Asia

No technical reason to exclude Huawei as 5G supplier, says UK committee

Posted by | 5g, Asia, Australia, China, cyber security, Ericsson, Europe, huawei, human rights, Ian Levy, Internet of Things, jeremy wright, Mobile, National Cyber Security Centre, national security, Nokia, privacy, Security, TC, telecommunications, United Kingdom, United States, zte | No Comments

A UK parliamentary committee has concluded there are no technical grounds for excluding Chinese network kit vendor Huawei from the country’s 5G networks.

In a letter from the chair of the Science & Technology Committee to the UK’s digital minister Jeremy Wright, the committee says: “We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the potential security threat posed by foreign suppliers.”

Though the committee does go on to recommend the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks, noting that UK mobile network operators have “mostly” done so already — but on a voluntary basis.

If it places a formal requirement on operators not to use Huawei for core supply the committee urges the government to provide “clear criteria” for the exclusion so that it could be applied to other suppliers in future.

Reached for a response to the recommendations, a government spokesperson told us: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

The spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport added: “The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course. We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the Government’s decision.”

In recent years the US administration has been putting pressure on allies around the world to entirely exclude Huawei from 5G networks — claiming the Chinese company poses a national security risk.

Australia announced it was banning Huawei and another Chinese vendor ZTE from providing kit for its 5G networks last year. Though in Europe there has not been a rush to follow the US lead and slam the door on Chinese tech giants.

In April leaked information from a UK Cabinet meeting suggested the government had settled on a policy of granting Huawei access as a supplier for some non-core parts of domestic 5G networks, while requiring they be excluded from supplying components for use in network cores.

On this somewhat fuzzy issue of delineating core vs non-core elements of 5G networks, the committee writes that it “heard unanimously and clearly” from witnesses that there will still be a distinction between the two in the next-gen networks.

It also cites testimony by the technical director of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Dr Ian Levy, who told it “geography matters in 5G”, and pointed out Australia and the UK have very different “laydowns” — meaning “we may have exactly the same technical understanding, but come to very different conclusions”.

In a response statement to the committee’s letter, Huawei SVP Victor Zhang welcomed the committee’s “key conclusion” before going on to take a thinly veiled swiped at the US — writing: “We are reassured that the UK, unlike others, is taking an evidence based approach to network security. Huawei complies with the laws and regulations in all the markets where we operate.”

The committee’s assessment is not all comfortable reading for Huawei, though, with the letter also flagging the damning conclusions of the most recent Huawei Oversight Board report which found “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cyber security competence — and urging the government to monitor Huawei’s response to the raised security concerns, and to “be prepared to act to restrict the use of Huawei equipment if progress is unsatisfactory”.

Huawei has previously pledged to spend $2BN addressing security shortcomings related to its UK business — a figure it was forced to qualify as an “initial budget” after that same Oversight Board report.

“It is clear that Huawei must improve the standard of its cybersecurity,” the committee warns.

It also suggests the government consults on whether telecoms regulator Ofcom needs stronger powers to be able to force network suppliers to clean up their security act, writing that: “While it is reassuring to hear that network operators share this point of view and are ready to use commercial pressure to encourage this, there is currently limited regulatory power to enforce this.”

Another committee recommendation is for the NCSC to be consulted on whether similar security evaluation mechanisms should be established for other 5G vendors — such as Ericsson and Nokia: Two European based kit vendors which, unlike Huawei, are expected to be supplying core 5G.

“It is worth noting that an assurance system comparable to the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre does not exist for other vendors. The shortcomings in Huawei’s cyber security reported by the Centre cannot therefore be directly compared to the cyber security of other vendors,” it notes.

On the issue of 5G security generally the committee dubs this “critical”, adding that “all steps must be taken to ensure that the risks are as low as reasonably possible”.

Where “essential services” that make use of 5G networks are concerned, the committee says witnesses were clear such services must be able to continue to operate safely even if the network connection is disrupted. Government must ensure measures are put in place to safeguard operation in the event of cyber attacks, floods, power cuts and other comparable events, it adds. 

While the committee concludes there is no technical reason to limit Huawei’s access to UK 5G, the letter does make a point of highlighting other considerations, most notably human rights abuses, emphasizing its conclusion does not factor them in at all — and pointing out: “There may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds… to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment”.

