Archive for ‘Digital communications’

29/11/2016

Digital payment firms cash in on India’s money mess, but can it last? | Reuters

Digital payment providers in India have mobilised hundreds of extra workers to enrol small merchants and offered their services for free, betting that severe cash shortages will prove to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Signing people up, however, may be the easy part.

Getting shops and customers to change their reliance on cash permanently will involve convincing people like Mohammad Javed, a 36-year-old meat shop owner in New Delhi.

Working out of a bustling market in the capital, he is surrounded by banks and ATM machines, but says he does not know how to use a credit card machine, let alone a mobile wallet.

He says business has dropped since Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s shock move on Nov. 8 to ditch higher value banknotes, but Javed does not believe mobile app providers offer a solution to his problem – or to his customers.

“We don’t have knowledge or resources to open a mobile wallet or card-swipe machine, and our customers who pay 100-200 rupees ($1.46-$2.92) are not interested either,” he said.

Javed’s reluctance is a reality check for the likes of Paytm and smaller rival MobiKwik, which have gone into promotional overdrive since Modi’s announcement.

The prime minister, whose government supports digital payments, brought in demonetisation to crack down on the shadow economy and improve tax collection.

“Why should India not make a beginning in creating a ‘less-cash society?’,” he said on Sunday, “Once we embark on our journey to create a ‘less-cash society’, the goal of ‘cashless society’ will not remain very far.”P

ROMISING SIGNS

The companies say results have been promising so far.

Paytm, backed by Chinese Internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), has added 700 sales representatives since Nov. 8, taking its number of agents to 5,000.

Advertisement boards of Paytm, a digital wallet company, are seen placed at stalls of roadside vegetable vendors as they wait for customers in Mumbai, India, November 19, 2016.

The company, which has 4,500 full-time employees, plans to double the number of agents to more than 10,000, as it aggressively expands its network.

It says it has nearly doubled the number of small merchants signed up to its services to 1.5 million in the last few weeks and added eight million clients to the 150 million it had before the banknote ban.

MobiKwik, whose backers include U.S. venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and American Express (AXP.N), said it had increased its agent base to more than 10,000 from about 1,000 before the Modi move.

Merchants on its platform have risen to 250,000 from 150,000 previously, and chief executive Bipin Preet Singh said they were aiming for a million in up to two months. It has added 5 million accounts since Nov. 8, bringing the total to 40 million.

But challenges loom.

Credit Suisse estimates more than 90 percent of consumer purchases are made in cash, as millions still do not have bank accounts. Those who do have bank cards mainly use them to withdraw from cash machines.

Sales of cheap smartphones have boomed in recent years, but internet networks remain patchy, especially in rural India. Financial literacy and technology usage also remain low.

Dillip Kumar Agrahari, a vegetable seller in a Mumbai suburb, recently signed up to Paytm but does not know how to operate a smartphone.

He hopes switching to digital payments will improve his business as the cash crunch drags on, but says he will have to depend on a cousin to help with accounts.

Many businesses have traditionally opted for cash transactions because they are hard for the tax man to trace, given sales taxes are typically at least 10 percent.

Mangal Singh, a furniture store owner, said nearly 80 percent of his business was transacted in cash, even though he accepts credit card payments.

“We are working on wafer-thin margins,” he said. “If we are asked to pay 12.5 percent tax and other charges, we will have to close down our shops.”

Concerns also remain about the infrastructure for mobile payments, as customers or merchants from one platform cannot transfer payments to another.

MobiKwik said it had started offering wallet-to-wallet transfers, though not all rivals were on board.

WHEN WILL PROFITS COME?

The challenges raise questions about whether the business models of mobile payments providers are sustainable.

Paytm recently slashed fees until Dec. 31, from a system of fees that ranged from 1 to 4 percent, with the most lucrative coming from telephone and utility bill payments.

MobiKwik is not charging fees until March 2017.The closely-held companies are loss-making.

Paytm Chief Executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma said the company expected to reach profitability in two years, without giving details. MobiKwik’s co-founder Upasana Taku said they hoped to become profitable in mid-2018.

Fitch Ratings believes that once the cash crunch subsides, some merchants and customers will go back to business as usual, using notes to pay for transactions.

“I would expect some amount of behavioural changes,” said Fitch analyst Saswata Guha. “We’re still not sure if this shock per se is incentive enough for them to completely change the way they do things.”

($1 = 68.1384 Indian rupees)

Source: Digital payment firms cash in on India’s money mess, but can it last? | Reuters

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07/10/2016

India telecoms spectrum auction raises $9.9 billion, Vodafone tops spending | Reuters

Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L) was the biggest spender in an Indian mobile phone spectrum auction that raised a total $9.9 billion for the government, as carriers competed to boost subscribers in the world’s fastest-growing internet services market.

