india

Netflix earmarks $420M to fight Disney in India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Disney, Entertainment, HBO, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Reed Hastings | No Comments

Netflix continues to bet heavily on India, one of the world’s largest entertainment markets, where it competes with more than three dozen rivals, including Disney.

Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, said on Friday that the company is on track to spend 30 billion Indian rupees, or $420.5 million, on producing and licensing content in India this year and next.

“This year and next year, we plan to spend about Rs 3,000 crores developing and licensing content and you will start to see a lot of stuff hit the screens,” he said at a conference in New Delhi.

The rare revelation today has quickly become the talk of the town. “This is significantly higher than what we have invested in content over the past years,” an executive at one of the top five rival services told TechCrunch. Another industry source said that no streaming service in India is spending anything close to that figure on just content.

While it remains unclear exactly how much capital other streaming services are pouring into content, a recent KPMG report estimated that Hotstar was spending about $17 million on producing seven original shows this year, while Eros Now had pumped about $50 million into its India business to create 100 new original shows. (The report does not talk about licensing content expenses.)

Netflix, which entered India as part of its global expansion to more than 200 nations and territories in early 2016, has so far produced more than two dozen original shows and movies in the country and inked partnerships with a number of local studios, including actor Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment.

Hastings said several of the shows the company has produced in India, including A-listed cast thriller “Sacred Games” and animated show “Mightly Little Bheem,” have “traveled around the world.” More than 27 million households outside of India, said Hastings, have started to watch “Mighty Little Bheem,” a show aimed at children.

Netflix, which is expected to spend about $15 billion on content globally next year, has never shared the number of subscribers it has in India. (It has over 158 million subscribers globally.) But the company’s financials in the country, where it employs about 100 people, have improved in recent quarters. In the financial year that ended in March, the company posted revenue of $65 million and profit of about $720,000 for its India business.

The big, big, big Indian market

India has emerged as one of the last great growth markets for global technology and entertainment firms. About half of the nation’s 1.3 billion population is now online and the country’s on-demand video market is expected to grow to $5 billion in the next four years, according to Boston Consulting Group.

But the propensity — or the capacity — of most of these internet users to pay for a subscription service remains significantly low. Most services operating in India today generate the majority of their revenue from ads. And others, which rely on a recurring model, are making major changes to their offerings in the nation.

To broaden its reach in the nation, Netflix earlier this year introduced a new monthly price tier — $2.8 — that allows users in India to watch the streaming service in standard quality on a mobile device. (The company has since expanded this offering to Malaysia.)

Netflix competes with more than three dozen on-demand video streaming services in India. Chief among its competitors in the nation is Disney’s Hotstar. Hotstar’s content includes live TV channels, streaming of sports events and thousands of movies and shows, many syndicated from global networks and studios such as HBO and Showtime.

The ad-supported service offers more than 80% of its catalog at no charge to users and charges 999 Indian rupees ($14) a year for its premium tier.

Among the licensed content that Hotstar — or its operator Star India — owns in the country includes rights to stream a number of cricket tournaments. Cricket is incredibly popular in India and has helped Hotstar set global streaming records.

In May this year, Hotstar reported that more than 25 million people simultaneously watched a cricket match on the platform  — a global record. The service, at the time, had more than 300 million monthly active users.

Commenting on the competition, Hastings said the next five to 10 years is going to be “the golden age of television” as “unbelievable and unrivaled levels of investment” go into producing content. “They are all investing here in India. We are seeing more content made than ever before. It’s a great export,” he added.

Disney+, the recently launched streaming service from the global content conglomerate, is set to be available in India and Southeast Asian markets next year through Hotstar, TechCrunch reported last month.

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In a first, Amazon launches a battery-powered portable Echo speaker in India

Posted by | Amazon Echo, Asia, Gadgets, hardware, india | No Comments

After launching nearly a dozen Echo speaker models in India in two years, Amazon said on Wednesday it is adding a new variant to the mix that addresses one of the most requested features from customers in the nation: portability.

The e-commerce giant today unveiled the Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition, a new variant in the lineup that includes a built-in battery. The 4,800 mAh enclosed battery will offer up to 10 hours of continuous music playing or up to 11 hours of stand-by life, the company said.

“Portability has been one of the most requested features in India,” said Miriam Daniel, VP of Alexa Devices. “You want to be able to carry Alexa with you from room to room within your homes. So we have designed something just for you.”

