Softbank

India’s largest mobile wallet company Paytm now offers a credit card

Posted by | alibaba, Asia, Berkshire Hathaway, citibank, Finance, india, Mobile, Online lending, payments, Paytm, Softbank, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, warren buffett, zomato | No Comments

Paytm, India’s largest mobile wallet app, has branched out to several businesses in recent years as threat from Google and Facebook grows. On Tuesday, it added another category to the list: credit cards.

The firm, operated by One97 Communications, today unveiled Paytm First Credit Card with lofty benefits as it races to bulk up its financial offerings. The cards, issued by Citi Bank, will be the first in the country to offer unlimited, one percent cashback on purchases, Paytm claimed in a statement. The company is hoping to rope in about 25 million credit card customers in the coming months.

The penetration of credit cards remains very low in India with under 50 million people possessing one. With people conducting most of their businesses through cash in the nation, banks have little understanding of a customer’s credit history and score. And it also doesn’t help that banks in India are still wary of issuing credit cards to those who don’t perfectly fit the traditional blue collar job.

But why is a company that made its name through a mobile payment wallet open to its customers engaging with credit card companies? Paytm itself is struggling to grow its business and retain existing customers. Some of its recent major bets haven’t exactly paid off. Its ecommerce business Paytm Mall remains tiny despite bleeding money.

Yo! The First. Paytm First. pic.twitter.com/5kAxozc2IH

— Vijay Shekhar (@vijayshekhar) May 13, 2019

But more importantly, payments itself has become a commoditized space. Users park their money in Paytm and do transactions from there. Paytm makes money from this accumulated sum. This business flourished for years, especially in the months after the Indian government invalidated much of the cash in the nation. But then the government launched its own payment infrastructure called UPI, which removes the need for a middleman.

This has made payments more convenient for users, who are increasingly jumping ship. UPI apps such as PhonePe that have emerged in the last two and a half years now see more transactions than wallet apps. To make matter worse for Paytm, Google and Facebook — two companies that have larger userbase in India — have entered the payments space. Google Pay reached 100 million installs on Google Play Store recently, and WhatsApp plans a nation-wide roll out of its payment feature in India later this year.

So Paytm is now expanding its financial offerings and credit card play fits well in it. With more than 200 million active users, Paytm rivals banks on both the number of customers and volume of transaction it processes.

“Our new offering is designed to bring utmost flexibility to our customers in their digital payment options and will help spur large-ticket cashless payments,” Vijay Shekhar Sharma, chairman and CEO of One97 Communications said in a statement.

Backed by SoftBank, Alibaba, and most recently Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Paytm has the capital to spur the adoption of its new credit card. As part of the package, Paytm’s credit card holders will be able to avail dining, shopping, travel and other offers that Citi Bank provides to its privilege customers. In the first four months of issuing a card, the company will offer its customers discounts worth Rs 10,000 ($142) on spending of Rs 10,000.

Paytm First Credit Card will work both in India and elsewhere and support contactless transactions. Like any other credit card, customers will be able to pay back a sum in multiple monthly instalments. Paytm First Credit Card will charge users a nominal fee of Rs 500 ($7.1) that will be waived off if their spendings through the card exceeds Rs 50,000 ($710) in a year.

If the gamble works, Paytm will be able to retain some customers and convince many to do big-ticket transactions. For Citi Bank, this partnership is just an easy ploy to acquire some customers.

In the meantime, Paytm continues to aggressively expand its financial offerings. In recent years, it has launched a digital payments bank, and has started to offer prepaid Forex cards for international purchases. It also lets customers buy gold, and employers issue food allowance wallets for their staff. Last year, the company announced Paytm Money to facilitate purchase of mutual funds.

Earlier this year, the company launched Paytm First, a subscription bundle that includes access to subscriptions from other services such as Zomato, Uber, Gaana, and Eros Now. In an interview with TechCrunch late last month, Paytm’s Sharma said payments is the moat around which you can build a number of services. “Now that’s a business model… payment itself can’t make you money.”

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OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites are safely in orbit

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, OneWeb, SATCOM, satellite, Satellites, Softbank, Space | No Comments

Update: Launch and deployment successful!