It adds that Huawei’s global cyber security and privacy officer, John Suffolk, confirmed that a third party had supplied Huawei services to Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau, despite Huawei forbidding its own employees from misusing IT and comms tech to carry out surveillance of users.

The committee suggests Huawei technology may therefore be being used to “permit the appalling treatment of Muslims in Western China”.

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Google Maps now shows users discounts from nearby restaurants in India

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, Google, Google-Maps, india | No Comments

Google said today that it has started to display discounts from restaurants in its Maps app in India as the Mountain View giant works to expand its ever-growing reach and relevance in one of its key overseas markets.

The company today rolled out an update to add three new features to the Google Maps app in India. Users can now see a new “offers” option in the “explore tab” that will display promotional offers from local restaurants. Google said it has partnered with EazyDiner, a table reservation platform, to display offers from more than 4,000 restaurants. The feature is live in 11 metro cities in India.

Restaurant offers are just the beginning, as the company plans to ink deals with more partners and expand to more categories in the future, it said. Users can also book a table to a restaurant directly from the Maps app. Google did not reveal the financial agreement it had with EazyDiner, a five-year-old New Delhi-based startup that has raised more than $13 million to date.

google maps

The new offering comes as Google explores ways to make more money off Google Maps. The company maintains a Google Maps Platform for enterprise customers, and has increased its access price over the years, but it has yet to monetize the consumer-facing part of the service in a significant way.

As part of today’s announcement, the company has also revamped the “explore tab” in India to “reflect the rich diversity of local neighborhoods and communities,” said Krish Vitaldevara and Chandu Thota, directors of Google Maps, in a blog post. As part of the fresh paint job, Google said it has added shortcuts to give users quick navigation to restaurants, ATMs, shopping, hotels, pharmacies and, of course, offers.

Additionally, there is also an option in the explore tab to get directions to top areas in each city. The company said it uses machine learning to identify these areas. “Besides your own city, you can also look up other Indian cities by just searching the city name — an easy way to get up to speed before you travel,” Vitaldevara and Thota wrote.

The third feature, dubbed “For You,” displays personalized recommendations for new restaurants and other trending places. Users in India can now also follow a business and get updates and news on events.

“This feature also uses the ‘Your Match’ score, which uses machine learning to combine what we know about millions of places with the information you’ve added — restaurants you’ve rated, cuisines you’ve liked, and places you have visited. The first time you use this feature you can select the areas/localities you are interested in, and get more personalized and relevant recommendations over time,” the executives wrote.

Google continues to bulk up its Maps offerings in India. In recent months, it has added the ability to check if a cab goes off the usual route, and look for real-time status of trains and buses, among other features.

The company, which has amassed more than 300 million users in India, continues to use the nation as a testbed for many of its services. This approach has helped Google, which operates the Android mobile operating system that runs on 98% of smartphones in India, gain wide adoption in the country.

But it has also instilled an antitrust probe on its influence in the nation.

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Samsung backs Indus OS, three other startups in first investments for its VC arm in India

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, Facebook, funding, india, indus os, kaios, M12, reliance jio, Samsung Ventures, Venture Capital | No Comments

Samsung Venture, the investment arm of the South Korean technology giant, has invested $8.5 million in Indus OS and three other Indian startups as the company’s VC fund begins its journey in the country.

Indus OS is a popular Android fork that has built a suite of localized applications focused on serving the masses in India. Samsung and Venturest funded the four-year-old startup’s $5.75 million Series B round.

Several smartphone vendors, including homegrown firms such as Micromax, Gioness, Intex and Karbonn, are customers of Indus OS, integrating many of its features into their handsets. Earlier this year, Samsung partnered with Indus OS to revamp its Galaxy App Store.

Rakesh Deshmukh, co-founder and CEO of Indus OS, told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup will use the fresh capital to develop more local solutions and build a software development kit for developers that will enable them to make tweaks to their existing apps and add India-specific features.

Deshmukh said Indus OS, which makes money from monetizing ads, would soon partner with more smartphone vendors to expand its reach in the country. This is crucial to the startup as Indian smartphone vendors, which once controlled the local smartphone market, have lost the smartphone war to Chinese vendors that now control two-thirds of the space, and Samsung.