The proceeds of the auction, which ended on Thursday after five days of bidding, helped India raise about 658 billion rupees ($9.87 billion).

That figure was well below the $84 billion worth of spectrum on offer however, as carriers shunned the priciest category of airwaves, snapping up less than half of the total on offer.

Yet given the vast volume available, no one had expected the priciest spectrum – that offers deeper reach – to be bought now, as data demand in India is still in its infancy and data costs in the ultra-competitive market are falling, making it harder for carriers to justify big cash outlays.

JPMorgan earlier on Thursday had projected the auction would generate between $8 billion and $12 billion.The government had budgeted for 646 billion rupees ($9.7 billion) as revenue from the auction in the current fiscal year ending March. It will receive some 320 billion rupees upfront, as carriers are allowed to make payments in instalments.

Vodafone, which in recent months injected $7.2 billion in its Indian unit, the market’s No.2, bought spectrum worth more than $3 billion, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Market leader Bharti Airtel (BRTI.NS) bought $2.13 billion worth, while No. 3 player Idea Cellular (IDEA.NS) spent $1.92 billion at the auction.

The three rivals, which together hold more than 60 percent of the Indian market of a billion-plus mobile subscriptions, are being challenged by new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm, backed by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani.Reliance Jio, which has the most 4G airwaves across India’s 22 telecoms zones, last month launched services with free voice calls and cut-rate data prices, triggering a price war. It bought spectrum worth $2.05 billion.

Although among India’s top three, Vodafone and Idea lag Bharti and Jio in terms of 4G presence, and were seen beefing up their high-speed data networks by aggressively bidding in the latest spectrum sale.

Idea said on Thursday it had been able to complete its mobile broadband footprint in all 22 service areas after the latest auction. Vodafone was yet to give details.The government found no takers for the best-quality and the priciest 700 megahertz airwaves, offered for the first time.

Carriers instead purchased spectrum in the 1800 and 2300 bands that can also handle 4G traffic.

All seven carriers including Reliance Communications (RLCM.NS) and Tata Teleservices that participated in the auction bought some spectrum, Telecoms Minister Manoj Sinha told reporters on Thursday.

The auction was India’s largest by spectrum volume.

Source: India telecoms spectrum auction raises $9.9 billion, Vodafone tops spending | Reuters

18/02/2016

Is India’s Freedom 251, a $4 Smartphone, Too Good to Be True? – India Real Time – WSJ

A little-known Indian company has announced grand plans to sell millions of made-in-India smartphones for less than $4 a piece, despite the fact that it has only been in the smartphone business for five months and has yet to build a factory.

Ringing Bells Pvt. started taking orders for its Freedom 251 phone on Thursday for 251 rupees ($3.67) each, or less than the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac in the U.S. The company has promised to deliver the phones by June 30–after it builds two manufacturing plants.

Social media lit up with discussion about the device–which the company says will have a four-inch display, 3.2-megapixel camera and 8 gigabytes of storage–after ads for the phone with the tagline “dreams will come true,” appeared in newspapers. Ringing Bells said its phones will have apps that help farmers check soil conditions and fishermen get weather reports.

The company’s website crashed Thursday and it stopped accepting orders for the device as it worked to upgrade its servers, the website said.

At a launch event in a public park Wednesday, thousands turned out to see company President Ashok Chadha unveil a poster-sized image of a phone under a shower of pyrotechnics and confetti. It was an impressive turnout considering only days earlier almost no one had even heard of him, his company or its phone.

Phones given to journalists to try looked as if the branding from another manufacturer had been covered up with white-out on the phone’s front. Indian flag stickers covered the rear. The phones used an Android operating system.

Mr. Chadha said the phone he was sharing was a “beta device.”

Ringing Bells said it would spend 5 billion rupees, or about $73 million, to build the factories. Mr. Chadha said the money will come from the family of Mohit Goel, one of the founders and directors of the company. Mr. Goel’s family owns a farming business, Mr. Chadha said. Attempts to reach Mr. Goel were unsuccessful.

Analysts said they couldn’t see how Ringing Bells could ever make money selling phones for $4.

If Ringing Bells follows through with its plans, the difficulties of setting up manufacturing operations in India could mean it runs into delays that could cause it to miss its June deadline, a spokeswoman for another Indian phone manufacturer said. She said setting up a new factory often takes up to a year.

The company aims produce hundreds of thousands of phones a month and take around 30% of the smartphone market within a year, Mr. Chadha said. Over 100 million smartphones were shipped by manufacturers to retailers in India last year, according to International Data Corp., a research company.