After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, OneWeb is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. You can watch it live at OneWeb’s site here.

OneWeb is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — SoftBank is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca-Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm and Airbus have all chipped in.

The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow.

Sound familiar? Of course, SpaceX’s side project, Starlink, has similar ambitions, with an even greater number of satellites planned, and Swarm is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and beam satellite connections directly to ordinary phones. And they’ve all launched satellites already!

The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC.

OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating — it has been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.”

At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why SoftBank and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel told the Financial times last month.

The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021.

Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward.

A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly.

Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

You can watch the launch at OneWeb’s site here.

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Here’s what caused yesterday’s O2 and SoftBank outages

Posted by | Ericsson, Mobile, O2, Security, Softbank | No Comments

It appears that most mobile carriers, including O2 and SoftBank, have recovered from yesterday’s cell phone network outage that was triggered by a shutdown of Ericsson equipment running on their networks. That shutdown appears to have been triggered by expired software certificates on the equipment itself.

While Ericsson acknowledged in their press release yesterday that expired certificates were at the root of the problem, you may be wondering why this would cause a shutdown. It turns out that it’s likely due to a fail-safe system in place, says Tim Callan, senior fellow at Sectigo (formerly Comodo CA), a U.S. certificate-issuing authority. Callan has 15 years of experience in the industry.

He indicated that while he didn’t have specific information on this outage, it would be consistent with industry best practices to shut down the system when encountering expired certificates “We don’t have specific visibility into the Ericsson systems in question, but a typical application would require valid certificates to be in place in order to keep operating. That is to protect against breach by some kind of agent that is maliciously inserted into the network,” Callan told TechCrunch.

In fact, Callan said that in 2009 a breach at Heartland Payments was directly related to such a problem. “2009’s massive data breach of Heartland Payment Systems occurred because the network in question did NOT have such a requirement. Today it’s common practice to use certificates to avoid that same vulnerability,” he explained.

Ericsson would not get into specifics about what caused the problem.”Ericsson takes full responsibility for this technical failure. The problem has been identified and resolved. After a complete analysis Ericsson will take measures to prevent such a failure from happening again.”

Among those affected yesterday were millions of O2 customers in Great Britain and SoftBank customers in Japan. SoftBank issued an apology in the form of a press release on the company website. “We deeply apologize to our customers for all inconveniences it caused. We will strive to take all measures to prevent the same network outage.”

As for O2, they also apologized this morning after restoring service, tweeting:

Our 4G network was restored earlier this morning. Our technical teams will continue to monitor service performance closely and we’re starting the full review to understand what happened. We are really sorry for the issues yesterday.

— O2 in the UK (@O2) December 7, 2018

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Ericsson software problem has been causing widespread cell phone outages

Posted by | AT&T, Ericsson, Mobile, mobile networks, Softbank, Verizon | No Comments

A problem with the software in Ericsson equipment is causing outages across the world, including O2 users in Great Britain and SoftBank users in Japan, according to a report in the Financial Times earlier today.

Ericsson took blame for the outage in a press release. It apparently involves faulty software on certain Ericsson equipment used on the affected company’s mobile networks. While Ericsson indicated it involved multiple countries, it appeared to try to minimize the impact by stating it involved “network disturbances for a limited number of customers.” The FT report indicated that it was actually affecting millions of mobile customers worldwide.

Regardless, the company said that an initial analysis attributed the problem to an expired software certificate on the affected equipment. Börje Ekholm, Ericsson president and CEO, said they were working to restore the service as soon as possible, which probably isn’t soon enough for people who don’t have a working cell phone at the moment.

“The faulty software that has caused these issues is being decommissioned and we apologize not only to our customers but also to their customers. We work hard to ensure that our customers can limit the impact and restore their services as soon as possible,” Ekholm said in a statement.

While the press release went on to say they are working to restore the service throughout the day, as of publishing this article, the O2 outage maps still showed problems in the London area and throughout Great Britain.

The AT&T and Verizon outage pages are also currently showing outages in the U.S, but Ericsson reports that these are unrelated to today’s issues with their equipment, which are only affecting customers outside of the US.

(Note that Verizon owns this publication.)