The other challenge is of course the rise of KaiOS, which has gained popularity in recent years after striking a deal with Indian telecom operator Reliance Jio. Tens of millions of JioPhone feature handsets today run KaiOS, giving many people fewer reasons to upgrade to a smartphone.

Deshmukh said he does not see KaiOS as a competitor. “It serves as a bridge. It is convincing many people to get online and try a multimedia phone for the first time. They will eventually upgrade to a better experience,” he said.

Indian newspaper Economic Times reported earlier today that Samsung now owns about 20% stakes of Indus OS. Representatives of the startup, which raised $10 million in three tranches of Series A three years ago, refuted the claim. Deshmukh said the company plans to raise more money in the coming future.

Other than Indus OS, Samsung Venture has invested in Gnani.ai, a startup that focuses on speech technology, and IoT solutions provider Silvan Innovation Labs. The venture arm said it also has invested in an early-stage startup that focuses on computer vision, but declined to name it.

Samsung Venture, which has more than $2.2 billion in assets under management, said it continues to track and actively invest in future-oriented businesses that are built on new technologies. Notably, Xiaomi, which surpassed Samsung to become India’s top smartphone vendor two years ago, also has invested in about half a dozen startups in India.

India’s tech startups have raised more than $20 billion in the last two years. The country’s burgeoning ecosystem is increasingly attracting major VC firms in the nation. SoftBank and Tiger Global, two large global VC funds, count India as one of their biggest markets.

In recent years, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook have also begun to infuse money in India’s startup space. Google has invested in delivery startup Dunzo, while Amazon has taken stake in more than half a dozen local companies, including Shuttl. Facebook invested in social commerce app Meesho last month.

Earlier this year, Microsoft expanded its M12 corporate venture fund (formerly known as Microsoft Ventures) to India with an investment in Innovaccer, a six-year-old SaaS startup.

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Reliance Jio partners with Facebook to launch literacy program for first time internet users in India

Posted by | Akash Ambani, Asia, Education, Facebook, india, Mobile, Mukesh Ambani, reliance jio, TC, WhatsApp | No Comments

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, has enabled tens of millions of people — if not more — to come online for the first time with his disruptive telecom network. He has changed how many Indians, once thrifty about each megabyte they spent browsing the internet, consume mobile data today.

But many of these first-time internet users are increasingly struggling with grasping the nuances of the internet — often ending up trusting everything they see online and, in extreme cases, causing major chaos in the nation. Ambani now wants to help these people understand the ins and outs of the digital world.

His telecom network Reliance Jio announced today a literacy program called “Digital Udaan” for first-time internet users in India. The two-and-a-half-year-old telecom network, which has amassed more than 300 million subscribers, said it has partnered with Facebook to create “the largest ever digital literacy program” that will offer audio-visual training in 10 regional languages.

As part of the Digital Udaan program, Reliance Jio will hold training sessions to help its users learn about internet safety, and how they should engage with popular services and its devices. The operator said it will hold these sessions each Saturday and also provide training videos and information brochures to users.

Reliance Jio said Facebook helped it build and curate modules that are relevant for people in cities and small towns in India. In the first phase of the program, Jio will conduct these training sessions in about 200 different locations across 13 states. It will then expand to more than 7,000 locations, where “millions of JioPhone users and other first-time internet users” live.

“Facebook is an ally in this mission, and we are delighted to partner with Jio in attracting new Internet users and creating mechanisms for them to unleash the power of that access,” Ajit Mohan, VP and MD of Facebook India, said in a statement. Facebook and WhatsApp count India, where they reach about 350 million users, as their largest and fastest growing market. There are more than 500 million internet users in India.

Akash Ambani, director of Reliance Jio, said he hopes to “help eradicate barriers of information asymmetry and provide accessibility in real time. It is a program for inclusive information, education and entertainment, where no Indian will be left out of this digital drive. Jio envisions to take this to every town and village of India, achieving 100% digital literacy in the country.”

Reliance Jio, through its free voice calls and low-data prices, has significantly helped accelerate the growth of India’s internet and smartphone ecosystem. The platform has brought the nation, now the world’s second largest internet and smartphone market, to a point that many thought would have taken more than five years to reach.