The company said the Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition (which remains a mouthful) shares the same “hardware architecture” as the Echo Input, a device it launched last year that does not feature a speaker.

The battery-powered Echo model, designed exclusively for India, is priced at 5,999 Indian rupees ($84). Users can currently purchase it at an introductory price of 4,999 Indian rupees ($70) and the device will begin shipping on December 18. Amazon executives said they intend to bring this new speaker to other markets eventually.

Other than the built-in battery pack, the new speaker model offers an identical set of features — access to some 30,000 Alexa skills, compatibility with a range of home devices and, of course, support for Alexa voice assistant — as other Echo variants. (The new model additionally carries an array of four LEDs that light up when a user taps the power button, to show battery level.)

Amazon has never disclosed how many Echo speakers it has sold in India, but it has noted that the country is one of its most important markets. At a conference in September, Rohit Prasad, VP and head scientist of Alexa AI at Amazon, said the “adoption of Alexa in India has been phenomenal.”

Over the years, a number of companies, including LG, Motorola and Sony, have added support for Alexa to their headphones and smartphones.

The e-commerce giant, which has invested north of $5 billion in India, is among many international firms that are currently betting to turn the nation of 1.3 billion people into one of its biggest markets. Winning that market means customizing many of their products and services to align with local conditions in the nation. In September, Amazon announced Alexa was adding support for Hindi language to broaden its appeal in the nation.

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Xiaomi launches app to offer credit to millennials in India

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, Finance, india, miui, mobile phones, Xiaomi, Zestmoney | No Comments

Xiaomi, the top smartphone vendor in India, today joined a growing wave of fintech startups in the nation that are offering credit to aspirational young professionals and millennials.

The Chinese electronics giant said today it is launching Mi Credit, its curated marketplace for digital lending, which offers users credit between Rs 5,000 ($70) and Rs 100,000 ($1,400) at “low” interest rates.

Xiaomi said it has partnered with a number of startups, such as Bangalore-based ZestMoney, CreditVidya, Money View, Aditya Birla Finance Limited and EarlySalary, to determine who should get credit and then finance it.

Users are required to let the Mi Credit app access their texts and call logs to look for transactional information and some other details to assess whether they are credit-worthy. This whole process takes just a few minutes and eligible users can walk out with some credit, said Manu Jain, vice president of Xiaomi, at a conference in New Delhi.

He added that having multiple partners for the crediting platform ensures that the likeliness of a user securing a loan is high. Once a user has secured credit from the app, they can avail more credit in the future with a single click, the company said.

For startups that have partnered with Xiaomi, the big draw is access to a large user base, an executive with one of the partner startups told TechCrunch.

Xiaomi, which has been the top smartphone vendor in India for nine consecutive quarters, has an install base in the tens of millions in the country. The company has shipped more than 100 million smartphones in the country, it recently revealed.

Xiaomi said the Mi Credit app will be pre-installed on all Xiaomi smartphones running the Android -based MIUI operating system. The app is also available from the Google Play Store for non-Xiaomi Android smartphone users. (It’s not available for iPhone users.)

A wave of fintech firms have emerged in recent years in India to help millions of users secure credit and other financial services for the first time in their lives. The penetration of credit cards remains very low in the country (roughly three in 100 people in India have a credit card). This has meant that very few people in the nation have a traditional credit score.

This void has created an immense opportunity for startups to explore a range of other data points to determine who should get a loan. In emerging markets such as India, where the laws are lax, nobody appears to be alarmed with the idea of a company gleaning a lot of sensitive details.

As of today, Mi Credit is available to users in 1,500 ZIP codes, or 10 states in India. The company said it plans to extend the credit service to all of India by March of next year.

Partner startups involved declined to comment on the financial arrangement they have with Xiaomi. The aforementioned unnamed executive said the agreement would vary with partners and the kind of product they are bringing to the table.

Xiaomi said it has deeply integrated its partners’ offerings into the app. As a result, users are able to see details such as disbursement of loans, lower interest and credit score in real time.

The company began testing the app with some users in India last month. During the trial, it disbursed loans of over 280 million Indian rupees ($3.9 million).

For Xiaomi, the new offering would help it make its services ecosystem more engaging to consumers. The company, which recently posted one of its slowest-growing quarterly reports, has been attempting to cut its reliance on hardware products and make more money off its internet services and through ads.