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Rakuten has SoftBank in its sights

Posted by | Asia, KDDI, Mobile, Rajeev Misra, rakuten, Softbank, Vision Fund | No Comments

This week, I’ve tried to do something new at TechCrunch with this experimental column — getting obsessed about a topic broadly in tech and writing a continuous stream of thoughts and analysis about it.

With my research consultant and contributor Arman Tabatabai, we’ve covered two topics: Form Ds, the filing that startups usually submit to the SEC after a venture round closes (although increasingly do not), and SoftBank, which faces all kinds of strategic pressure due to its debt binging. If you missed the other episodes, here are links to the editions from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new — provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at danny@techcrunch.com or Arman at Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com if you like or hate something here.

Today, one final round of thoughts on SoftBank and Rakuten (heavily written by Arman) and a lengthy list of articles for your weekend reading.

The Rakuten factor complicates SoftBank’s strategy

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Understanding SoftBank’s competitive strategy requires a bit of a deep dive into Japanese e-commence giant Rakuten.

Rakuten has been struggling to compete with Amazon and others like SoftBank’s Yahoo! Japan. So at the end of 2017, Rakuten announced it would be entering the telco space, hoping that operating its own network could generate user growth through better incentives around mobile shopping, streaming and payments.

Today, Japan’s telco space is a relatively cozy oligopoly dominated by NTT DoCoMo, au-KDDI and SoftBank. A major reason why Rakuten feels it can succeed where others have failed to break in is because it has the government on its side.

Rakuten’s plan to offer prices at least 30 percent lower than incumbent rates has led to favorable treatment from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, which has been looking for ways to stimulate market competition to force lower the country’s high phone prices.

Though a new entrant hasn’t been approved to enter the telco market since eAccess in 2007, Rakuten has already gotten the thumbs-up to start operations in 2019. The government also instituted regulations that would make the new kid in town more competitive, such as banning telcos from limiting device portability.

Rakuten’s partnerships with key utilities and infrastructure players will also allow it to build out its network quickly, including one with Japan’s second largest mobile service provider, KDDI.

Just last week, Rakuten and KDDI announced an agreement where Rakuten will help KDDI utilize its payment and logistics infrastructure as KDDI turns its head toward e-commerce and payments, while KDDI will give Rakuten access to its network and nationwide roaming services, allowing Rakuten to provide nationwide service as its builds out its own infrastructure.

The agreement with KDDI is especially scary for SoftBank, the country’s third biggest telco and one of Rakuten’s e-commerce competitors, and whose customers seem most vulnerable to churn. The partnership also makes it seem even more likely that SoftBank’s competitors are looking to push it out of the market or turn into a dud its upcoming mobile segments IPO.

While Rakuten’s head-first dive into the market won’t ease investors into an IPO, it’s important we note that Rakuten is targeting a much smaller market share than the incumbents, targeting 10 million subscribers by 2028, a number lower than the company’s original 15 million subs goal and significantly lower than the 76 million, 52 million and 40 million subscribers NTT, KDDI and SoftBank (respectively) hold currently. And even with its agreements, Rakuten faces a serious and expensive uphill battle in building out its network infrastructure quickly enough to compete.

Ultimately, Rakuten’s telco initiative is a splash, but one that seems like it will merely make its competitors wet and not drown them. For SoftBank, it is an annoying distraction on its telco IPO roadshow, but a distraction that is easily explained to potential investors.

SoftBank growth over the past two decades

Rajeev Misra. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Changing gears from Rakuten, emails from readers this week asked us to look deeper into SoftBank’s performance over the last two decades. As we did so, it became clear that SoftBank has had a long history of price competitions and new entrants across its businesses, and it has proven its ability to operate and consistently grow earnings.

Since 2000, SoftBank has grown earnings at a ~30 percent CAGR and experienced revenue growth in all but one year. When eAccess did enter the telco market and picked up four million subscribers, SoftBank bought it and integrated it into its own system.

As we discussed earlier this week, despite having always held on to a clunky amount of debt, SoftBank has managed to deliver consistent growth by making sure its revenue and operating growth outpaced the upticks in its debt and interest expense.