But this growth has also accompanied new sets of challenges. WhatsApp, which is the most popular app in India, continues to grapple with the spread of false information in the nation, for instance. Other social media services are facing similar challenges as well. Last year, WhatsApp began to air TV commercials in India to help users become more cautious about the messages they share on its service. It also partnered with Reliance Jio to pay for teams of performers to travel across India to hold roadshows to help people better understand the rampant rise of fake news.

Prabhakar Kumar, co-ordinator of CMS Medialab, an organization that monitors media trends in India, told TechCrunch in an earlier interview that the level of literacy among the users who are coming onboard now is much lower than those who came online before them.

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Samsung shuts down its AI-powered Mall shopping app in India

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, Bixby, india, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, Shopclues, Xiaomi | No Comments

Samsung has quietly discontinued an app that it built specifically for India, one of its largest markets and where it houses a humongous research and development team. The AI-powered Android app, called Samsung Mall, was positioned to help users identify objects around them and locate them on shopping sites to make a purchase.

The company has shut down the app a year and a half after its launch. Samsung Mall was exclusively available for select company handsets and was launched alongside the Galaxy On7 Prime smartphone. News blog TizenHelp was first to report the development.

At the time of launch, Samsung said the Mall app would complement features of Bixby, the company’s virtual assistant. Bixby already offers a functionality that allows users to identify objects through photos — but does not let them make the purchase.

samsung mall india

“The first insight while developing Samsung Mall was that consumers may be looking to find the price, the colour, delivery options and a lot of other things. Indian consumers want to find the best deals first. They aren’t tied up with one particular portal as well,” Sanjay Razdan, director of Samsung India told local outlet India Today at the time of the launch.

Samsung partnered with Amazon, ShopClues and TataCLiQ to show relevant results from these retailers on its “one-stop online experience” app. Users were also able to compare prices to see which website was offering them the item at lowest cost.

Samsung Mall app was downloaded about five million times from Google Play Store in India since March 2018, Randy Nelson, head of Mobile Insights at analytics firm SensorTower told TechCrunch. The app had begun to lose its popularity in recent months, though. Samsung has pulled the app from the app store.

“Downloads in May totaled 275,000 — which was down 38% year-over-year from 476,000 in May 2018. It was ranked No. 1,055 by downloads in India’s Google Play store in May — down from 487 a year ago,” said Nelson.

Once the top smartphone vendor in India, Samsung has lost that crown to Xiaomi. The Chinese smartphone maker has held the tentpole position in India for two straight years now, according to research firm IDC.

A Samsung spokesperson in India, reached out to by TechCrunch on Monday, has yet to comment on the story.

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Atlan raises $2.5M to stop enterprises from being so bad at managing data

Posted by | Asia, funding, india, InMobi, Mobile, ratan tata, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, unilever, wpp, zoom | No Comments

Even as much of the world is digitizing its governance, in small towns and villages of India, data about its citizens is still being largely logged on long and thick notebooks. Have they received the subsidized cooking gas cylinders? How frequent are the power cuts in the village? If these data points exist at all, they are probably stored in big paperbacks stacked in a corner of some agency’s office.

Five years ago, two young entrepreneurs — Prukalpa Sankar and Varun Banka — set out to modernize this system. They founded SocialCops, a startup that builds tools that make it easier for government officials — and anyone else — to quickly conduct surveys and maintain digital records that could be accessed from anywhere.

The Indian government was so impressed with SocialCops’ offering that it partnered with the startup on National Data Platform, a project to connect and bring more transparency within many of the state-run initiatives; and Ujjwala Yojana, a project to deliver subsidized cooking gas cylinders to poor women across the nation.

“This is a crucial step towards good governance through which we will be able to monitor everything centrally,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said of National Data Platform. “It will enable us to effectively monitor every village of the country.”

Two years ago, the duo wondered if the internal tools that they built for their own teams to manage their projects could help data teams around the world? The early results are in: Atlan, a startup they founded using learnings from SocialCops, has secured more than 200 customers from over 50 nations and has raised $2.5 million in pre-Series A funding led by Waterbridge Ventures, an early stage venture fund.