Despite the low price, Mr. Chadha said the company expects to make money on the phones. He said that making the phone using components imported from China would cost about 2,500 rupees per phone. India doesn’t make many components used in phones and other phone sellers in the country import their phones and components from elsewhere.

But Mr. Chadha said he expected to reduce costs through through “economies of scale,” tax breaks for local manufacturing, and other cost-cutting measures. “We are technocrats and have some understanding of international economics,” he said.

Ringing Bells says it will offer a smartphone with a 4-inch display, 3.2 megapixel camera and 8 gigabytes of memory for less than $4. The $33 smartphones powered by Mozilla Corp.’s Firefox operating system have a 3.5 inch display, 2 megapixel camera and 256 megabytes of storage.

Source: Is India’s Freedom 251, a $4 Smartphone, Too Good to Be True? – India Real Time – WSJ

06/11/2015

Xiaomi’s Big Bet on Indian Internet Revolution Starts to Pay Off – China Real Time Report – WSJ

The sales are a significant rise compared with the three million phones the company said it sold in its first year of business in India.

Xiaomi aims to sell 80 to 100 million smartphones this year and has been valued by investors at $46 billion. But increasing competition at home, from companies who mimic Xiaomi’s business model of selling high-end phones at low prices, will make it tough to meet its sales target. So the five-year-old startup is setting its hopes on growth in India. Xiaomi found success in China by combining razor-thin profit margins on hardware with glitzy product launches that helped build its fanbase.

The closely-held company needs to prove that it can export its business model to other countries to continue to justify its high valuation.

Xiaomi introduced its first model, the Mi 4i, outside China, at a launch in New Delhi in April. In August, it said it would begin assembling its entry-level Redmi 2 Prime in India.

Xiaomi’s recent success in India shows that its model can work there, said the company’s Vice President Hugo Barra. Since January, sales in the South Asian country increased 45% quarter-over-quarter, on average.

The firm’s Indian office is tweaking Xiaomi’s model of Internet flash sales, designed to boost demand and cut costs. During the company’s sale for the Hindu holiday Diwali, items were sold for as little as a rupee. “Some people bought a Mi TV for one rupee,” Mr. Barra said. One rupee is equal to $0.02. The heavily discounted deals meant that Xiaomi spent nothing on marketing. “This is an idea the India team came up with that you will see reused in other markets,” he said. The company still faces challenges in India.

While Xiaomi says it sold three million phones in its first year in India, market leader Micromax Informatics Ltd. says it sells three million phones a month. While the Chinese company relies mostly on online sales to cut costs, the majority of Micromax’s sales are in brick-and-mortar retail outlets, where most Indians still shop.

It remains unclear how much India can help bolster Xiaomi’s balance sheet. While smartphone sales are booming in India, the market is still tiny.

Xiaomi’s Mr. Barra says the company will slowly add to its catalogue of products in India, which currently includes phones and a handful of accessories like headphones and a fitness tracker. In China, Xiaomi sells everything from water purifiers to power strips.

Next up could be the company’s line of Internet routers, Mr. Barra said, which includes a model with six terabytes of storage.

“We are looking at bringing the router family to India,” he said. But don’t expect the smart bathroom scale to show up in India right away, or even the company’s newest gadget: a cut-price Segway-like device. “We carefully select things that will sell in India in good volumes. We have to be thoughtful and plan carefully.”

Source: Xiaomi’s Big Bet on Indian Internet Revolution Starts to Pay Off – China Real Time Report – WSJ

12/08/2015

India’s Smartphone Market Is Booming – Especially at the Low End – India Real Time – WSJ

Xiaomi Corp., which announced Monday that its some of its phones are now being assembled at a factory in India, isn’t the only Chinese smartphone maker with its eye on the subcontinent.

With the Chinese economy slowing and demand for smartphones picking up in India, Chinese handset makers including Lenovo Group Ltd.0992.HK +1.70%, Huawei Technologies Co. and Gionee Communication Equipment Co.  are looking to produce and sell more phones in the world’s second-most-populous nation.

But Indian consumers prefer cheaper phones than their Chinese counterparts. Roughly half of smartphones sold in India for the three months ended in June cost less than $100. In China, these low-end smartphones accounted for about 20% of the market over the same period, according to research company International Data Corp. IDC predicts the average selling price of Indian smartphones will fall to $102 in 2018 from $135 in 2014.

The $100 Galaxy J1 and other inexpensive handsets drove sales for Indian smartphone market-leader Samsung Electronics Co.005930.SE 0.00%, helping to increase its share of sales to 23% of the smartphones sold during the quarter ended June 30. In other markets, including China, sales are driven by its flagship Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, which sell for around $600 and $700, respectively, in the U.S.