A great example of this came after SoftBank’s acquisition of Vodafone in 2006, when it saw a huge spike in its interest expense, but also in its operating income.

Over the following five years, SoftBank managed to reduce its interest expense at an annual rate of 12 percent while growing its operating income at 16 percent. And regardless of its debt balances, SoftBank has always seemingly been able to secure funding one way or another, as shown by its ability to raise $90+ billion for the Vision Fund in less than a year from when plans for the fund were first reported.

The Vision Fund itself started as a way for SoftBank to continue to invest while its balance sheet was tight due to nearly back-to-back massive acquisitions of Sprint and Arm. Just look at how Rajeev Misra, who oversees the Vision Fund, discussed its creation in an interview with The Economic Times:

We had just bought ARM in June for $32 billion and Masa felt we are on the cusp of a technology revolution over the next 5-10 years with machine learning, AI, robotics and the impact of that in disrupting every industry – from healthcare to financial services to manufacturing.

We felt the world was going through a new industrial revolution. We were constrained financially given that we just did a $32-billion acquisition.

SoftBank, historically over the last 20 years, has invested from its own balance sheet. So, we had two options.

Either monetise some of the gains we made in Alibaba which we decided has a lot more upside… Alibaba has more than doubled in the last 12 months. So we decided to keep it which turned out to be good decision. The second option was to go out and raise money and co-invest with others. We prepared a presentation, went out, and by god’s grace we raised the fund.

Even before the Vision Fund, SoftBank has always had a strategy to make big bets in industries of the future. And while many have failed, the several that have paid off, like its $20 million investment in Alibaba, had massive cash outs that have driven consistent earnings growth for decades. SoftBank seems to be banking its future on the same strategy and, frankly, it’s unclear how much they even care about how competitive their telco is, as shown by this exchange in the same interview with Misra:

Question: What about sectors like telecom?

Misra: Let the dust settle.

What’s next

Our obsession with SoftBank this week is probably going to subside, and we are in the market for our next deep dive topic in tech and finance. Have ideas? Drop us a line at danny@techcrunch.com and arman.tabatabai@techcrunch.com

Thoughts on articles (i.e. weekend reading)

Photo by Darren Johnson / EyeEm via Getty Images

The CIA’s communications suffered a catastrophic compromise. It started in Iran. This is a great follow-up from Yahoo News’ Zach Dorfman and Jenna McLaughlin on one of the most important espionage stories this past decade. The CIA, using an internet-based communications system to connect with spies and sources in the field, failed to keep the security of the system intact, leading to the dismantling of its Iranian, Chinese and potentially other espionage rings. This article advances the story as we know it from the New York Times’ original piece, and Foreign Policy’s excellent follow up also written by Zach Dorfman. Definitely worth a read from a security/technical audience. (3,200 words)

The $6 Trillion Barrier Holding Electric Cars Back. Don’t read — the answer is infrastructure. (1,000 words, but should be one)

The Rodney Brooks Rules for Predicting a Technology’s Commercial Success. A a good reminder that some technologies are much closer to reality than others, and that the key difference between them is our collective experience handling the technology. Rodney Brooks is the right person to cover this subject, although one can’t help but feel that every example is Musk-inspired. (2,800 words)

Uber’s economics team is its secret weapon by Alison Griswold & Soon there may be more economists at tech companies than in policy schools by Roberta Holland, both in Quartz . Griswold does a great job giving an overview of how Uber is using economists not just to improve its product for end users, but also to shape the discussion of public policy around the company. Clearly, Uber is not alone; as Holland notes in her piece, academic economists are very popular in Silicon Valley right now, with salaries that can match the top machine learning experts. (2,750 words and 1,200 words, respectively)

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear blinders. A short piece by Nicholas Carr fighting back against the notion that computing is still “at the beginning.” Many of our devices and pieces of software are already decades old — if they haven’t had an effect on human behavior or productivity, when are they going to? A useful antidote to some ideas we hear from the Valley every single day. (900 words)

The future of photography is code. Yes, yes, I am very late to this — blame Pocket disease. TechCrunch’s own Devin Coldewey writes a candid essay on the transition from improving photography through hardware like lenses to improving photos through computation. The future is looking very bright for beautiful photos, indeed. (2,400 words)