The startup, which employs about 80 people, has also received backing from Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of conglomerate Tata Sons, Rajan Anandan, the former head of Google Southeast Asia, and 500 Startups. On Tuesday, Singapore-headquartered Atlan moved out of stealth mode.

The premise of Atlan’s products is simple. It’s built on the assumption that the way most people in enterprises deal with data is inefficient and broken, Sankar and Banka told TechCrunch in an interview. Typically, there is no central system to keep track of all these data points that often live in their own silos. This often results in people spending days to figure out what their compliance policy is, for instance.

“Atlan wants to democratize data inside organizations,” said Sankar.

Atlan Discovery 2

Teams within a typical company currently use a number of different tools to gather and manage data. Atlan has built products — dubbed Discovery, Grid, and Workflows — to create a collaboration layer, bringing together diverse data (from internal and external sources), tools and people to one interface.

“We are reimagining every human interaction with data. For instance, code has a profile on GitHub—what would a “profile” of data look like? What if you could share data as easily as a Google Sheets link, without worrying about the size or format? Or what would a data versioning and approval workflow look like? What if data scientists could acquire external data within minutes, instead of the months it takes right now?” said Banka.

The startup has also built a product called Collect that allows an organization to quickly deploy apps to collect granular data. These apps can collect data even when there is no internet connection. All of these data points, too, then find their way to the interface.

Atlan intends to use the capital it has raised on product development and sign more customers. It has already won some big names including Unilever, Milkbasket, Barbeque Nation, WPP and GroupM, Mahindra Group and InMobi in India, Chuan Lim Construction in Singapore, ServeHaiti in Haiti, Swansea University in the UK, the Ministry of Environment in Costa Rica, and Varun Beverages in Zambia.

In a prepared statement, Manish Kheterpal, Managing Partner at WaterBridge Ventures, said, “companies are struggling to overcome the friction that arises when diverse individuals need to collaborate, leading to project failure. The IPOs of companies like Slack and Zoom are proof that we live in the era of consumerization of the enterprise. With its sharp focus on data democratization, Atlan is well-positioned to reimagine the future of how data teams work.”

As for SocialCops, Sankar said it will live on as a data science community and pursue its signature “social good” mission.

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Huawei can buy from US suppliers again — but things will never be the same

Posted by | america, Android, Asia, China, Companies, donald trump, g20, Google, huawei, mobile phones, operating system, president, Ren Zhengfei, smartphones, supply chain, telecommunications, Trump administration, United States | No Comments

U.S. President Donald Trump has handed Huawei a lifeline after he said that U.S. companies are permitted to sell goods to the embattled Chinese tech firm following more than a month of uncertainty.

It’s been a pretty dismal past month for Huawei since the American government added it and 70 of its affiliates to an “entity list” which forbids U.S. companies from doing business with it. The ramifications of the move were huge across Huawei’s networking and consumer devices businesses. A range of chip companies reportedly forced to sever ties while Google, which provides Android for Huawei devices, also froze its relationship. Speaking this month.

All told, Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei said recently that the ban would cost the Chinese tech firm — the world’s third-larger seller of smartphones — some $30 billion in lost revenue of the next two years.

Now, however, the Trump administration has provided a reprieve, at least based on the President’s comments following a meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jinping at the G20 summit this weekend.

“US companies can sell their equipment to Huawei. We’re talking about equipment where there’s no great national security problem with it,” the U.S. President said.

Those comments perhaps contradict some in the US administration who saw the Huawei blacklisting as a way to strangle the company and its global ambitions, which are deemed by some analysts to be a threat to America.

President Trump has appeared to soften his tone on Chinese communications giant Huawei, suggesting that he would allow the company to once again purchase US technology https://t.co/4YNJCyKLTg pic.twitter.com/jr45f40ghP

— CNN International (@cnni) June 29, 2019

Despite the good news, any mutual trust has been broken and things are unlikely to be the same again.

America’s almost casual move to blacklist Huawei — the latest in a series of strategies in its ongoing trade battle with China — exemplifies just how dependent the company has become on the U.S. to simply function.