Smartphone penetration is growing rapidly. While Internet penetration levels in India resemble China’s numbers from six years ago, smartphone penetration is only four years behind, according to a Credit Suisse report. The skyrocketing growth has even caught the attention of Apple Inc.AAPL -5.49%, which recently started offering financing to make its iPhones more accessible to Indians.

That might be bad news for smartphone manufacturers who operate on already razor-thin margins, but it’s potentially good news for Indian consumers and the Indian economy.

It also helps explain why contract manufacturing giant Foxconn says it intends invest billions of dollars setting up factories in India, and why Xiaomi recently announced its first made-in-India smartphone, the $107 Redmi 2 Prime. Changes to tax rules now make it cheaper to manufacture electronics in India. It also shortens the supply chain, meaning phone-makers can get their products to consumers faster and reduce inventory costs.

via India’s Smartphone Market Is Booming – Especially at the Low End – India Real Time – WSJ.

10/08/2015

China’s Xiaomi to Make Smartphones in India – India Real Time – WSJ

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. will begin manufacturing phones in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, according to the state’s highest elected official.

A tweet from the verified account of N. Chandrababu Naidu, the state’s chief minister, said Xiaomi would announce the move today.

Xiaomi’s move follows Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn’s announcement Saturday that it plans to spend $5 billion on factories and research and development in the western state of Maharashtra. Foxconn, known officially as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. assembles Apple Inc. iPhones and as well as most of Xiaomi’s phones. Foxconn has a plant in Andhra Pradesh.

The Indian government amended its customs rules recently to make it more attractive to make electronic goods in India, as it seeks to boost manufacturing, create jobs and reduce reliance on expensive imports from China.

via China’s Xiaomi to Make Smartphones in India – India Real Time – WSJ.

11/12/2014

Alibaba Tries to Make a Visit to the Doctor Easier – Businessweek

China’s overburdened healthcare system is ripe for reform, and leading technology companies see opportunities in becoming part of the solution.

A Chinese nurse adjusts the infusion rate for a patient at a hospital in Xiangyang city, central China's Hubei province on Jan. 20, 2014.

Take the current system of booking time to see a physician, which is both inefficient and abusive. In order to see a doctor at a leading hospital in Beijing or another major Chinese city, a patient must queue up starting at around 5am and wait in line for several hours just to book an appointment for later that day. Sometimes the patient has the option of buying a hospital slot, typically at an exorbitant fee, from a professional scalper.

In July, Alipay, the popular e-payment system launched by Alibaba Group, began a pilot project to allow patients to book appointments at select hospitals through a smartphone app. A handful of hospitals in Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Kunming, Wenzhou, and Nanchang now participate. It sounds like a simple and intuitive step that should have been tried long ago; notably it’s a technology company, not a medical institution, that’s leading the change.

via Alibaba Tries to Make a Visit to the Doctor Easier – Businessweek.

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.

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.

05/09/2014

India’s $33 Smartphone Sales Surge, Setting the Stage for a Shakeup – India Real Time – WSJ

The maker of India’s $33 Mozilla Firefox smartphone says sales of the world’s cheapest smartphone have been strong since it launched last week.

Intex Technologies India Ltd. said it quickly sold out of its first batch of Cloud FX phones–which use Mozilla Corp.’s Firefox operating system—and that it has already had to order another large shipment. It expects to sell 100,000 handsets this month and a total of 500,000 by the end of the year, the company said.

Another super-cheap Firefox-powered smartphone hit the Indian market on Tuesday. India’s Spice Retail Ltd. started selling its Spice Fire One Mi FX1 for about $37. The company did not respond to requests for early sales figures.

The less-than-2,000-rupee price tags make the Firefox mobile operating system smartphones more than 30% cheaper than the least-expensive smartphones which use Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

Other phone sellers say they are also planning Firefox handsets. India’s Karbonn Mobiles says it plans to launch a $41 Firefox smartphone by the end of September. It will be less than half the price of Karbonn’s latest Android phone, making it a “game changer,” said Pardeep Jain, managing director of Jaina Mobiles India Pvt., which  controls the Karbonn brand.

Reviews for the ultralow-cost phones have so far been generally positive. While the phones may lack some functionality and speed, buyers and technology reporters agreed they were still a great deal for the price and a good option for first-time smartphone buyers who use their phones for basic calls, web surfing and social networking.

While Mozilla phones will make smartphones affordable to millions of new users, they will likely get more competition soon on price from Android, the operating system used on most phones from Samsung Electronics and others, analysts said.

Google is expected to launch its Android One low-cost smartphone in the next few weeks.

via India’s $33 Smartphone Sales Surge, Setting the Stage for a Shakeup – India Real Time – WSJ.

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