Freedom on the Net 2018 | Freedom House. And if you are looking for some depressing news, Freedom House’s report (which I am also a bit late to) is dreary. China is now increasingly the source of authoritarian internet control technology, and countries across the world are backtracking on internet freedom (including the U.S.). Sobering, but with so much riding on the openness of the internet, we all need to pay attention and build the kind of future for this technology that we want. (32 page PDF with exec summary)

Reading docket

What we are reading (or at least, trying to read)

Articles

Books

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Xiaomi CDRs, SoftBank’s successors and China’s Samsung investigation

Posted by | Asia, Government, Mobile, Qualcomm, Samsung, Softbank, sprint, TC, Xiaomi | No Comments

The weekend provided no rest to news-wary reporters, with major announcements coming from Xiaomi, SoftBank and the Chinese government the past few days that will continue to change the global tech landscape.

Xiaomi Chinese Depository Receipts

One of the most important yet underreported stories of 2018 has been the development of Chinese Depository Receipts (known as CDRs). I wrote a comprehensive primer on the investment mechanism a few weeks ago, but the summary is that CDRs will give mainland Chinese investors access to overseas-listed stocks that set up the right custodian accounts. Due to domestic capital controls and relatively weak stock exchange rules in China, many Chinese tech giants are listed on overseas stock exchanges in New York and Hong Kong.

Beijing-based Xiaomi, which produces a line of phones and offers mobile software services, is launching one of the most anticipated IPOs of the year, with a valuation expected to top tens of billions of dollars. In its official filing, the company targeted a fundraise of $10 billion. While Xiaomi is a sterling example of the potential success of Chinese entrepreneurs, local retail buyers would likely have had no access to buy the stock, which will be listed in Hong Kong.

Fiona Lau and Julie Zhu at Reuters are now reporting that Xiaomi could be one of the first companies to take advantage of the new CDR mechanism, potentially reserving 30 percent of its new issue for CDR buyers. That would be about $3 billion if the assumptions of the fundraise play out.

If the CDR mechanism works as expected, Chinese companies and potentially many others could suddenly tap a vast new pool of capital, either in the IPO process or more generally. That could push valuations for many of these issues higher than they might otherwise go, since Chinese mainland investors have limited ability to invest in overseas stocks due to capital controls. A valuation that might cause a New York-based money manager to flee might be more than palatable to a Chinese investor.

While Chinese tech giants are likely to quickly offer CDR options to take advantage of their local brand power and increase upward pressure on their stock prices, the bigger question in my mind is how long it will take overseas companies to offer similar measures and get access to this capital market. While companies like Facebook and Google are blocked or mostly blocked from mainland China, other companies like Apple have strong brand presence in the country, and could theoretically offer a CDR as it strives for a $1 trillion valuation. There are huge legal and policy roadblocks to overcome of course, but such a debut would be a major milestone in China’s financial development.

SoftBank executive changes

Japan’s SoftBank Group, which owns a set of major tech and finance companies, announced a new group of senior execs late on Friday that sets up something of a leadership contest to succeed the group’s founder, Masayoshi Son.

Several years ago, Son had indicated that Nikesh Arora, who had spent a decade at Google and eventually rose to be the company’s chief business officer, would succeed him. Arora became president and chief operating officer of SoftBank, but would last less than two years before heading out from the role. As a sort of coda to that chapter, we learned late last week that Arora has joined Palo Alto Networks as its CEO.

Now, SoftBank has announced that three people will take leadership roles in the company, and all three will join its board of directors. Rajeev Misra, who runs the $100 billion SoftBank Vision Fund, will become an executive vice president (EVP) while maintaining his duties to the fund.

Katsunori Sago, who until recently was the chief investment officer of Japan Post, Japan’s largest savings bank with a $1.9 trillion portfolio, will join SoftBank as an EVP and chief strategy officer. Sago had been rumored to be considering leaving Japan Post just a few weeks ago. Finally, former Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure was named an EVP and SoftBank’s new chief operating officer. Claure was elevated to executive chairman of Sprint last month, while stepping down as CEO.