Huawei has taken steps to hedge its reliance on America, including the development of its own operating system to replace Android and its own backup chips, and you can expect that these projects will go into overdrive to ensure that Huawei doesn’t find itself in a similar position again in the future.

Of course, decoupling its supply chain from US partners is no easy task both in terms of software and components. It remains to be seen if Huawei could maintain its current business level — which included 59 million smartphones in the last quarter and total revenue of $107.4 billion in 2018 — with non-US components and software but this episode is a reminder that it must have a solid contingency policy in case it becomes a political chess piece again in the future.

Beyond aiding Huawei, Trump’s move will boost Google and other Huawei partners who invested significant time and resources into developing a relationship with Huawei to boost their own businesses through its business.

Indeed, speaking to press Trump, Trump admitted that US companies sell “a tremendous amount” of products to Huawei. Some “were not exactly happy that they couldn’t sell” to Huawei and it looks like that may have helped tipped this decision. But, then again, never say never — you’d imagine that the Huawei-Trump saga is far from over despite this latest twist.

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Shuttl is winning over office workers in India with safer bus commute option

Posted by | Amazon, amit singh, Android, Apps, Asia, Ather Energy, BankBazaar, Emvantage, Facebook, Google, housejoy, india, meesho, Shuttl, starbucks, TC, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

Miles away from the fancy parts of Gurgaon, where a cohort of Uber and Ola cars race all day to dot the surrounding, hundreds of people are working on a different solution to contribute to India’s push for improved mobility.

When Uber entered India six years ago, and its local rival Ola began to expand in the nation, many thought the two cab services will be able to meet the needs of most Indians. To be sure, the heavily discounted cab rides in the early days meant that the two companies were able to quickly scale their businesses to dozens of cities and were clocking about three million rides a day.

But in the years since, it has become clear that Ola and Uber alone can’t serve the masses — a significant portion of which lacks the means to book a cab ride — or magically circumvent through India’s alarmingly congested roads. This has resulted in the emergence of a growing number of electric bike makers such as Yulu — which partnered with Uber last month, Vogo — which is backed by Ola,  Bounce, and Ather Energy that are both showing promising growth and attracting big bucks from investors.

For four years, another startup has been quietly working on expanding its platform. But unlike the bike startups and cab aggressors, it is betting on buses. Shuttl operates over 1,300 buses in more than 300 routes in five cities of India. The platform serves more than 65,000 customers each day.

Shuttl, too, hasn’t had much difficulty in attracting capital. It has raised about $48.5 million to date. TechCrunch recently learned that the startup was in talks with investors to raise an additional $50 million. Amit Singh, cofounder and CEO of Shuttl, declined to comment on the upcoming funding round. But he sat with us to explain his business and the challenges it comes with.

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Huawei says two-thirds of 5G networks outside China now use its gear

Posted by | 5g, Alphabet, Android, Asia, carrier, ceo, China, Companies, finland, hardware, huawei, india, Nokia, operating system, president, Rajeev Suri, Ren Zhengfei, shenzhen, smartphone, south korea, spokesperson, switzerland, telecommunications, Trump administration, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

As 5G networks begin rolling out and commercializing around the world, telecoms vendors are rushing to get a headstart. Huawei equipment is now behind two-thirds of the commercially launched 5G networks outside China, said president of Huawei’s carrier business group Ryan Ding on Tuesday at an industry conference.

Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms gear, has nabbed 50 commercial 5G contracts outside its home base from countries including South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Finland and more. In all, the Shenzhen-based firm has shipped more than 150,000 base stations, according to Ding.

It’s worth noting that network carriers can work with more than one providers to deploy different parts of their 5G base stations. Huawei offers what it calls an end-to-end network solution or a full system of hardware, but whether a carrier plans to buy from multiple suppliers is contingent on their needs and local regulations, a Huawei spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In China, for instance, both Ericsson and Nokia have secured 5G contracts from state-run carrier China Mobile (although Nokia’s Chinese entity, a joint venture with Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, is directly controlled by China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission).

Huawei’s handsome number of deals came despite the U.S’s ongoing effort to lobby its allies against using its equipment. In May, the Trump administration put Huawei on a trade blacklist over concerns around the firm’s spying capabilities, a move that has effectively banned U.S. companies from doing businesses with the Shenzhen-based giant.