One of the services it is increasingly focusing on is Mi Finance. In a quarterly earnings call earlier this year, the company said, “we are also making it a point of focus to diversify our advertising customer base. We are achieving this diversification through expanding into more vertical industries, such as e-commerce, gaming, finance, education, and small and medium-sized enterprises.”

In March this year, Xiaomi launched Mi Pay, a UPI-powered payments app that is part of its Mi Finance ecosystem, in India. The app has already amassed over 20 million registered users in the country, company executives said today.

Hong Feng, co-founder and senior vice president of Xiaomi, said the company understands the consumption behavior of its 300 million users.

“It is one of the strengths we aim to leverage to build a stronger Mi Finance business globally. We see a huge opportunity for consumer lending in India with estimations reaching up to $1 trillion dollars in digital lending by 2023, as per a report from BCG. This makes us believe that our Mi Finance business, based on solutions such as Mi Pay and Mi Credit, can truly revolutionize the Indian fintech industry,” he said.

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Cellphone plans get up to 40% costlier in India

Posted by | Asia, india, Mobile, vodafone | No Comments

India has long been a wonderland for cellphone users. At a time when most telecom operators across the globe charge anywhere between $5 to $10 for a gigabyte of mobile data, telcos in India deliver that for just a few cents.

Spare another $2 to the same telecom operator and you get a gigabyte of mobile data everyday for a month and all your nationwide calls become free.

How is that possible, you ask? In 2016, India’s richest man launched Reliance Jio, a telecom network that undercut the local competition by offering unlimited voice calls and the bulk of 4G mobile data at industry-low prices. Vodafone and Airtel — two of the top three carriers in India — dramatically moved to revise their tariffs to aggressively compete with Jio, but in doing so they began to bleed a lot of money.

So now they are making some changes that suddenly make cellphone plans in the country less attractive — but fret not, these plans are still miles ahead of comparable offerings in most other markets.

Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio — three telecom operators that command over 90% of India’s mobile subscriber base of more than 1.1 billion users — have hiked their tariffs by up to 42% for their prepaid customers. (In India, unlike many other markets, the vast majority of people prefer to pay as they go instead of signing up for a monthly subscription.)

The revised plans from Vodafone start from 26 cents for daily usage and go up to $33.4 for a year-long commitment — that is about 42% costlier compared to the previous offerings. The operator’s new tariffs will go into effect starting Tuesday.

Bharti Airtel’s new tariffs are priced similarly, though the operator says it will offer “generous data and calling benefits” to make up for the hike.

The changes are a direct result to make up for the massive losses Airtel and Vodafone reported last month. In the quarter that ended in September, Airtel lost more than $3.2 billion, while Vodafone posted a loss of $7.1 billion.

While these losses reflect the competition heat that both the networks have been facing from Reliance Jio, which now leads the market with over 350 million subscribers, they largely address a one-time potential outstanding payment these companies owe to the government related to a court dispute surrounding 14-year-old adjusted gross revenue.

Last month, chief executives of both the telecom networks requested the Indian government give them more time to pay the fine. Vodafone’s chief executive added that if the government did not budge, the British firm’s India business might just collapse.

The Indian government budged and offered a small bailout after it postponed certain payments.

Over the weekend, Reliance Jio said it would be introducing new plans, too, that will be “priced up to 40% higher” in a move to “strengthen the telecom sector” and strangely “keep consumers at the center of everything.” Its revised plans would go into effect this Friday.

Its announcement follows a two-month-old decision to hike the prices after other telecom operators floated the idea that they would continue to levy what they call an “interconnect fee.”

When a call from one network is placed to a phone on another network, the former carrier has to pay an “interconnect fee” to the latter. Prior to 2017, the interconnect fee in the country was set at about 14 paise (roughly 1.8 cents) for each minute of the call. In 2017, the Indian telecom regulator cut the interconnect charge to 6 paise per minute, adding that in January 2020, the interconnect fee would no longer be valid. In recent months, Airtel and Vodafone, among other networks (but obviously not Reliance Jio), have been exploring ways to extend this deadline.

At any rate, some industry executives say these tariff hikes were inevitable. Rajan Mathews, who heads the trade group Cellular Operators Association of India, said in a recent interview that the old prices were simply unsustainable for these businesses and carriers needed to address the price war more maturely.

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Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Disney, HBO, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, the walt disney company | No Comments

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plan told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with the Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia, among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of the matches, setting a new global record.

