepatitis C into eight steps, assigning dozens of people to each. The firm also adapted German software that was designed for managing assembly lines to co-ordinate the innovation process. Whereas a Western software firm typically releases an early “beta” version of a product only to a select group of guinea-pigs, Chinese firms are more likely to launch theirs straight into the market: they use consumers as co-creators, seeking their feedback and then rapidly adjusting their products.

This sort of accelerated innovation may not generate stunning breakthroughs. But that is not what it is for. China’s success has depended on its ability to be a “fast follower”, copying foreign ideas and turning them into mass-market products. Messrs Williamson and Yin argue that the Chinese can now apply accelerated innovation in lots of areas; and that the technique helps them make better use of one of the country’s most important resources—a pool of competent but unexceptional technicians.

Messrs Hout and Michael are also struck by Chinese companies’ emphasis on speed, and their willingness to throw things at the market. Goodbaby, which makes prams and car seats, introduces about 100 new products each quarter. Broad Group, a construction firm, puts up buildings rapidly by breaking them up into modules, fabricating those modules in factories, pre-loaded with utilities, and then plugging them together: an idea long talked about in the rich world but not much implemented.

However, their paper’s focus is broader—on how Chinese entrepreneurs are coping with the speed at which technology-related industries are changing. They note that even big companies delegate lots of authority to preserve flexibility: Haier, a home-appliances giant, consists of thousands of mini-companies, each of which reports directly to the chairman. That is an interesting contrast with Japanese firms’ obsession with seniority and consensus-building.

Messrs Hout and Michael also highlight the creativity of some Chinese companies when faced with the need to build entire ecosystems out of thin air, from supply chains to labour pools. Hai Di Lao, a hotpot restaurant chain, deals with one of its biggest problems—recruiting and retaining young people to train as branch managers—by offering them housing, schooling for their children and trips abroad. This sort of imaginative thinking on how to attract good workers will increasingly be needed now that China has used up most of its surplus rural labour.

via Schumpeter: The China wave | The Economist.

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