Huawei’s overall share in the U.S. telecoms market has so far been negligible, but many rural carriers have long depended on its high-performing, cost-saving hardware. That might soon end as the U.S. pressures small-town network operators to quit buying from Huawei, Reuters reported this week.

To appease potential clients, Huawei has gone around the world offering no-backdoors pacts to local governments of the U.K. and most recently India.

Huawei is in a neck and neck fight with rivals Nokia and Ericsson. In early June, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said in an interview with Bloomberg that the firm had won “two-thirds of the time” in bidding contracts against Ericcson and competed “quite favorably with Huawei.” Nokia at the time landed 42 5G contracts, while Huawei numbered 40 and Ericsson scored 19.

Huawei’s challenges go well beyond the realm of its carrier business. Its fast-growing smartphone unit is also getting the heat as the U.S. ban threatens to cut it off from Alphabet, whose Android operating system is used in Huawei phone, as well as a range of big chip suppliers.

Huawei CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei noted that trade restrictions may compromise the firm’s output in the short term. Total revenues are expected to dip $30 billion below estimates over the next two years, and overseas smartphone shipment faces a 40% plunge. Ren, however, is bullish that the firm’s sales would bounce back after a temporary period of adjustment while it works towards self-dependence by developing its own OS, chips and other core technologies.

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Razer goes big on payments with Visa prepaid card

Posted by | Asia, asia pacific, Finance, Gaming, malaysia, mobile payments, mol, online payments, Razer, Singapore, Southeast Asia, visa | No Comments

The latest pairing between a tech upstart and a financial titan is a digital prepaid card targeted at Southeast Asia’s 430 million-plus unbanked and underserved population.

On Monday, Razer, the Singapore-based company best known for its gaming laptops and peripherals, announced a partnership with Visa to develop a Visa prepaid solution. The service, which allows unbanked users to top up and cash out easily, will be available as a mini program embedded in Razer Pay, the gaming company’s mobile payments app. That means Razer’s 60 million registered users will be able to pay at any of the 54 million merchant locations around the world that take Visa.

Going virtual is the natural step given the region’s fast-growing digital population, but the pair does not rule out the possibility to introduce a physical prepaid card down the road, Razer’s chief strategy officer Li Meng Lee told TechCrunch over a phone interview.

Both parties have something to gain from this marriage. Hong Kong-listed Razer has in recent years been doubling down on fintech to prove it’s more than a hardware company. Payment services seem like an inevitable development for Razer whose users in the region are accustomed to buying in-game credits at convenience stores.

“For many years, the people who have been making digital payments before it became a sexy word in the last couple of years… [many of them] are the gamers who go to a 7-Eleven, pay in cash, and get a pin code to buy virtual skins for the games,” noted Lee. “Because of that, we’ve been able to build up more than a million service points across Southeast Asia.”

The key differentiator of Razer’s prepaid service, Lee said, is that customers paying at Visa merchants don’t have to already own a bank account, whereas that prerequisite is common for many other e-wallet services.

The Razer Pay app is handling transactions for a slew of internet services like Lazada and Grab and has made a big offline push, boasting a network of more than one million touchpoints through retailers including 7-Eleven and Starbucks where it’s accepted.

All in all, Razer Pay claimed it processed over $1.4 billion in payment value last year. It first launched in Malaysia in mid-2018 and recently branched into Singapore as its second market. Lee said the service plans to roll out in the rest of Southeast Asia soon, upon which the Visa prepaid mini app will also be available in those markets.

For Visa, the tie-up with an internet firm could be a potential boost to its reach in the mobile-first Southeast Asia where some 213 million millennials and youths live.

“This is a great opportunity for us to be working with Razer in addressing how we work to bring the unbanked and underserved population into the financial system,” Chris Clark, Visa’s regional president for the Asia Pacific, told TechCrunch. “We will be doing some work with Razer on financial literacy and financial planning to bring that education to the population across the region.”

Razer’s fintech ambition has been evident since it announced to gobble up MOL, a company that offers online and offline payments in Southeast Asia, in April 2018. Besides payments, Lee said other microfinance services such as lending and insurance are also on the cards as part of an effort to ramp up user stickiness for Razer’s fintech arm.

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