However, Hotstar’s monthly user base plummeted below 60 million in the weeks following the IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics. The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket season.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the platform’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debuted its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed more than 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the monthly subscription fee of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen toward the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next the IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year, as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said.

Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from international cable networks and studios Showtime, HBO and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and a large library of Indian titles.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired more than 60 engineers and researchers to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

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Smartphone maker Realme is taking India and other emerging markets by storm

Posted by | Asia, Gadgets, hardware, india, oppo, Realme, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, Xiaomi | No Comments

As Xiaomi widens its smartphone lead over Samsung in India, a new competitor is increasingly posing a challenge.

Realme, a one-and-half-year-old smartphone vendor that spun out of Oppo, commanded 14.3% of the world’s second largest smartphone market in the quarter that ended in September, research firm IDC said on Monday.

While Xiaomi, with 27.1% of the local smartphone market share, still dominates the market, the volume of handsets that Realme has shipped in India rose at a staggering 401.3% since the same period last year, according to IDC.

Market share of smartphone vendors in India

What’s fascinating about Realme’s expansion in India is just how closely it is replicating Xiaomi’s playbook in the country. Like Xiaomi, Realme for a year sold phones only through an online channel to cut overhead costs. Last quarter, the company began selling phones in India through offline stores, which still account for more than two-thirds of all smartphone sales.

In terms of online-only shipment, the company’s market share has ballooned to 26.5% in Q3 2019 from 16.5% in Q2 this year, the research firm said.

Realme has launched more than a dozen aggressively priced smartphone models so far, all priced between $80 to $240 — the sweet spot in the local market. In fact, IDC says Realme’s C2, 3i and 3 models — priced between $80 and $110 — were the top-selling phones for the company in Q3 this year.

Like Xiaomi’s handsets, Realme smartphones pack above the punch — sporting some of the highest-end hardware modules for their price range. The $80 Realme C2 features a six-inch HD+ display, 3+2 rear megapixel cameras, 4,000 mAh battery, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of expandable storage — and it supports 4G networks and has a facial unlock feature.

Other markets

Realme today operates in 18 countries, including its home market China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam and Egypt. In May this year, the company entered the European region.

In a report Counterpoint shared with its clients recently, the research firm said that based on the number of smartphones that Realme has shipped, the company’s rank went from 47th in Q3 2018 to 7th as of September this year. By shipping more than 10 million smartphones, the Chinese firm’s shipment grew by a whopping 808% during this period, the research firm said.

India and Indonesia accounted for more than 80% of smartphones that Realme has shipped to date, according to Counterpoint.

“We expect realme to become a serious contender in the market next year as growth will continue in emerging markets and online channels. The value for money proposition is also powerful in times of stagnant economic growth globally,” Counterpoint analysts wrote.

The aggressive growth of Realme hasn’t gone unnoticed with Xiaomi. The two companies have already exchanged testy words with one another and made allegations.

Hey @FrancisRealme , as a fellow marketer I’m sure you’d value the time & creativity that goes into designs. Could you please ask your team to abstain from taking this close an inspiration.

Thanks 👍

Hope to catch up the next time you are in Bangalore 🙂pic.twitter.com/y7PovSBuw3

— Anuj Sharma (@s_anuj) October 1, 2019

And you thought smartphone wars were over.

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Google hires former Disney and Star executive to head its India business

Posted by | Android, Asia, bharti airtel, Disney, Google, Hotstar, india, Personnel, sequoia capital, TC | No Comments

Google said on Friday it has appointed Sanjay Gupta, a former top executive with Disney India and Star, as the manager and vice president of sales and operations for its India business.

Gupta will be replacing Rajan Anandan, who left the company in April this year to serve VC fund Sequoia Capital India as a managing director.

Gupta served as a managing director at Disney India and Star (which Disney now owns) before joining the Android -maker. (Not to be confused with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who hosts a popular medical show on CNN.) He helped Star make a major push in the digital consumers business through video streaming service Hotstar, where he aggressively worked on partnerships and licensing for cricket rights and other content.

Hotstar has cashed in on the popularity of cricket — during a major cricket season earlier this year, Hotstar claimed that more than 100 million users were enjoying its service each day and more than 300 million were doing so each month. (Facebook roped in Ajit Mohan, the former chief executive of Hotstar, to head its India operations late last year.) Gupta also held top executive roles at other companies, including Bharti Airtel telecom network.