Each of the three are positioned around the key tentpoles of SoftBank. SoftBank’s core business remains telecom, on which Claure will presumably spend significant time. The group’s financial interests, which includes a 100 percent stake in Fortress Investment Group, will likely get significant attention from Sago. And the SoftBank Vision Fund, which has received splashy headlines with its massive investments in global unicorn startups, is obviously a key future pillar of the company, giving Misra a powerful perch in the group.

Masayoshi Son is 60 years old today. While retirement seems to be the least likely course of action for the energetic entrepreneur, clearly he is starting to think through succession in a more robust way than he did before with Arora. That should make SoftBank investors far more content, and also provide a little bit of a competitive dynamic at the top of the organization to drive the group’s results in the years to come.

China initiates investigation into Samsung and other chip companies

The chip wars between China and the rest of the world continue to heat up. Now, it looks like Samsung, the world’s largest chipmaker, is in the crosshairs of Beijing, according to a Wall Street Journal report by Yoko Kubota. In addition to Samsung, Micron and SK Hynix were also ensnared in the investigation.

China has made building a strong indigenous chip industry a core pillar of its economic development strategy. In addition to a comprehensive plan known as Made in China 2025, the country has also been attempting to put together the world’s largest semiconductor venture capital investment fund, which in aggregate could have tens of billions of dollars in capital at its disposal.

The investigations against Samsung and the two chipmakers comes at the same time that China has also once again delayed the close of Qualcomm’s acquisition of NXP Semiconductors. Qualcomm has been waiting for months to get Beijing’s approval on that deal, which would provide the company a fresh source of revenue and a renewed product mix in strategic areas like automotive.

The use of economic investigations to help and hurt Chinese companies and their competitors is starting to become a mainstay. The United States used the negative conclusions of its investigation into Chinese telecommunications company ZTE in order to cut off its export licenses, practically killing the company. While the U.S. has now started to walk back that threat by floating the option of a large fine, it is clear that these sorts of tit-for-tat investigations are going to continue into the future.

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Watch these robotic soccer players play a nail-biter of a match

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Gadgets, nao, RoboCup, robot, robotics, Softbank, Sports, TC | No Comments

As a hater of all sports, I am particularly excited about the imminent replacement of humans with robots in soccer. If this exciting match, the Standard Platform League (SPL) final of the German Open featuring the Nao-Team HTWK vs. Nao Devils, is any indication, the future is going to be great.

The robots are all NAO robots by SoftBank and they are all designed according to the requirements of the Standard Platform League. The robots can run (sort of), kick (sort of), and lift themselves up if they fall. The 21 minute video is a bit of a slog and the spectators are definitely not drunk hooligans but darned if it isn’t great to see little robots hitting the turf to grab a ball before it hits the goal.

I, for one, welcome our soccer-playing robot overlords.

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Dog-walking app Wag may be raising a huge round of funding

Posted by | Apps, Mobile, Softbank, Startups, TC, wag | No Comments

 It looks like Wag may get another huge injection of cash following a big financing round earlier this year, according to a report by Recode, and also based on what we are hearing. We had heard a bit ago that Wag was looking to raise around $100 million, which the Recode report also suggests. But it now looks like Softbank is in talks to invest around $300 million in the dog-walking app.… Read More

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SoftBank increasing Sprint stake after T-Mobile deal called off

Posted by | Mobile, Softbank, sprint | No Comments

 The proposed tie-up between two American telecom giants was formally called off this weekend. Sprint and T-Mobile had been negotiations for months but ultimately decided not to go forward with a deal. “The companies were unable to find mutually agreeable terms,” the businesses announced in a joint press release Saturday. Last week, reports suggested that the deal was on the verge… Read More

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Pepper the robot can perform funerary rites, but it shouldn’t

Posted by | Gadgets, pepper, robotics, Softbank, TC, WTF | No Comments

 It’s not really clear just what “humanoid” robots are actually for. I’ve seen them do all kinds of things, but almost none of them well; at our recent Robotics event in Boston, several leading experts in the field questioned their necessity. But we grew up with Data and Robby and Cylons, and so now we have Pepper. Performing funeral rites for cash-strapped people in Japan. Read More

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