Sanjay Gupta, a former top executive at Disney and Star, is now the head of Google’s India business

In a statement, Gupta said, “it’s an exciting opportunity to leverage the power of technology to solve some of India’s unique challenges and make Internet an engine of economic growth for people and communities. I am happy to join the passionate teams across Google and look forward to contributing to India’s digital journey as it becomes an innovation hub for the world.”

When Anandan, a long-time influential and widely respected Google executive, left the company earlier this year, Google said Vikas Agnihotri, who is the director of sales for the firm’s India operations, would be temporarily taking over the role. For Google, this was the latest in a series of high-profile departures in Asia. Karim Temsamani, head of Asia Pacific (APAC) at Google, also left the company earlier this year.

Even as India contributes little to Google’s bottom line, the company has grown increasingly focused on India and other Asian markets to develop products and services that solve local problems and address barriers that are hindering growth in these markets.

In a statement, Scott Beaumont, president of Google APAC, said the company’s operation in India “is important and strategic for its own sake but also for the innovation which then feeds breakthroughs elsewhere in Google.”

Gupta will also have to oversee some major challenges, including the fast growth of Facebook’s advertisement business in India and an antitrust issue with the local regulator.

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Gradeup raises $7M to expand its online exam preparation platform to smaller Indian cities and towns

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Education, funding, Gradeup, india, Media, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups, Times Internet | No Comments

Gradeup, an edtech startup in India that operates an exam preparation platform for undergraduate and postgraduate-level courses, has raised $7 million from Times Internet as it looks to expand its business in the country.

Times Internet, a conglomerate in India, invested $7 million in Series A and $3 million in seed financing rounds of the four-year-old Noida-based startup, it said. Times Internet is the only external investor in Gradeup, they said.

Gradeup started as a community for students to discuss their upcoming exams, and help one another with solving questions, said Shobhit Bhatnagar, co-founder and CEO of Gradeup, in an interview with TechCrunch.

While those functionalities continue to be available on the platform, Gradeup has expanded in the last year to offer online courses from teachers to help students prepare for exams, he said. These courses, depending on their complexity and duration, cost anywhere between Rs 5,000 ($70) and Rs 35,000 ($500).

“These are live lectures that are designed to replicate the offline experience,” he said. The startup offers dozens of courses and runs multiple sessions in English and Hindi languages. As many as 200 students tune into a class simultaneously, he said.

Students can interact with the teacher through a chatroom. Each class also has a “student success rate” team assigned to it that follows up with each student to check if they had any difficulties in learning any concept and take their feedback. These extra efforts have helped Gradeup see more than 50% of its students finish their courses — an industry best, Bhatnagar said.

Each year in India, more than 30 million students appear for competitive exams. A significant number of these students enroll themselves to tuitions and other offline coaching centers.

“India has over 200 million students that spend over $90 billion on different educational services. These have primarily been served offline, where the challenge is maintaining high quality while expanding access,” said Satyan Gajwani, vice chairman of Times Internet.

In recent years, a number of ed tech startups have emerged in the country to cater to larger audiences and make access to courses cheaper. Byju’s, backed by Naspers and valued at more than $5.5 billion, offers a wide range of self-learning courses. Vedantu, a Bangalore-based startup that raised $42 million in late August, offers a mix of recorded and live and interactive courses.

Co-founders of Noida-based ed tech startup Gradeup

But still, only a fraction of students take online courses today. One of the roadblocks in their growth has been access to mobile data, which until recent years was fairly expensive in the country. But arrival of Reliance Jio has solved that issue, said Bhatnagar. The other is acceptance from students and, more importantly, their parents. Watching a course online on a smartphone or desktop is still a new concept for many parents in the country, he said. But this, too, is beginning to change.

“The first wave of online solutions were built around on-demand video content, either free or paid. Today, the next wave is online live courses like Gradeup, with teacher-student interactivity, personalisation and adaptive learning strategies, delivering high-quality solutions that scale, which is particularly valuable in semi-urban and rural markets,” said Times Internet’s Gajwani.

“These match or better the experience quality of offline education, while being more cost-effective. This trend will keep growing in India, where online live education will grow very quickly for test prep, reskilling and professional learning,” he added.

Gradeup has amassed more than 15 million registered students who have enrolled to live lectures. The startup plans to use the fresh capital to expand its academic team to 100 faculty members (from 50 currently) and 200 subject matters and reach more users in smaller cities and towns in India.

“Students even in smaller cities and towns are paying a hefty amount of fee and are unable to get access to high-quality teachers,” Bhatnagar said. “This is exactly the void we can fill.”

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India to spend $6 billion to revive telecom operators BSNL and MTNL

Posted by | Airtel, Asia, Government, india, Mobile, Mukesh Ambani, reliance jio, vodafone | No Comments

India said on Wednesday it plans to spend nearly $6 billion to revive loss-making state-funded telecom operators Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL).

In a press conference, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said today the Narendra Modi government has given its in-principle approval to the merger of BSNL and MTNL and infuse billions of dollars in capital, though he did not specify a time frame.

BSNL offers telecom services across the nation, while MTNL serves people in New Delhi and Mumbai. Both the firms have been bleeding money for years as competition from private players intensified in recent years after the arrival of India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani’s aggressive firm Reliance Jio. BSNL and MTNL have debt of about $5.65 billion.

The arrival of Reliance Jio, which undercut the market with its 4G-only telecom network, free voice calls and incredibly low-cost data prices, saw incumbents Vodafone and Airtel lower their prices and expand their 4G networks across the country.

MTNL, which is a listed company, will become a subsidiary of BSNL until the merger is completed, Prasad told journalists. “Neither BSNL nor MTNL are being closed, nor are they being disinvested or being hived off to third party,” he said, refuting weeks-long speculation that the government wanted to shut the carriers that serve about 120 million subscribers.

The revival plan includes a capital infusion of $2.8 billion to enable BSNL to purchase 4G spectrum, and write off of $520 million worth of taxes these purchases would incur. The network operators will additionally raise about $2.1 billion of long-term bonds that the New Delhi government will back and monetize $5.3 billion worth of assets over the next four years, the minister said.

“We want to make BSNL and MTNL competitive, and bring in professionalism,” Shankar said. The government is hopeful that BSNL would become operationally profitable in the next two years, he said.

The existence of BSNL, which alone serves more than 116 million subscribers, is in the strategic interest of the nation, Prasad said in a conference last week. “Whenever we have flood or cyclone, BSNL is the first one to offer services for free,” he said.

BSNL, which uses about 75% of its revenue to pay its roughly 176,000 employees, was unable to process their salaries last month. The government said today that it will soon address this and also offer various “attractive voluntary retirement packages” to employees aged 50 or more. In a press release, the government said it would spend about $2.4 billion on the employee retirement packages.

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Google Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL not launching in India

Posted by | Android, Asia, Gadgets, Google, google hardware event 2019, Government, hardware, india | No Comments

The Pixel 4 and Pixel XL smartphones that Google just unveiled at a press conference in New York won’t launch in India, one of the company’s key overseas markets, the Android-maker said on Tuesday.

The bottleneck lies in the headline feature Project Soli, a radar-based motion-sensing chip baked into the new Pixel smartphones that relies on using a certain frequency band — 60GHz mmWave. The company failed to secure permission from the local authority in India to use this frequency band, which the nation has yet to open for commercial usage, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. You may remember that in the U.S., the FCC approved the commercial usage of Soli earlier this year.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “Google has a wide range of products that we make available in different regions around the world. We determine availability based on a variety of factors, including local trends, and product features. We decided not to make Pixel 4 available in India. We remain committed to our current Pixel phones and look forward to bringing future Pixel devices to India.”

The radar sensors on the new Pixel smartphones enable support for a number of human interactions, Sabrina Ellis, VP of Product Management at Google, said at the event today. “For instance, Pixel 4 has the fastest secure face unlock on a smartphone, because the process starts before you have even picked up the smartphone,” she claimed. “Motion sense prepares the camera when you reach for your Pixel 4, so you don’t need to tap the screen,” she added.

The radar sensor also enables other applications such as rejecting a call by just gesturing at the phone, Ellis said.

This is the first time Google has had to skip the launch of a phone in India, the second largest smartphone market and where all the Nexus and Pixel smartphones have launched a few days after their global unveiling.

Not launching the new Pixel smartphones won’t really hurt the company… at least financially speaking. The Pixel smartphones have failed to receive any substantial acceptance in the Indian market, especially as their prices increased over the years.

Even as 99% of smartphones shipped in India last year ran the Android mobile operating system, the vast majority of handsets carried a price tag of $200 or lower, research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch.

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